Kilgore won't teach at UI; AAUP, some faculty protest

Kilgore won't teach at UI; AAUP, some faculty protest

CHAMPAIGN — Former Symbionese Liberation Army member and now local social justice advocate James Kilgore will no longer teach at the University of Illinois, The News-Gazette has learned.

Campus officials reportedly informed Kilgore, a Global Studies lecturer and part-time staff member with the Center for African Studies, they would not renew his contract for the coming academic year. His contract ends Aug. 15.

Kilgore did not immediately respond to a phone call and campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler declined to discuss details.

"It's a personnel matter," she said.

Have an opinion on Kilgore? Let columnist Tom Kacich know here or write a Letter to the Editor here

Kilgore's supporters are sharply criticizing the administration's decision, saying it was made in response to political pressure and not based on the academic's performance. Today the American Association of University Professors, the national group that defends academic freedom cases, sent a letter to Chancellor Phyllis Wise outlining concerns about Kilgore's nonreappointment. Associate secretary Anita Levy said she was "troubled" by the sequence of events.

"We also question whether media reports highlighting Dr. Kilgore's felony conviction and political activities may have provoked an improperly political response to an academic decision," AAUP's Levy wrote.

Here is the AAUP letter.

Earlier this year News-Gazette columnist Jim Dey wrote about Kilgore's activities with the radical group SLA almost 40 years ago, his involvement with the group's 1975 bank robbery, including the killing of a bank customer (he was one of the armed robbers, but did not shoot the victim), his flight to Africa and 27 years at large, return to the U.S. and six years in a California prison, and in recent years his joining his professor spouse on campus and involvement with social justice groups in Champaign-Urbana.

Here is Dey's story.

An institute of higher education should judge academics like Kilgore by their productivity and their accomplishments, not their criminal backgrounds or media reports, said UI landscape architecture Professor William Sullivan. He started circulating a petition that demands the university reverse its decision.

"It's not in our best interest to have our academic integrity be infringed upon by The News-Gazette and the yellow journalism of Jim Dey. We should judge James Kilgore on the basis of his dedication to excellence, his actual behavior from his release from prison. Isn't that what we do in America? People make a grievous mistake, they do their time. ... They get a second chance. The university should be first in line to defend that idea," Sullivan said.

Kilgore has been a part-time, non-tenure track lecturer on the Urbana campus since 2012 and prior to that a part-time grant writer in 2010, according to documents.

As a nontenure track faculty member Kilgore does not have the protections like those of tenured faculty. But according to the AAUP, part-time faculty like Kilgore should receive a written statement that explains the university's reasons for not reappointing him and he should have access to grievance procedures.

"It's been well documented that he is a highly-respected, accomplished individual," Sullivan said. "He gets the job done and works with passion and skill," Sullivan said. "My hunch is (the decision) is not about quality of work, or how he's conducted himself on campus. It's all about the crimes in the past and the uproar on the right from people who call themselves patriotic Americans, but who don't understand our values as Americans," he said.

As visiting lecturer Kilgore helps teach a course in the College of Fine and Applied Arts called "Exploring Arts and Creativity." His salary is $4,500 for the semester. Kilgore had been preparing to teach courses in Global Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for the 2014-2015 school year. On April 18, Professor Thomas Bassett, the director of Global Studies, reportedly informed Kilgore the department's faculty advisory committee had approved the courses. But the courses had not been approved at a college or campus level.

"When I sought clarification as to why the courses were not approved, I received no explanation. It is disappointing for me to convey this news, especially in the absence of a rationale for the decision. We appreciate your past teaching service to LAS Global Studies and wish that we could employ you again. Not all of our faculty make the List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by their Students!" Bassett wrote to Kilgore, according to documents supplied to the AAUP.

The AAUP recommends the campus renew Kilgore's contract and allow him to teach the four courses.

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thinks wrote on April 22, 2014 at 1:04 pm

I am often in agreement with the AAUP's advocacy on issues concerning the rights of faculty to academic freedom. However, in this case, the issue is not one of academic freedom. It is not Mr. Kilgore's political views that are in question. Whether we are sympathetic or not sympathetic to his positions on social policy, the question is whether it is appropriate to employ a former violent felon--a former domestic terrorist, until relatively recently a fugitive from justice--in a position of public trust, specifically teaching traditional college-age students.

