GEO backs Kilgore

GEO backs Kilgore

CHAMPAIGN — The graduate employees' union at the University of Illinois has added its voice to those showing support for James Kilgore.

The Graduate Employees' Organization sent a letter to UI President Bob Easter, Chancellor Phyllis Wise and Provost Ilesanmi Adesida asking the officials to renew Kilgore's employment contract to teach on campus. The organization represents more than 2,600 teaching assistants and graduate assistants on campus.

Kilgore, the former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, was reportedly told in April that the university would not employ him after his current contract expires in August. But campus administrators since then said no final decision has been made.

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A committee appointed by Adesida is expected to review the case and general policies and procedures on how the campus hires visiting, nontenured academics like Kilgore. Last week, faculty delivered to Wise and Adesida a petition with 310 signatures in support of Kilgore. He had proposed to teach some Global Studies courses this fall.

"The ease with which contingent faculty can be eliminated hinders realistic work prospects in academia and is an obstacle to academic freedom," Utathya Chattopadhyaya, GEO Solidarity Officer, said in a release. "This type of decision reflects poorly on the University of Illinois, and this arbitrary treatment of contingent faculty on this campus is of deep concern for GEO and its membership."

Kilgore's supporters have criticized the administration's decision, saying it was made in response to political pressure and not based on Kilgore's performance or academic contributions. Earlier this year, The News-Gazette published columns detailing Kilgore's activities with the SLA almost 40 years ago, including his involvement with the group's 1975 bank robbery during which a customer was killed.

"This level of interference from high-level administrators is extremely unusual," the GEO's letter to Wise and Easter states. "It is clear that the motivations for abruptly terminating Kilgore's contract have nothing to do with his competence as a teacher and scholar, nor is it a result of budgetary constraints. One is left to conclude that these motivations relate to Kilgore's past political activities and his record of incarceration.

"James Kilgore is an esteemed research scholar currently employed by the Center for African Studies. He has received strong teaching evaluations, has produced scholarly writings in peer-reviewed journals on several pressing concerns such as incarceration, labor, and social justice, and has also been instrumental in submitting a major grant application in support of the Center for African Studies," the organization wrote.

Text of GEO news release

Here is the text of the GEO's news release about its support for Kilgore:

GEO SUPPORTS THE REINSTATEMENT OF JAMES KILGORE

Champaign, IL — The Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) calls upon the administration of the University of Illinois to stop blocking the renewal James Kilgore's contract to teach courses at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

GEO adds this public statement to voices of the more than 300 University faculty members who delivered a petition in support of Kilgore's employment to the University of Illinois Chancellor's office earlier this week.

James Kilgore is an esteemed research scholar currently employed by the Center for African Studies. He has received strong teaching evaluations, has produced scholarly writings in peer reviewed journals on several pressing concerns such as incarceration, labor, and social justice, and has also been instrumental in submitting a major grant application in support of the Center for African Studies. After he had been offered two courses to teach next year, Kilgore was informed by administration that the offer was rescinded. They offered no explanation for their decision.

This decision raises concerns about academic freedom, especially in light of a recent statement made by Chair of the Board of Trustees, Chris Kenney (sic), to the Champaign News-Gazzette (sic) on May 8, 2014. This statement implies that the academic freedom of non-tenured faculty is not a priority for UIUC.

Kennedy said: "If this was an issue of academic freedom, we would stand up for it. This is an hourly employee who doesn't have tenure. It's completely different."

The GEO calls on the University administration to be transparent about its reasons for not renewing contracts and the process they use to reach such decisions. This prevents abuse of power, prevents discrimination, and guarantees that the university abides by clear policies when making employment decisions.

"The ease with which contingent faculty can be eliminated hinders realistic work prospects in academia and is an obstacle to academic freedom." Said Utathya Chattopadhyaya, GEO Solidarity Officer. "This type of decision reflects poorly on the University of Illinois, and this arbitrary treatment of contingent faculty on this campus is of deep concern for GEO and its membership."

Earlier this week, GEO leadership sent a letter directly to University of Illinois leadership, including President Easter, Chancellor Wise, and Provost Adesida requesting that they reinstate Kilgore.

GEO leadership, including Chattopadhyaya, is available to discuss this matter further with the press.

Text of GEO letter to Phyllis Wise, other UI administrators

Chancellor Phyllis Wise

Subject: Restoring the Employment Status of James Kilgore

April 25, 2014

Chancellor Wise,

We, the members of the Graduate Employees Union Solidarity Committee, are writing to you with concern for the academic standing of James Kilgore.

James Kilgore is an esteemed research scholar currently employed by the Center for African Studies. He has produced scholarly writings on several pressing concerns such as incarceration, labor and social justice. During his time at Illinois, he has published three books, each of which have garnered widespread acclaim from academic and non-academic audiences, In the same period, Kilgore's research has appeared in the pages of top tier peer-reviewed journals such as Critical Sociology, Critical Criminology, and the Labor Studies Journal.

Kilgore's professional work at the Center for African Studies, over and above his scholarly endeavors, has been relevant and useful for students of contemporary social sciences and humanities. Students' evaluations of his ability to teach were extremely high, and he was included on the Excellent Teachers List for the semester.

