Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
University hires chancellor’s daughter, son-in-law
By Anna Spoerre
Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s daughter and son-in-law were hired for university jobs created for them, that they never formally applied for and that were never advertised, documents show.
While the chancellor proposes campus-wide cuts, his daughter, Melissa Germain, and her husband, Jeffrey Germain, began working in newly created positions.
“It’s not unusual because that’s part of what you do to negotiate to get the people you want here,” Communications and Marketing Director Rae Goldsmith said of a verbal agreement between Montemagno and SIU President Randy Dunn to bring aboard family.
Faculty Association President Dave Johnson said spousal hires are not uncommon in academia. However, he said, this is the first time he has heard of an administrator bringing a child and her spouse on board.
“I’m not a lawyer and I don’t understand all the legalities involved, but I do take the ethics test on a yearly basis and it says you can’t hire people just because they’re family members,” Johnson said. “They have to be the best people for the position. It would be surprising if the new chancellor’s daughter and son-in-law suddenly became the best people for positions in the weeks and months after he was hired.”
Montemagno’s appointment was approved by the Board of Trustees on July 13. On July 24, Montemagno sent his daughter’s resume to Goldsmith, according to documents obtained by the Daily Egyptian. Two weeks later Melissa Germain signed her new contract, making her assistant director of university communications.
Goldsmith said she was asked by Dunn to identify an opportunity for someone with communications experience. Around the same time the dean of liberal arts approached her about promoting theater.
“I’ve had in my mind forever since I came here that we needed to do a better job strategically promoting the arts,” Goldsmith said.
Melissa Germain makes $52,000 annually, which is comparable to the pay of similar job titles at the university, according to university information. The goals of her position are to develop a strategic plan to better promote and integrate the promotion of the arts for the university, Goldsmith said.
On Aug. 8, the chancellor sent an email to Jim Garvey, interim vice chancellor for research, introducing Melissa Germain’s husband: “Jim by this email I would like to introduce Jeff …. Please feel free to connect with him.”
Jeffrey Germain’s civil service contract was signed Sept. 28; he assists Garvey with research and day-to-day tasks because the associate vice chancellor for research position has been vacant since 2013.
“I’m just trying to fill gaps with whomever I can,” Garvey said. “I’m just tickled to death that I have the opportunity to have somebody to help me out with research on campus.”
Jeffrey Germain’s hourly rate of $45 is more than twice as much as the pay of any other extra help position at the university in the last 10 years, according to university data.
Garvey said the salary gap is significant because Jeffrey Germain was getting paid a considerably high salary at his previous Ingenuity Lab position so the university offered him a competitive salary, adding the pay for the full-time researcher position currently undergoing a search process is equivalent. Because of the confidentiality of the search, Garvey would not comment on whether or not Jeffrey Germain applied for the permanent slot.
A family tradition
The Germains have a decade-long history of following Montemagno in and out of career doors.
In 2006, Montemagno took a position as the dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Cincinnati. Jeffrey Germain also worked as a research associate at the university around the same time.
In November 2010, Montemagno founded a research startup at the University of Cincinnati called Ensovi, LLC, according to his curriculum vitae. A month later, Melissa Germain began working at the company as a physical and biosciences technician, according to her LinkedIn profile. She remained there until 2012, when her father moved to the University of Alberta where he founded the Ingenuity Lab.
Two months later, Jeffrey Germain took the position of research coordinator at the lab, and, in April 2013, Melissa Germain started as a copy editor at Ingenuity Lab, according to their LinkedIn profiles.
About two years after each of their hirings, Jeffrey Germain was promoted to director of operations and Melissa Germain was promoted to director of communications at her father’s lab, according to LinkedIn.
“Positions for my daughter and son-in-law were part of the negotiations of my employment,” the chancellor said in a written statement. “I have not had and will have no role in hiring or supervising them, or in the determination of their compensation.”
Past co-workers follow suit
At least four individuals with whom Montemagno previously worked interviewed for campus positions since his appointment.
