Hundreds back Kilgore
CHAMPAIGN — Faculty support for James Kilgore continued to build at the University of Illinois on Monday as a group of his backers hand-delivered to administrators a petition demanding that his employment contract be extended. Also, an advisory body approved a resolution endorsing principles of academic freedom and employment equality.
On Monday morning, about 25 faculty gathered in front of the Swanlund Administrative Building, home to the provost's and chancellor's offices, and delivered the petition, with its list of 310 names, to both offices.
In the afternoon, the Academic Senate, made up of faculty, students and some staff, OK'd a nonbinding resolution that, although it did not mention Kilgore by name, was brought forward after administrators reportedly told him his employment contract would not be renewed at the end of the summer.
Kilgore did not participate in the delivery of the petitions, but he did attend the senate's afternoon meeting. He did not speak at the meeting and declined to be interviewed by The News-Gazette.
Ever since The News-Gazette published commentary earlier this year about Kilgore's past as a member of a 1970s radical group, the Symbionese Liberation Army, the UI has been under pressure to get rid of him, said William Sullivan, professor of landscape architecture. Sullivan organized the petition drive to reverse the decision to terminate Kilgore's employment.
"In America, we have a system of justice that holds people accountable for their actions, metes out punishment, and sometimes encourages rehabilitation. Our system of justice does not include paying your debt to society and then being released from prison in order to face retrial by a local newspaper. It does not include being resentenced in the court of public opinion," he said.
Kilgore has held several nontenured positions on campus in recent years.
Last week, UI Provost Ilesanmi Adesida said no final decision has been made on Kilgore's appointment. A committee appointed by Adesida is expected to review the case along with general policies and procedures on how the campus hires visiting, nontenured academics like Kilgore.
Chancellor Phyllis Wise on Monday declined to discuss claims by some faculty that the university did not renew Kilgore's contract due to outside political pressure.
"This is a personnel matter," she told The News-Gazette.
The provost's committee has been assembled and will take up the matter, she said.
Kilgore supporters on Monday questioned the legitimacy of that committee, which is comprised of people appointed by the provost.
"Such a structure undermines the authority of the decision-making body that is already in place, the legitimately-appointed, unit executive officers that have hired James Kilgore and wish to do so for the upcoming academic year," said Merle Bowen, director of the Center for African Studies, where Kilgore has worked as an academic hourly since 2011.
Bowen said Kilgore has been a "key player" in the center, writing successful grant applications, organizing academic conferences, writing and distributing newsletters about the center and more.
"He is an incredibly important resource for us," said D. Fairchild Ruggles, a professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture, who has had Kilgore run a reading group for a class. His involvement in the reading group, she said, deepened her understanding of incarceration studies.
Kilgore was picked up by authorities in South Africa in 2002, after decades on the run. He served prison sentences for possession of an explosive device, passport fraud and second-degree murder. He was released in 2009 and moved to Illinois to join his wife, UI history Professor Teresa Barnes. He has worked on campus in several different capacities and became involved in local social justice campaigns, including the anti-jail movement.
According to Bowen, the people who should make the decision about Kilgore's future employment at the UI should be those he's worked with: the director of the Center for Global Studies (Kilgore proposed to teach courses for the unit this coming fall), the head of the Department of Urban & Regional Planning, the Education Justice Project and the director of the Center for African Studies.
A resolution affirming principles of "academic freedom and fair employment" for tenured, tenure-track and nontenure-track faculty passed by a vote of 44 to 21 after a vigorous debate in the senate Monday afternoon.
Kim Graber, vice chairwoman of the senate's executive committee, questioned whether such a resolution was necessary and said she had concerns that approving such a resolution would show that the campus has problems with academic freedom.
"I don't think we have real problems" with issues of academic freedom and tenure, she said, and the senate body has appropriate venues, like the Committee for Academic Freedom and Tenure or the Faculty Advisory Committee, which takes up individual cases for faculty who file complaints.
The resolution that passed was an alternate to the one originally proposed. The original resolution included background language that some faculty questioned, such as whether or not "many faculty" had grave concerns about the principles of academic freedom and fairness in hiring instructional staff. It also called on senate committees to investigate "possible abridgements of these principles, and take suitable action on their findings." The first resolution was defeated.
"I would have preferred the original language," said Kathryn Oberdeck, a history professor who wrote the first resolution. But what's important is when faculty have concerns about academic freedom and employment equality, the senate should voice those concerns and reaffirm its commitment to those principles, she said. Doing so is "vitally important" for the university's shared governance structure, Oberdeck said.