A strong community advocate, Kilgore has also been involved with local grassroots efforts, including taking a leadership role in the successful effort to stop Champaign County from unnecessarily expanding its jail facilities last year. James Kilgore is an exemplar of a socially invested scholar and educator, and an engaged community member, in whom the University should take pride.

Instead, it has come to our attention that Kilgore was recently informed by the Provost and LAS Dean Brian Ross that the University will not renew his employment contract. This ad hoc termination comes at a time when Kilgore had already been offered courses by the Departments of Urban and Regional Planning, and Global Studies for the Fall 2014 semester. The administration's decision is especially surprising in light of the fact that Kilgore's courses had already been approved, his job evaluations were all excellent, and the Deans responsible for his evaluations were prepared to renew his contract.

This level of interference from high level administrators is extremely unusual. It is clear that the motivations for abruptly terminating Kilgore's contract have nothing to do with his competence as a teacher and scholar, nor is it a result of budgetary constraints. One is left to conclude that these motivations relate to Kilgore's past political activities and his record of incarceration. However, if this were the case it would be shocking, since all information on the matter had been dutifully released to the University at the time of his employment. In fact Robin Kaler, Associate Chancellor for Public Affairs at the University, has previously stated in an interview for the Chicago Sun Times:

"He is a good example of someone who has been rehabilitated, if you believe in second chances and redemption, he's someone who helps prove that's the human thing to do. A child of the victim said he has served his time and should be allowed to go on with his life."

In addition, Professor Thomas Bassett, the director of Global Studies addressed Kilgore in this way:

"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!"

Universities exist to create dedicated environments for the generation of knowledge without the threat of coercion by political groups. Therefore, the University of Illinois's decision not to renew the employment contract for James Kilgore is an attack on academic freedom that not only compromises our current academic climate, but also sets a dangerous precedent. The faculty and students of this campus, through their research and teaching, are the ones who earn the accolades the University prides itself on. Undue administrative interference in matters where academic research and training is concerned, especially without any negotiation with concerned faculty, tarnishes the academic freedom so valued at a research university of our caliber.

We understand that a committee has been created to review the matter. Nonetheless, in the interest of sustaining a productive atmosphere for scholarship in fields ranging from contemporary African studies to global social justice, we strongly request that the University of Illinois immediately reverse its decision on James Kilgore's future employment contracts. We further ask that the administration base all future decisions regarding employment on performance and suitability for the position, rather than sacrifice academic integrity for political convenience.

Thank you for your consideration on this important matter. Please contact us with any questions you may have about our request.

Sincerely,

Solidarity Committee

The University of Illinois Graduate Employee's Union

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Skepticity wrote on May 14, 2014 at 10:05 am

I am again troubled by the number of academics who rally to the support of a man whose distorted belief system allowed him to rationalize committing crimes such as bomb making, bank robbery, and accessory to murder. 

This man forged documents, stole the identity of a deceased child, and obtained his advanced degrees under that false identity while a fugitive from justice. 

In the past, academic honesty was important at universities.  For the University of Illinois to accept Mr. Kilgore's academic credentials they have to accept his false identity and ignore his forgery and identity theft. 

If Mr. Kilgore is using credentials under that stolen identity for his own financial gain, then he is currently committing the crime of identity theft.

Academics who support Mr. Kilgore being employed at the university also have to accept that the man whose twisted ideology was used to rationalize and justify his crimes is a suitable candidate to instruct others. 

This is not an issue of whether Mr. Kilgore used radical left or radical right wing ideology to justify his crimes. 

This is an issue of values, which presently appear to be in short supply among the academics at the University of Illinois.

Electromorphus wrote on May 14, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Kilgore's past activities are not being defended here.  They are indefensable.  They are also essentially irrelevant to the ethical matter at hand.

What's being defended: 

  • The right of ex-convicts to rejoin society without suffering permanent marginalization once they have paid for their crimes as the justice system sees fit.
     
  • The right of educators, and workers in general, not to be arbitrarily terminated because of political or personal vendettas board members or administrators may have.
Skepticity wrote on May 14, 2014 at 6:05 pm

The ethical matter at hand is that of exercising judgment in choosing educators.

To whom do you entrust the education of students at a university?

(This has nothing to do with academic freedom.  Unfortunately, for his supporters, it is his ideology that matters.  If he had committed the same crimes as part of a right wing group, he would not have been hired and no one would support him.  )

 

  • Rejoining society after serving a sentence does not automatically confer ethical amnesia upon others evaluating you for employment. You are not entitled to any job you desire.  There is no "right" that can prevent some marginalization after committing such crimes. 

I suspect the university would not hire a paroled pedophile to provide childcare for faculty children.

The university probably wouldn't hire a parolee convicted of fraud to manage funds.

Why employ a former terrorist revolutionary who placed serving his ideology over the safety and well being of others as an instructor of young adults?

He served his time and was released to rejoin society. OK... 

Academic credentials obtained while a fugitive and under a false name do not assure a university position when paroled.

The ethical issue is that he was hired in such a position at the University in the first place.

  • He is not being terminated. He just is not being offered a new contract.