Kilgore: 'We must not freeze people in history'

Kilgore: 'We must not freeze people in history'

SPRINGFIELD — James Kilgore — social activist, African studies scholar, lecturer, former member of a 1970s revolutionary group and convicted felon — called on University of Illinois trustees Wednesday to let those with criminal histories move beyond their "most destructive criminal act, to show that we must not freeze people in history but allow them to move forward, to transform."

Consider his own life example, he said, addressing the board during the public comment session of its meeting in Springfield.

"As a young man I committed acts of which I stand ashamed, acts which were not only illegal, but utterly destructive to innocent members of the community and damaging to my family, loved ones and all those who campaigned for social justice and peace.

"For more than three decades I have attempted to move beyond those acts, to chart a different road, working through nonviolent means as an educator in the cause of social justice. I, like the 'convict criminologists' and many people who have traveled errant pathways, have learned lessons which are important for young people to know.

"Who better to tell someone how to avoid a destructive path than someone who has walked that path? And what better place for young people to learn these lessons than in the most esteemed universities in the land, like the University of Illinois?"

Education, he said, is a means for those with criminal pasts to demonstrate the potential to move beyond criminal acts. And Kilgore, supporters said, has moved beyond his criminal acts of nearly 40 years ago. He should be allowed to continue teaching at the university, they said after traveling to Springfield to be with Kilgore Wednesday.

His speech to the board comes at a time when a campus committee, made up of people selected by administrators, will decide whether or not he will be able to teach next semester, or ever at all in the future on the campus.

Kilgore was reportedly told in April that the university would not employ him after his current contract expires in August. Supporters have said the decision was made in response to political pressure and not based on his performance or academic contributions. They also described the move as a "blow to academic freedom and employment equity" in a petition submitted to administrators.

Trustees typically do not respond to speakers during the public comment portion of the meeting, but following Kilgore's speech, UI trustee and former federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said the university should never have a policy banning people with criminal records from working at the UI. Lots of people have paid their debts to society, and the issue of reintegrating people with criminal records into society is an "excellent one," he said.

However, as much as Fitzgerald said he has advocated for reintegration, the hard part is figuring out, "when is it a good and positive thing to bring someone into the university system, whether it's a faculty or any other employee, and where you do draw lines?

"It's an important question and one we're wrestling with," he said, adding that there may also be places where one should not employ people with criminal records.

"The issue of whether or not to employ someone who has a criminal background is not to me an academic freedom issue," Fitzgerald said.

"I don't see anyone saying that we ever want to step in and talk about whether our people should be employed based on speech or teaching in the classroom. And to take a very serious issue, which is what to do with people who have criminal backgrounds and how to apply a policy and how to apply it fairly, and to call it an academic freedom issue, to me is not, I don't think, accurate," he said.

Earlier this year, The News-Gazette published columns detailing Kilgore's activities with the Symbionese Liberation Army almost 40 years ago, including his involvement with the group's 1975 bank robbery during which a customer was killed. After Kilgore was picked up by authorities in South Africa in 2002, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, possession of an explosive device and passport violations and served time in a California prison.

He has held a number of nontenure-track positions at the UI in recent years, teaching prisoners, writing grant applications and lecturing in classes.

Academic freedom, said UI professor and Kilgore supporter D. Fairchild Ruggles, provides the opportunity for people to say things that are difficult or not popular.

"We cannot limit speech or frame the classroom in such as way as to exclude a 'lifestyle' that we don't like. We cannot or should not decide what is acceptable based on who pays the salary of the teacher. The principle of academic freedom rises above those particular interests," she said, referring to comments made by UI Board Chair Christopher Kennedy last week.

Kennedy said the university shouldn't employ anyone with a history of domestic terrorism. The university, he told The News-Gazette, operates on taxpayer money and tuition dollars, "and taxpayers, the people in our state, will be alarmed, have been alarmed, by the notion we are putting a domestic terrorist on the public payroll."

Several weeks ago, campus administrators said no final decision has been made on Kilgore's future employment. A committee appointed by Provost Ilesanmi Adesida is expected to review the case and general policies and procedures on how the campus hires visiting, nontenured academics like Kilgore.

