With the state in a far-from-robust financial condition, two area lawmakers have questioned University of Illinois officials about the wisdom of hiring former SLA member and social activist James Kilgore.
State senators Jason Barickman and Chapin Rose said they did not threaten to withhold state funding of the public university, but said they did express their concerns to UI leaders and that they hoped the situation is resolved soon.
"It puts us in a difficult position to be in Springfield talking about budgets and dollars that might be available to the university and anyone else when our colleagues down here are questioning the actions of the university," said Barickman, a Bloomington Republican.
"Every legislator in this state recognizes the difficult financial position we're in. Everyone is looking for ways to trim the budget. This is certainly a piece of information that many legislators can point to as an unnecessary expense. .. It puts us at a disadvantage for representing the university," he added.
"I respect that they are in a difficult position and that faculty are a part of their governance process. I respect they need to go through the process," Barickman said.
Chapin Rose, a Mahomet Republican, recently appeared on a Fox News "The O'Reilly Factor" segment about the controversy. Earlier this spring he questioned President Bob Easter, at a budget hearing about the decision to hire Kilgore and said the university should apologize.
Rose said his constituents "are beyond ticked off."
"This guy served his time, but it doesn't mean we need to put him on the payroll," Rose said.
Removing Kilgore from the discussion, the question he still has is, what are the rules for hiring someone who's been released from prison and has served time for armed violence?
Someone with a misdemeanor pot conviction when he was 18 years old and it's 20 years later is one thing, "but armed violence is a different category," Rose said.
What is the policy for hiring a janitor, a dorm director or an instructor? he asked.
Under current policy, an instructor with a violent criminal past does not automatically undergo a background check if hired by the university. As The News-Gazette reported earlier this month, the UI is developing a new policy requiring background checks for all new hires, not just those who work with children or hold "security sensitive" positions, as under current rules.
The news came on the heels of campus and community debates about Kilgore's employment, but administrators said the UI had planned to move to the new policy ever since the Penn State child sex-abuse scandal.
The goal is to implement the policy early next year.
"Let's fix it for the future. Once and for all, let's make sure this policy they want to enact has teeth to it," Rose said.