Professor Sullivan is likewise mistaken in characterizing those who argue against Mr. Kilgore's continued instruction on campus as right-wing. I have said elsewhere that I, for one, am a social progressive. Yet, I do not believe Mr. Kilgore should continue to teach on campus, not even if he is a good teacher. This is a matter of principle.

In negotiating impassioned social activism within our society, we should embrace those who represent peaceful solutions. There should be no place in positions of public trust for those who have been convicted of politically motivated violence.

45solte wrote on April 22, 2014 at 2:04 pm

 'It's all about ...the uproar on the right from people who call themselves patriotic Americans, but who don't understand our values as Americans," he (William Sulivan) said.'

Who don't understand the (anti-)American values of (many) liberal academics? Is that what he means by that elitist statement? Hopefully so, as those who are patriots understand quite well the values they hold as Americans and don't need help from academia to define them. Sadly, however, right/wrong ways of thinking have become quite well-defined and entrenched within the academy (despite the parlance of 'academic freedom).' 

'The censorial climate of academia extends beyond tenured professors and touches the students, both in undergraduate and graduate school. They are being taught what is and is not an “acceptable” way of thinking rather than being encouraged to think through difficult questions on their own.'


BruckJr wrote on April 22, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Better late than never, I guess.

thesimpleman wrote on April 22, 2014 at 4:04 pm

then why ohh why did they hire him in the first place ?


sbirch2 wrote on April 22, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Sign the student/community petition urging the University of Illinois to retain local activist James Kilgore.

sbirch2 wrote on April 22, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Sign the student/community petition urging the University of Illinois to retain local activist James Kilgore.

45solte wrote on April 22, 2014 at 8:04 pm

His tenure in the fugitive arena does not carry over to academia. They're two very different 'tracks' (at least for now), despite your trying to extend the 'academic freedom' argument' his way. WRT 'employment equity,' have you ruled out that this was not potentially a case of nepotism, given his wife's employment? Maybe the university, as a matter of human resource policy, does routinely hire convicted felons. It's unclear to me, as his status as one would have been well-known at the time of his hiring. As for his 'social justice' work,  maybe he should branch off into his own niche of the social justice movement...'long-time-fugitives-who-got-caught for justice' or something. You characterize him as being committed to the service of others? He served close to 30 years of self-interest going on with his (alias) life actively avoiding a just outcome for the victims of his 'political activities' (which inlcuded a hand in felony murder). So, he was going to turn himself in right before he got caught. At least that's what he says But, just as he can be seen agitating on youtube something about how 'we can't trust them' (local government WRT new jail issue I think) should we trust what he says? He is arguably best known for fraud (and violence). Who buys the birth certificate of a deceased child in order to obtain a passport and run away from justice for 27 years?

stewart bath wrote on April 22, 2014 at 5:04 pm

He was a terrorist and is a felon. The people who hired him in the first place should be fired.

Sid Saltfork wrote on April 22, 2014 at 8:04 pm

He was hired due to nepotism.  The university wanted to hire his wife.  Therefore, a job in academia had to be found for him.  It happens all of the time in public funded universities.  Jobs are found for academic spouses, children, and siblings in order to recruit, or retain an academic.  The state law prohibits nepotism; but the state funded universities ignore it.  This is just one of those times that the university got caught up in it's deceptions.  He can earn more money driving a cab than teaching on campus anyway.  The job title is less prestigous; but the pay is better.

Now to be fair, a local facist must be pillored by the News Gazette.  Oh well, forget that.......

locavore wrote on April 22, 2014 at 10:04 pm

I noted before that the News-Gazette's attacks on James Kilgore are motivated by his involvement in the No More Jails campaign that last year successfully pursuaded the County Board to seek alternatives to incarceration. That effort produced a credible plan to lower the jailed population and saved the taxpayers of Champaign County $23 million.

I also predicted that the attacks on Kilgore were meant to pave the way for the next proposal to build another jail. Guess what? Literally days after Kilgore received the notice of non-reappointment, the County Board commenced with a discussion about building more jail cells. Last week, they issues a formal request for quotations on the project.

That $23 million figure, originally quoted by the sheriff's office in 2012, has now become a kind of public promise, and those who expect the money won't hesitate to wreck someone's character to get it. Whether you're a conservative or liberal, we're all much poorer for this.

charliecrothers wrote on April 23, 2014 at 8:04 am

From the misguided petition itself,,, 

"We further ask that the administration base all future decisions regarding employment on performance and suitability for the position, not on outside political pressure or criminal background."