After the meeting Wednesday, several trustees said the review process going on now is "campus-driven." That's where it should be, said Ed McMillan, a member of the board's executive committee.

"I think the process will unfold and if it comes to us, it comes to us. I would hope it gets handled at the campus level at this point," Kennedy said. "I think we have a good process ... to review our hiring processes for a group of employees that traditionally haven't been subject to the review process and in this day and age, it's not acceptable not to have a set of rules around who we hire," he said.

UI officials are developing a new policy that will require background checks for all new hires, not just those who work with children or hold "security sensitive" positions, such as in public safety. Under current university policy, an instructor with a criminal past does not automatically undergo a background check.

As for Kilgore, he called on trustees to establish a hiring policy for faculty that recognizes "the richness of the experience of those who have fallen, picked themselves up and found their way back toward success and intellectual inquiry. They have a wealth of knowledge to offer the academy, a wealth that a great university should not choose to do without," he said.

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Bulldogmojo wrote on May 14, 2014 at 11:05 am

Where is the sign up sheet for addressing the trustees? I have a few things I'd like to bring to their attention. 

journaljim wrote on May 14, 2014 at 2:05 pm
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@bulldog - U of I BOT meeting schedules are online. Directions for Public Comment can be found here

I hope to read your name in the minutes of a future meeting.

45solte wrote on May 14, 2014 at 2:05 pm

Hey, dude, take your fraudulently obtained (you know, via stolen identity) 'academic' privilege off campus to the real world (perhaps less nepotism for ya there) and conduct your transformation there. Plenty o' other places to do it. And, no. You are in no way critical to the education of any students. That's just your narcissism talking. You worked hard, blah blah blah all these years. There was only a 'just' (laughable) end to your case because you GOT CAUGHT. Wow. What a role model for students. 

Lostinspace wrote on May 14, 2014 at 6:05 pm

For the life of me, I can't figure out what this has to do with academic freedom.  There are two issues: criminal record and performance in teaching and research.  Only the latter in this case has to do with academic freedom.  What he did years ago has *nothing* to do with what he is doing now as a member of the faculty.  To hire or fire him on the basis of what he did in the past, given that he has paid the penalty of his actions, sets a dangerous precedent. 

Rocky7 wrote on May 15, 2014 at 2:05 am

Anyone participating in acts of public terrorism and convicted of killing an individual does not deserve to teach at UIUC or the UofI system.  It was bad enough that William Ayers was alowed to teach at UIC, but the board wisely denied his emeritus status when he retired.

There are standards to uphold  in academe. Letting terrorists teach is not one of them. This is not an issue of academic freedom.


Sid Saltfork wrote on May 15, 2014 at 9:05 am

Everything that Kilgore has now is owed to his stint as a terrorist.  Publications, job, and followers are a result of his "political prisoner" six year stay in prison for bank robbery, murder of an innocent, and flight from justice.  It is his only claim to fame; and he has used it to become a "victim" of political, and personal prosecution.  He has made money from it.  Academic Freedom is not the issue unless the followers, and supporters are worried about their frivilous actions, and comments in a classroom.

How about the supporters doing their job in their educational field as they are paid to do instead of becoming involved at the work site with another created crisis?  Shared Governance at the U of I is appearing to be a Three Stooges' fire drill instead of an educational concept.  Why is it always the UIUC that has continuous scandals instead of the other state universities?  Is it due to leadership, or the lack there of?  Anticipate more tantrums from some of the faculty over Shared Governance after new leadership has been hired.

Kilgore will remain over the objections of the majority of U of I financial supporters: taxpayers, and parents.  The U of I administration is too afraid of the faculty to do otherwise.  The defenders of "Academic Freedom" will be thrilled because if Kilgore stays, they would really have to mess up before even the thought of termination would happen.  They are protecting their rice bowl while telling others how to eat.  

Local Yocal wrote on May 15, 2014 at 11:05 am
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Trustee Kennedy seems to be taking the bait this series on Kilgore is intended to create: mislead the U of I officials and the public into believing Kilgore remains to this day, a "domestic terrorist." Was this reported on Kilgore's student evaluations of his classes?