In February, an open search began for an additional faculty member in biomedical engineering, said Spyros Tragoudas, chair of electrical and computer engineering.
Tragoudas said he passed along a hiring recommendation voted on by the department faculty and search committee but later got a recommendation for another candidate from Anthony Hall.
“After the chancellor took over, the process did not move forward like it should have,” said a faculty member in electrical engineering who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution.
The individual said the initial recommendation was denied by the provost’s office. In the meantime, the committee received an application for a woman from Alberta who had worked with Montemagno in his Ingenuity Lab, the faculty member said.
David DiLalla, associate provost for academic administration, said the offer recommendation was not extended because of concerns the university couldn’t provide what the individual needed in a sustainable way.
So the committee recommended the individual from Alberta to the faculty, and an interview transpired followed by a faculty vote in which it was decided she was not fully qualified for the position, the faculty member in electrical engineering said.
A second vote was later taken and the individual was recommended for hire, the faculty member said.
“Probably faculty feels desperate at this point; probably they believe that if they go ahead and do the hirings then they get on the good side of the administration and perhaps get to save their department,” the electrical engineering faculty member said. “Perhaps it’s easy for them to see this as part of the deal-making.”
Engineering isn’t the only school to have interviewed someone from Montemagno’s past.
Lichang Wang, chair of chemistry and biochemistry, said the college of science dean made an unexpected visit to an October faculty meeting and brought with him the resume of a man who worked with Montemagno at the Ingenuity Lab.
The candidate visited the department in November, but a request to hire has not been made, DiLalla said.
Wang said the department has felt more pressure in the past to pick a recommended candidate, but added that if she truly didn’t think the candidate was qualified, she would have said so. However, she said had the candidate been part of an open search, this individual would not have made the short list.
A lab startup package of approximately $800,000 was also suggested by the chemistry candidate, Wang said. A $1 million lab start-up package was also proposed by the candidate in biomedical engineering, the faculty-member said.
In the past she said chemistry hires typically received between $300,000 and $400,000, especially in light of Illinois’ recent two-year-long budget impasse from which many state-run universities are still struggling to recover, she said.
Wang also suggested those involved in hiring consider splitting the startup money and using it for two hires instead of one. The final decision on the startup package is Garvey’s decision.
“I’m going to have to be very shrewd about what we can offer to any candidate on this campus until we know more about our budgetary situation,” said Garvey, who said he has yet to look at either of the packages. “At this stage, if we’re going to build something of that cost, it has to be a core facility that we share on campus among faculty so it benefits multiple people.”
DiLalla also said the same sources of money aren’t used for hiring as they are for startups, adding the startup money couldn’t be used for a hire since startup money isn’t ongoing.
Shahram Rahimi, chair of the department of computer science, said a new hire has been made for the fall, and the individual came from the chancellor’s Ingenuity Lab, adding she is an excellent candidate and he is happy to have her join the faculty.
An academic from Montemagno’s time in Cincinnati was invited to the campus for an unofficial interview in November. So far, there has not been a recommendation to hire.
“Everyone was excited about her energy and expertise,” said Karen Midden, associate dean of the college of agricultural sciences. “She was outstanding.”
“You can’t simply cease to hire,” said DiLalla, referring to the university’s budgetary stress and the chancellor’s reorganization proposal.
He said as part of that process, if you save money, that’s a win, but it shouldn’t be the fixation of the reorganization.
Since becoming chancellor in July, Montemagno has proposed three revised drafts of an academic reorganization plan that includes eliminating chair positions and the transition of eight colleges into five and of 42 departments into 20 schools.
“It’s not that we’re organizing to save money — we’re reorganizing to do a lot of things to make the administrative structure more flexible, more responsive,” DiLalla said.
But Johnson said he believes many people on campus are not only concerned about the reorganization, but also about recent hiring patterns connected to the chancellor.
“Many are afraid to speak up or have resigned themselves to the belief that nothing can be done,” he said.
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