A new chancellor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale has been accused of nepotism after it emerged that he secured jobs for his daughter and son-in-law – based on a verbal agreement that he made with the board before he was hired.
In a statement,Carlo Montemagno defended his decision to require jobs for his family members.
“Positions for my daughter and son-in-law were part of the negotiation of my employment. I have had and will have no role in hiring or supervising them, or in the determination of their compensation,” Professor Montemagno said.
While it is common for presidents (and other academics) to secure positions for spouses as part of hiring negotiations, it is unusual to do so for children. The employment of relatives has raised controversy, and nepotism charges played a role in the furore that preceded the departure of Linda Katehi as chancellor of the University of California, Davis in 2016. In that case, the questions were about employment of her daughter-in-law.
This week, the student newspaper at SIU, The Daily Egyptian, reported that less than two weeks after his appointment last July, Professor Montemagno sent his daughter Melissa Germain’s CV to the university’s chief communications and marketing officer, Rae Goldsmith.
In August, Ms Germain signed on as the university’s assistant director of university communications, a position that was created specifically for her. The role involves promoting the university’s arts programme, according to Ms Goldsmith. Ms Germain’s annual salary is reportedly $52,000 (£37,282).
Ms Germain’s husband, Jeffrey Germain, was recruited the following month as a temporary senior research coordinator. The position had been vacant since 2013. Mr Germain’s superior, interim vice-chancellor for research Jim Garvey, told The Daily Egyptian that he was “just tickled to death” to have a colleague to supplement his work.
Mr Germain receives $45 per hour in his research position. This amount is twice as much as any equivalent positions paid in the last 10 years, The Daily Egyptian reported.
According to Professor Garvey, Mr Germain is earning more money than his peers to match his former salary at the University of Alberta’s Ingenuity Lab (founded by his father-in-law, Professor Montemagno), which was relatively high. Professor Garvey declined to comment on whether Mr Germain had applied for the position.
The president of the Southern Illinois University System, Randy Dunn, expressed some concerns that Professor Montemagno had compromised the university’s hiring process, but added that he did not want to “jump to conclusions.”
“My first understanding of how these searches went was in the Daily Egyptian article,” Dr Dunn said. “We’ll make a couple of inquiries to look at how that unfolded. It’s important to ensure there’s integrity to the search process.”
While Dr Dunn ultimately supported Professor Montemagno’s candidacy for chancellor, he said that he had “wrestled” with the decision to enable this “atypical” request. Southern Illinois had fallen on hard times, Dr Dunn said, because it was grappling with statewide budget cuts and a drop in enrolment. Professor Montemagno enticed board members with his clear vision and drive to create change, Dr Dunn said.
“I’m not trying to wash my hands of it, because I was part and parcel of this discussion,” Dr Dunn said. “I gave it consideration, and ultimately decided I was comfortable enough with it.”
Professor Montemagno’s actions come on the heels of his drastic reorganisation plan, which included cutting a number of departments. The plan has sparked sharp criticism from some faculty members.
This isn’t the first time that Professor Montemagno and his daughter and son-in-law have all shared a workplace. Over the past decade, the Germains have followed Professor Montemagno as he moved through various higher education roles. In 2006, Professor Montemagno became the dean of the college of engineering and applied science at the University of Cincinnati. Mr Germain worked as a research associate there around the same time.
Four years later, in November 2010, Professor Montemagno launched a research start-up, Ensovi, at Cincinnati. In December, Ms Germain took up a role there as physical and biosciences technician.
In 2012, Professor Montemagno founded the Ingenuity Lab at the University of Alberta. Soon afterwards, Mr Germain was made the lab’s research coordinator, while Ms Germain was given a role as the company’s copy editor.
This is an edited version of a story that first appeared on Inside Higher Ed.