A Family Affair

A chancellor secured positions for his daughter and son-in-law, even amid tight budgets at his university.

February 1, 2018
 
Carlo Montemagno

A new chancellor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale has been accused of nepotism, as he secured jobs for his daughter and son-in-law -- based on a verbal agreement he made with the board -- before he was hired in July.

Carlo Montemagno defended his decision to require jobs for his family members in a statement sent Wednesday.

“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,” Montemagno wrote.

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 furor that preceded the departure of Linda Katehi in 2016 as chancellor of the University of California, Davis. 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, Montemagno sent his daughter Melissa Germain’s résumé to the university’s chief communications and marketing officer, Rae Goldsmith.

In August, 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 program, according to Goldsmith. Germain's annual salary is reportedly $52,000.

Germain’s husband, Jeffrey Germain, was brought on the following month as a temporary senior research coordinator. The position had been vacant since 2013. Germain’s superior, Interim Vice Chancellor for Research Jim Garvey, told The Daily Egyptian he is “just tickled to death” to have a colleague to supplement his work.

Jeffrey 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 Garvey, Jeffrey Germain is making more money than his peers to match his former salary at the University of Alberta's Ingenuity Lab (founded by his father-in-law, Montemagno), which was relatively high. Garvey declined to comment on whether Jeffrey Germain applied for the position.

And Montemagno’s habit of giving jobs to people he knows extends beyond his family. Since Montemagno’s appointment at Southern Illinois University in July, at least four of his former colleagues have interviewed for jobs there. There is some evidence to suggest Montemagno inserted his colleagues, some of whom were not qualified for the positions, into the hiring process. One hire has been made, in the department of computer science for the upcoming fall semester. The successful candidate worked with Montemagno at the Ingenuity Lab.

The University's Response

The president of the Southern Illinois University System, Randy Dunn, expressed some concerns that Montemagno had compromised the university’s hiring process, but added that he didn’t want to “jump to conclusions.”

“My first understanding of how these searches went was in the Daily Egyptian article,” 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 Dunn ultimately supported Montemagno’s candidacy for chancellor, he said he "wrestled" with the decision to enable this "atypical" request. Southern Illinois had fallen on hard times, Dunn said, as it was grappling with statewide budget cuts and a drop in enrollment. Montemagno enticed board members with his clear vision and drive to create change, Dunn said.

“I’m not trying to wash my hands of it, because I was part and parcel of this discussion,” Dunn said. “I gave it consideration, and ultimately decided I was comfortable enough with it.”

Montemagno’s nepotistic actions come on the heels of his drastic reorganization plan, which included cutting a number of departments. The plan has sparked sharp criticism from some faculty members.

Dave Johnson, an associate professor of classics at Southern Illinois, who is president of the university's faculty association, which is a union, is opposed to the reorganization, saying Montemagno is “forcing” dramatic changes on many reluctant faculty members. (Note: This paragraph has been changed from a previous version to add a reference to Johnson's union role.)

“There’s been inadequate evidence to show us that this really radical transformation is going to produce really positive results,” Johnson said. “There’s going to be a loss of faculty autonomy.”

This isn’t the first time Montemagno and his daughter and son-in-law have all shared a workplace. Over the past decade, the Germains have followed Montemagno as he moved through various higher education roles. In 2006, Montemagno became the dean of the college of engineering and applied science at the University of Cincinnati. Jeffrey Germain worked as a research associate there around the same time.

Four years later, in November 2010, Montemagno launched a research start-up, Ensovi, at Cincinnati. In December, Melissa Germain took up a role there as physical and biosciences technician.

In 2012, Montemagno founded the Ingenuity Lab at the University of Alberta. Soon after, Jeffery Germain was made the lab’s research coordinator, while Melissa Germain was given a role as the company’s copy editor.

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