Are you kidding?  Ignoring criminal history is in itself criminal; to abdicate on a moral responsibility to vett those who teach our students.

Mr. Kilgore has not paid enough for his complicity in the murder of an innocent woman and her unborn child.  He never should have been hired in the first place. 

I was a student when William Ayres ranted in Lincoln Park across from Urbana High School as a minion of the Weathermen/SDS. The U of I can ill afford another embarassment.


Bulldogmojo wrote on April 23, 2014 at 9:04 am

" a Global Studies lecturer and part-time staff member with the Center for African Studies"

Can you imagine a person of color struggling against all of the pressures that they must face to pursue an education, avoid trouble with a legal system that is unfairly scewed to prosecute people of color, to position themselves to achieve their goal of being an academic and then this entitled white menace to society turns up and steps into a position like that?

This University needs to pull it's head out of it's collective PC infused nepotism and learn how to hire people that will advance not only the cause of education but also the cause of repairing our dignity in the eyes of the public.


shapemaster wrote on April 23, 2014 at 11:04 am

Dear Mr. Editor


Regarding Mr. Kilgore,


As a Christian I can tell you that I’ve witnessed change in so many people’s lives through my 34 years of serving Christ that I believe a person can change for the better and become a huge asset to the community.

We have Chuck Colson’s life as an example of this.


I cannot determine if Mr. Kilgore has had a change of heart with regard to his actions during the 1970’s.

As a boy growing up I remember the actions of the SLA and the horrific crimes they were associated with.

It really was a terrible time of terror in America caused by these “home grown” vigilantes.


Had Mr. Kilgore not been a fugitive and a lawbreaker the FBI and others would not have been after him those long number of years he was on the run practicing deception.


If a person changes, and actually repents of their actions I can see how they could become helpful in a state institution like the University of Illinois once they have served their time in other state institutions (or Federal if the case may be).


However, if a person is really not repentant of their actions, the crimes or the damage they caused others I see no benefit what so

ever that our community or any other can receive from such a person.  In fact I highly regard that person as a potential social terrorist for future action against the society in which he lives. 


There must be change in a person’s heart.  No change, then no regard for them other than the law perhaps has claimed they’ve done their time and let them go back into society and we will see what they end up doing by their actions.


If you pay your bill for a fee that was imposed upon you (jail time) then what gives you some special dispensation that we should welcome you with open arms into our institution to teach us and our children.

Come Fall of 2014 I will have two children in the University of Illinois.  My money will be invested there and I have a say perhaps in who will influence my children.

My children have received no special financial benefits and my wife and I will be paying the full load and cost of tuition and fees.  I can only hope that those who will

be in the position of instruction of my children will be people with high moral character and cherish this country as much as I do and the hearts and minds of my children, all children who are in this fine institution.


Mr. Kilgore, have you repented of your actions and have you made restitution to the families you perhaps impacted by your actions and the actions of your fellow SLA members?

I sincerely hope you have Sir.


Thank you for taking my letter



Kenneth B. Cooley Jr.



Bulldogmojo wrote on April 24, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Dear Mr. Editor,

As an atheist I was already born with an innate sense of right and wrong as most people are and don't need to participate in credulity and incantation to achieve this.

As Mr. Cooley said..

"It really was a terrible time of terror in America caused by these “home grown” vigilantes."

Just like now as evidenced by the absurd racist, militia minded, poisonous anti-government paranoid ideology playing out in some regions of the United States.

I also will have a son attending the University in the fall and it would be a relief if he could be taught a rational education by sober minded people who NEVER resorted to advancing esoteric political violence. Also if his tuition would not go up every year because this University poisons it's own well of private donorship by hiring unethical people, who by the way, all claim to be god believers just as Charles Colson did right before they threw him in prison. What a coincidence he found jesus right then, I guess Jesus didn't see him first.

I don't care if Mr. kilgore has repented to a non-existent deity of his choosing. He was involved in homicide so that's where I draw the line. He certainly does not embody some proprietary knowledge that another academic who conducted themselves morally and ethically couldn't deliver properly and without a threat of fringe terroristic activism.

Mr. Kilgore, Did you clean out your desk?

I sincerely hope you have sir.