The myths are growing around Kilgore, the accusations becoming more severe, more present, and all the more untrue. Both poor reading comprehension and the whisper game for a political purpose (to build a new jail) is creating the "crisis."

The real crisis is what the criminal justice system has become, never a place for rehabilitation or correction but rather a permanent digital stain for guys like Dey to root through, and use to banish people from the economy (lest they compete for a job), and eliminate them from participating in the formulation of public policy.

Many will say, "damn straight." The attitude, however, is neither moral or feasible. Tell us which Australia or Final Solution gas chamber you wish convicts to go to. It's funny how people will demand mercy, understanding, and another chance when it comes to their sins and the sins of their kids and favorite athlete; but when it suits a purpose to fullfill a prejudice or agenda, then the moral vigilantes become indignant.  

Meanwhile, back in reality: Champaign County, despite its enormous wealth, out of 102 counties in the state ranks third at having the highest poverty rate, at 24.5%. (nearly 1 in 4) Our customer base is shrinking, and soon to follow within the next five years will be the loss of new business. Why? This county has doubled the number of prosecutions since 1995 after completion of the Satellite Jail. 

The silence of the local church during this manufactured drama is deafening.

Sid Saltfork wrote on May 15, 2014 at 12:05 pm

"Final Solution gas chamber"?  A little over the top regarding a story of a felon terrorist hiding behind his wife for job security being compared to the mass execution of millions.  Your previous anti-police, and anti-law enforcement rants have nothing to do with Kilgore's "persecution", right?

The economic situation of Champaign County is due to the number of prosecutions since 1995?  A way bit over the top in justifying your rant?

"The silence of the local church during this manufactured drama is deafening."  That depends on who you pray to in your litany of supreme power.  May the university be the "local church"?

Kilgore is a state employee like it, or not.  He should have went through a background check as any employee would have.  He was hired due to nepotism since the U of I wanted to hire his wife.  He has profited from his crimes.  Sadly, his intellectual supporters worried about their own job security forgot that "when you lay with dogs, you awake with fleas".  Whenever the public hears the woes of the U of I lacking state funding; they remember Kilgore, Troyer, Hogan, and a multitude of other intellectual criminals.

asparagus wrote on May 17, 2014 at 11:05 pm

"Must not freeze people in history" ???

Mr. Kilgore. You willingly participated in the "freezing" of an innocent mother by her being murdered. Her voice screams at you and your hypocrisy and the hypocrisy of all those that defend you.

Your ilk are despicable! You claim to champion the innocent and turn your backs on the innocent you have slaughtered.

YOU HAVE NO INTEGRITY.  You are not truly penitant. You believe you were right.

You continue to assert your righteousness but in doing so you are only confirming evil. An evil that results in death of innocents.

You may have some validity in your grievances agains the MAN and the justice system. You chose the path of EVIL to express those grievances.

Is this your legacy???

And yes, their exists black and white, good and evil. Not absolutely but definitive enough to declare your actions to be evil wrt society.

And so why should we trust  you to "educate" our children?

The brain that processed the actions of SLA as being "A OK" is the same brain that we allow to teach?

By recent evidence, we can only discern that you are masking your true contempt of the law (wanting to wash your hand after shaking with local law enforcement) .

Have you changed? I don't know. Let us not take that chance. The people agree. That is our right as a society. You have no right to force yourself upon us.

Boca Haram in Nigeria feel that they are righteous. Do you sympathize with their cause? I suspect you do. Be honest. The imperial powers of the west forced them to kidnap those innocent children, yes? Be honest!



Virago wrote on May 21, 2014 at 12:05 pm

I agree with Ms. Fairchild Ruggles's opinion we shouldn't terminate teachers simply because of their "lifestyles." I do, however, disagree with the notion that murder, kidnap, bank robbery, identity fraud and fleeing prosecution for over a quarter of a century qualify as lifestyle choices.  These are crimes against the public, and it is entirely appropriate to consider past criminal history when hiring academics at a public institution.