[News] University of Illinois Chancellor resignation - What Illinois Kept Secret

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Aug 10 11:15:13 EDT 2015


  What Illinois Kept Secret

August 10, 2015


Scott Jaschik <https://www.insidehighered.com/users/scott-jaschik>

As Hillary Clinton has learned the hard way, using your personal email 
account when doing government work doesn't make the content of those 
emails exempt from public records laws. The University of Illinois 
System announced 
<http://uofi.uillinois.edu/emailer/newsletter/77321.html> its own email 
scandal Friday afternoon, admitting that some senior officials -- whom 
it did not name -- used private email accounts for official business and 
failed to turn over some of those email records in response to public 
records requests, as required.

While the university did not name the "certain administrative personnel" 
who didn't turn over their private email records, there is at least 
circumstantial evidence indicating that Phyllis M. Wise, chancellor of 
the flagship campus at Urbana-Champaign, is among them. Many of the 
email records that were now released were either from or to the 
chancellor. And the announcement of the email violations came a day 
after Wise announced that she would be quitting her position 
<https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/08/07/chancellor-u-illinois-urbana-champaign-resigns> as 
of next week.

The emails suggest that the private accounts were used (despite clear 
university policy that they are covered by open records requests) to 
keep matters private. In one email, Wise quotes Robin Kaler, Wise's 
chief spokeswoman, as warning "me and others not to use email since we 
are now in a litigation phase. We are doing virtually nothing over our 
Illinois email addresses. I am ever careful with this email address and 
deleting after sending."

Numerous emails contain references that are likely embarrassing to the 
senders and the subjects -- and the email provides a look at the kinds 
of conversations that senior administrators never like to be visible. 
For instance, Ilesanmi Adesida, provost at Urbana-Champaign, emailed 
Wise about the search for a system president whom Adesida wrote in the 
email might not be needed. He told the chancellor: "I agree, this place 
is messed up."

The emails provide new details on some of the biggest messes at Illinois 
in the last two years. They show how Wise and other senior 
administrators (and some faculty members) viewed their controversial 
decision to block the hiring of Steven Salaita. And the emails show how 
the Illinois board chair put strong pressure on the administration to do 
something about James Kilgore, an adjunct who briefly lost his job 
because of his past involvement with the Symbionese Liberation Army. In 
both cases, the email records show high-level administrators and board 
members involved in academic decisions normally left to academic 

*The Salaita Case*

he outlines of the Salaita case 
<https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/08/06/u-illinois-apparently-revokes-job-offer-controversial-scholar> have 
been clear for a year -- he was offered a tenured job in the American 
Indian Studies program at Urbana-Champaign, and the hire was 
sufficiently far along that he had quit his previous job (at Virginia 
Tech) and been assigned classes to teach at Illinois for fall 2014. But 
Wise intervened at the last minute and said that

  she would not forward the Salaita appointment to the board for 
approval, and that he didn't have a job. She did so after publicity over 
Salaita's Twitter feed, where he wrote passionately about the 
Israeli-Palestinian conflict in ways that struck many supporters of 
Israel as uncivil and hostile to Israel and supporters of that nation.

Once the controversy started, Salaita and many faculty members 
maintained that he had been fired, without the due process Illinois 
promises tenured faculty members. This is part of a federal lawsuit 
Salaita filed against the university -- and on which a judge on Friday 
refused a request by Illinois to dismiss 

Wise and her supporters maintained that Salaita was not fired, but that 
he simply had never been hired, as the board never gave its approval. As 
a result, they said he wasn't entitled to the due process of a tenured 
faculty member.

The 294 pages of emails 
<https://www.uillinois.edu/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=278006> involving 
Salaita released Friday show, however, multiple references by Wise and 
other Illinois officials to Salaita already having been offered a job at 
the time that Wise blocked him from starting it. The emails don't show a 
debate about what to do about a proposed hire moving through the system, 
but about one that has effectively been made.

For example, an email from Wise just prior to her telling Salaita he 
could not take up his position said, "Let me add that the hateful, 
totally unprofessional and unacceptable Twitters have appeared mainly 
since July. This is after the decision to hire him and after his 
acceptance of our offer. It reveals a side of a person that I believe 
makes it difficult for him to contribute to the culture of respect, 
collegiality, collaboration that we hold so dear," she wrote.

The emails also make clear that Illinois acted against Salaita on the 
basis of the Twitter comments. This could be important legally as he has 
maintained -- with backing from numerous academic and civil liberties 
groups -- that his posts are protected expression under the First 
Amendment. But Wise in her emails suggests that there are limits to 
protected expression.

In one, she says, "The real question for me is when does freedom of 
speech cross the line into hateful, harassing unprofessional speech and 
action." (While there has been much criticism of Salaita's comments and 
tone, there have not been reports of unprofessional "action" by him, and 
it is unclear what Wise means there.)

The emails also reveal a constant exchange of ideas and gossip about how 
various faculty groups at Urbana-Champaign and elsewhere responded to 
the controversy as it continued from last summer into the fall. Many 
academic departments at Illinois and many groups nationally condemned 
the university for preventing Salaita from taking up his position. But 
Wise also had strong support from many faculty members in the sciences 
who viewed Wise's overall management of the university more favorably.

