In letter to academic freedom association, Urbana chancellor explains plans for Kilgore review
URBANA — In a letter sent to the American Association of University Professors, which has raised concerns about the University of Illinois not renewing James Kilgore's employment contract, Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise said she was still reviewing his potential for future employment.
"Given the recent controversy over Dr. Kilgore’s appointment, the provost is charging a committee to review the processes involved in hiring employees, including academic hourly staff and visiting lecturers. The committee will involve campus faculty leaders as well as administrative staff. Additionally, the committee will be asked to provide a recommendation specifically regarding Mr. Kilgore’s future employability at the University of Illinois," Wise wrote to Anita Levy, associate secretary of the American Association of University Professors.
"Once we receive the recommendations from the committee, the provost and I will consult with campus and university administrators. If the outcome of the process is not in Mr. Kilgore’s favor, internal grievance processes will be made available to him," Wise wrote. She added that the university shares the organization's commitment to values of academic freedom and shared governance.
Provost Ilesanmi Adesida, whose office oversees hiring of academics on campus, said Monday he plans to assemble a committee "with strong faculty participation" to review not only Kilgore's case, but also general policies and procedures about how the campus hires visiting, nontenured academics like Kilgore.
Kilgore, a former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, has worked for the UI in recent years in a variety of jobs, such as a grant writer and most recently helping to teach an arts and creativity class. His wife, Teresa Barnes, is a tenured history professor at the UI.
Kilgore had been preparing to teach courses in Global Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for the next school year when he reportedly was told his contract would not be renewed. In an interview with The Associated Press last week, Kilgore said no reasons were given and he blamed outside political interference sparked by News-Gazette columnist Jim Dey's articles published earlier this year about his past.
The columns detailed Kilgore's association with the radical group SLA in the 1970s, including a 1975 bank robbery during which a bank customer was killed. (Kilgore was one of the armed robbers, but did not shoot the victim). After the robbery, Kilgore fled to Africa, where he remained until his extradition to the U.S. in 2002.
He served six years in a California prison before joining his wife in Champaign, where he has been active in social justice groups.
"Personnel matters are usually not for public discussion but in this case one thing I'd like to note is that no final decision has been made in that particular case," Adesida said Monday.
The new committee, which he will appoint, is expected to review Kilgore's case "on its own merit" and conduct a review of how departments and other academic units hire lecturers, instructors and academic staff. Such policies exist, he said, but they can vary by department.
"It's just wise for the campus to have processes, procedures, policies that we use to hire a broad range of staff, faculty," and in every case there should be access to grievance procedures, he said.
UI computer science Professor Roy Campbell, who chairs the Academic Senate — a quasi-legislative body of Urbana faculty, students and staff that advises administration — called it a needed review.
"I'm very interested in making sure all of the different issues are discussed and resolved, and all the discussions follow the appropriate procedures and polices that we've got," he said. "It's important that the report or review is done in a manner that reflects the university's values."
Last week, Kilgore's supporters circulated a petition on campus — more than 250 people have signed it so far — that called the nonrenewal of his contract "a blow to academic freedom and employment equity" and urged for the decision to be reversed.
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 non-reappointment. AAUP associate secretary Anita Levy said the organization questioned "whether media reports highlighting Dr. Kilgore's felony conviction and political activities may have provoked an improperly political response to an academic decision."
On Monday afternoon, members of the Senate Executive Committee met behind closed doors to discuss a proposed resolution that mentions Kilgore's case, but does not name him. Ultimately, the group decided it would not present the document to the full senate next month because it revolved around a personnel matter, Campbell said.
The document essentially reaffirmed the senate's commitment to principles of academic freedom, fair employment and an academic unit's autonomy over curriculum and evaluation of staff to teach those courses.
"In the view of many faculty and academic staff on campus, this case raises potentially grave concerns about principles of academic freedom and fairness in the appointment and reappointment of instructional faculty at the university," the resolution stated.
Here is the text of Phyllis Wise's letter to the American Association of University Professors.
Dear Secretary Levy:
I am responding to your message regarding James Kilgore.
This is a personnel matter, and in accordance with university practice, it would be inappropriate for me to speak to you about it with any specificity. However, I can tell you that Dr. Kilgore is on a short-term contract and such contracts are reviewed on a regular basis. We are still reviewing his potential for future employment.
Given the recent controversy over Dr. Kilgore’s appointment, the provost is charging a committee to review the processes involved in hiring employees, including academic hourly staff and visiting lecturers. The committee will involve campus faculty leaders as well as administrative staff. Additionally, the committee will be asked to provide a recommendation specifically regarding Mr. Kilgore’s future employability at the University of Illinois. Once we receive the recommendations from the committee, the provost and I will consult with campus and university administrators. If the outcome of the process is not in Mr. Kilgore’s favor, internal grievance processes will be made available to him.
I can assure you that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shares your commitment to values of academic freedom and shared governance.