Here is the complete statement by James Kilgore to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees at its meeting May 14, 2014, in Springfield.
Chairman Kennedy, Members of the Board of Trustees, President Easter, Chancellor Wise, colleagues and friends:
Today I want to speak about adjuncts — or specialized faculty as we are now called. I begin with remarks about Communication 25, recently sent to all faculty by Provost Adesida. A remarkable step forward, this document recognizes the critical role of specialized faculty and offers a structure for standardizing job titles. Further, it presents proposals for salary regularization and opportunities for specialized faculty to gain multiyear contracts, access to promotion and rewards for research. All of these are most welcome.
Unfortunately, Communication 25 fails to address one of the fundamental insecurities faced by the hundreds of specialized faculty at the U of I: the lack of a transparent review process for renewal of contracts. Without this, inappropriate factors such as personal differences with a department chair may result in non-renewal. More importantly, lack of transparency opens the door to abuses of academic freedom where political views, religious or sexual preferences, immigration status, or a host of other criteria can enter into the evaluation of an academic employee's performance, where they have no rightful place.
A second important issue not addressed in Communication 25 is the question of felony convictions. Today 15 million people in the United States have felony convictions, prompting debates about human rights and employment equity for those with a criminal background. Attorney General Eric Holder has highlighted the right of those with felony convictions to vote. The Federal Equal Opportunity Commission has discouraged broad exclusions from employment on the basis of criminal background and instead proposed an "individualized assessment," which offers a person the opportunity to explain why they deserve a second chance. Such a measure would be a welcome addition to the University of Illinois' employment policy.
But what is also needed is a change of mindset, an acceptance that among us there are people who have been found guilty of crimes but who have moved beyond those low points of their life through a process that some call redemption.
Why is this important for specialized faculty? Because many people with felony convictions want to give back to their communities and one of the best ways to do this is to teach young people how to avoid a destructive path. Education is a means for those with a criminal record to demonstrate the potential to move beyond a person's most destructive criminal act, to show that we must not freeze people in history but allow them space to move forward, to transform.
Two examples illustrate this. The first is an organization — Convict Criminologists — comprised of formerly incarcerated individuals with Ph.D.s who have constituted themselves as a school of thought in criminology. They argue that "convict scholars," as they call themselves, "are able to ... merge their past with their present and provide a provocative approach to the academic study of their field." The group has published journal articles and books and produced outstanding scholars like the late John Irwin and Professor Stephen Richards.
The second example comes from my own life. 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?
So, in conclusion, I suggest a hiring policy for specialized faculty, indeed all faculty, that fully 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.