The records that were released show Wise receiving advice from 
scientists on the situation and on understanding their colleagues in the 

Douglas Beck, a physics professor whose emails show sympathy for Wise 
and her handling of the situation, wrote to her, "There is a crisis of 
value, most deeply felt in the humanities. There is surely a component 
of self-pity and desire to play the victim; but I think we too are at 
fault in not taking enough time to explain how important we believe, 
e.g., the humanities, to be, especially their stand-alone, intrinsic 
value (not associated with interdisciplinary etc. activities) ….

"There seems to be a belief that the campus can operate almost 
completely as a democracy, where the faculty have the final say in every 
important decision. They somehow don't understand or choose to ignore 
all the work that goes on outside their offices that allows them to 
teach their classes and seminars, read and write, with little 
interference …. This may define the two cultures" on campus, he added.

That email message is already being criticized 
<http://goodenoughprofessor.blogspot.com/2015/08/when-i-first-started-blogging-about.html?spref=tw> online 
by other faculty members.

Salaita did not respond to a request to comment on the emails released 
Friday but he did comment on Twitter, and focused on the new evidence 
that senior Illinois officials considered that he had in fact been hired.

In one tweet, he wrote, "I wish UIUC apologists would just admit they're 
glad I got fired b/c of my views. The 'but, but he wasn't hired' routine 
is embarrassing." In another, he said, "Misrepresenting academic hiring 
protocol to suit a pro-Israel POV you're too coy to vocalize screws over 
everybody, not just political foes."

*The Kilgore Case*

James Kilgore was hired as an adjunct in global studies and urban 
planning in 2011 and earned good reviews until 2014, when /The 
News-Gazette/, a local newspaper, published an article about his past. 
He was hired at Illinois two years after leaving prison, where he served 
time for his involvement with a 1975 bank robbery in which a woman was 
killed (Kilgore was not the gunman).

He told those hiring him about his past -- he was a member of the 
Symbionese Liberation Army,  a group best known for kidnapping the 
heiress Patty Hearst. After the /News-Gazette/article ran, Kilgore was 
summoned to a meeting with the provost and told that future teaching 
there was unlikely and that sections for him to teach -- already 
approved by relevant departments -- were being held up 

University officials denied that there was anything out of the ordinary 
about their involvement in blocking Kilgore from teaching, but many 
professors said it was a violation of the rights of Kilgore and the 
departments that wanted him to teach to prevent him from doing so, when 
there was no evidence that he had violated any university policies. 
After several panels reviewed the situation, Kilgore was permitted to 
return to teaching, and he has courses scheduled for this fall. (Kilgore 
no longer supports the ideas of the Symbionese Liberation Army.)

What the new emails on Kilgore 
<https://www.uillinois.edu/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=278003> show 
is that there was strong pressure from Christopher Kennedy, then chair 
of the Illinois board, to bar anyone in Kilgore's position from 
teaching. Kennedy also expressed the view that the university "needs to, 
in many ways, reflect the values of the state." The Kennedy email backs 
up the views of many faculty members, who said that Kennedy and other 
trustees were inappropriately involved in decisions about faculty hiring.

In an email from Kennedy to Robert Easter, then president of the 
university system, after the /News-Gazette/ article appeared, Kennedy 
wrote that "the story will be offensive to taxpayers."

"I think they are going to be offended by the notion that their taxes 
are going to support the lifestyle and career of a fellow who tried to 
overthrow the U.S. government and targeted police officers and innocent 
victims for killings," Kennedy said, adding that he believes that those 
who serve prison terms deserve the chance to go on with life but that he 
was "uncomfortable" with the idea that "the second chance should come 
from public support."

Kennedy, a son of Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated, noted that he 
has personal experiences that shape his opinions on issues. But he said 
that the university can't be surprised by incivility by students "given 
that we have held up to the students as examples people like this 
fellow, who thought it was OK to target cops and noncombatants for 
murders as an expression for political disagreement."

And he suggested that the university must generally pay more attention 
to the views of state citizens. "I think the university, as the state's 
public university, needs to, in many ways, reflect the values of the 
state," Kennedy wrote. "If we become too cavalier in our attitudes about 
this, then the people of the state and their representatives will 
respond. They'll hinder our ability to free ourselves of unwanted 
procurement rules, they'll limit our ability to provide supplemental 
retirement benefits, they'll acquiesce to a decrease in … support for 
the university."

Kilgore, via email to /Inside Higher Ed/, offered this reaction to the 
newly released emails:

"These emails show that the motivation to get rid of me came from the 
Board of Trustees. They further confirm that early on in this process 
the university was aware that I had not concealed anything about my 
background when I was hired. This issue has prompted the university to 
recognize that addressing people's criminal backgrounds is an issue they 
cannot avoid in our present context.

"With 70 million people in the U.S. with criminal records and almost 20 
million with felony convictions, we who have felony convictions are no 
longer an aberration. I only hope the university will use the 
opportunity to develop a policy to open the door to people who have 
felony convictions and give them the second chance that their 'Inclusive 
Illinois' slogan implies. I also hope that the development of a policy 
will eliminate any urges from Board of Trustee members to intervene in 
hiring decisions, especially at the level of academic hourly."

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