Updated: Wise fallout: UI releases ethics inquiry into personal email accounts

Updated: Wise fallout: UI releases ethics inquiry into personal email accounts

Certain administrative officials at the University of Illinois used personal email to conduct university business and failed to turn over those documents during Freedom of Information Act requests, a violation of university policy, a UI probe has found.

The news comes one day after Chancellor Phyllis Wise announced her resignation as chancellor. The personal emails released by the university included many from Wise, but a university spokesman declined to say whether the ethics investigation led to her departure.

In one March 19 email from her personal account about the proposed Carle Illinois College of Medicine, Wise indicated she was trying to deliberately avoid FOIA disclosure.

"I may be getting paranoid," she wrote, "but since someone has FOIed all of the emails that Laura Frerichs has exchanged between herself and the internal and external advisory board members with regards to the COM, I am using my personal email and sending it to (redacted) personal email."

In a September 2014 email regarding the Steven Salaita lawsuit, Wise wrote that campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler "has warned me and others not to use email since we are now in litigation phase. We are doing virtually nothing over our Illinois email addresses. I am even being careful with this email address and deleting after sending,” Wise said.

According to a release, there were 10 requests under the Freedom of Information Act from eight separate requesters that were not properly filled because business conducted on private emails was not given out.

The topics covered in the requests were Salaita, James Kilgore and the College of Medicine.

The emails regarding the Carle-Illinois College of Medicine are here. (63 MB, 773 pages)

The emails regarding Steven Salaita are here. (27 MB, 294 pages)

The emails regarding James Kilgore are here. 6.4 MB , 33 pages)

After the university learned about the personal emails, an official ethics inquiry was launched in late April by University Counsel, University Ethics and Compliance and external legal firm Jones Day, which was also used to investigate inflated student profile data at the College of Law. The inquiry covered 2014 and 2015. The university paid Jones Day $175,000 for its work.

"A desire to maintain confidentiality on certain sensitive University-related topics was one reason personal email accounts were used to communicate about these topics," the release said.

"Some emails suggested that individuals were encouraged to use personal email accounts for communicating on such topics," the release said.

UI spokesman Tom Hardy said the emails cover more than just the emails released by the University, but he did not believe those were subject to any FOIA requests.

The Illinois Freedom of Information Act defines public records, including electronic communications, as all documents “pertaining to the transaction of public business, regardless of physical form or characteristics, having been prepared by or for, or having been or being used by, received by, in the possession of, or under the control of any public body.”

It does not address whether that includes personal emails, and case law is unclear on the issue.

Hardy said The News-Gazette’s lawsuit vs. the City of Champaign showed it could be public record, but it does not directly answer whether personal emails by UI employees are subject to FOIA. In that lawsuit, the city was forced to release text messages by council members during council meetings because they were public records.

Hardy said he doesn't know whether there will be any more resignations as a result of the inquiry.

Wise could not be reached for comment Friday. In her resignation announcement, she said that "external issues" over the last 12 months had become a distraction from her work as chancellor.

Among the emails about Steven Salaita:

— At the end of one email discussing a video to recruit a new UI president, Wise said to Provost Ilesanmi Adesida: "This place is so messed up."

— Wise consulted with Burbules and Tolliver about a guest commentary for The News-Gazette in support of her.

— Wise consulted with local businessman Habeeb Habeeb about a guest commentary for The News-Gazette in support of her.

— Wise consulted with her son, Andrew, a Washington D.C. attorney about remarks regarding the Salaita case.

Among the emails about the College of Medicine:

— In an exchange with Kaler, Wise asked whether a dropbox would protect documents from FOIA disclosure. Kaler said it didn't but "does reduce the number of electronic copies floating around campus." She said the documents in question were protected from FOIA because they were drafts, but at some point the final versions would be subject to disclosure.

— In a memo from Wise describing a March 2014 meeting with former board chairman Chris Kennedy about the proposed Carle Illinois College of Medicine, Kennedy criticized her for setting up meetings with individual trustees about the plan. Wise had met with Pam Strobel and Patrick Fitzgerald, among others.

"I did not tell him which Board members I had spoken with, but I suspect he knows. He said that talking with individual trustees was the worst kind of governance. I pointed out that if I spoke with more than two at a time, it would fall under the Open Meetings Act requirement," Wise wrote.

— In the same memo, Kennedy told her Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanual would be against the plan and wanted his own strong College of Engineering in Chicago and "does not want to depend upon Urbana-Champaign." "He said that if Rauner gets elected the two will team up and get this done — if not at UIC at Northwestern."

— Kennedy also told Wise that UI Chicago could lose out on research money if Urbana set up its own medical school and that she needed to get top health administrators there on her side. "He said 'buy them out,'" Wise said.

— In a separate email to a supporter, Wise also said she didn't tell Kennedy that she had met with several politicians about the plan, including Senate President John Cullerton. "I didn't want him to think that he was the last person to know," she said.

 

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Sid Saltfork wrote on August 07, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Imagine that.... 

If the individuals are state employed, there are no "private e-mails" involving state business.  Once again, the university thumbs it's nose at state rules.  Every one in the state would be better off financially with less shame if the university was sold to the university's "donors".  Why keep being taxed for the arrogant, moronic actions of academic administrators?

EdRyan wrote on August 07, 2015 at 3:08 pm

I'm happy that Kennedy is gone.

Wise probably has to go to settle the Salaita mess.

 

 

Bulldogmojo wrote on August 07, 2015 at 4:08 pm

 

Like I said, time for a cleaning out of the filth from university administration.

To all you wise supporters out there...I told you so

andrewscheinman wrote on August 07, 2015 at 4:08 pm

Just to be VERY clear about this, I got an email from the UIUC FOIA office earlier today as I was driving from Ohio to Urbana, an email that talked about information suddenly being released from MY FOIAs in 2014.

Later today I got a call from a major news outlet about this.  These were my FOIAs, and while I'm not even remotely surprised at what UIUC adminstrators were doing, let's just say that I'm BEYOND angry.

I tried to volunteer my time at the Research Park and was blackballed by them.  I tried to get information on the Carle deal and they went to back-channels.

When will this filth end?

Oh don't bother answering that ...

Andrew Scheinman

Manscape wrote on August 07, 2015 at 9:08 pm

What were you trying to volunteer for at the research park?

Rocky7 wrote on August 07, 2015 at 5:08 pm

As a former resident of Houston, TX, I read this story first in the Houston Chronicle before checking back to the N-G.  Here's the link:

 

http://www.chron.com/news/us/article/U-of-I-Administrators-broke-e-mail-...

 

This is probably nationwide news by now, or sooner.

 

 In the words of one of Houston's most famous entities, "UIUC, we have a Hillary Clinton problem."

 

I'll Roger that, Cap-Com..

 

 

UIUCHoopFan wrote on August 07, 2015 at 5:08 pm

Another U of I administrator with a Golden Parachute!  As a taxpayer I am sick and tired of supporting the likes of B Joseph White and Phyllis Wise in a lavish lifestyle while other workers at The Mother U are told repeatedly there is no money for raises and the pension funds continue to be under funded.

For the love of God!  Where does the flow of free money in the mailbox stop?  Where do I sign up for a year of sabbatical pay and a cushy teaching job that pays big bucks for little to no effort?

Hey donors!  Is this resposible use of your monetary investment in the University of ILL-ANNOY?  Parents!  Is this the institution you want educating your children?

Another chapter in the never ending nightmare that is the U of I!

 

 

 

nateo wrote on August 07, 2015 at 6:08 pm

If she broke the law, do we still have to pay for her golden parachute?

Jam wrote on August 07, 2015 at 7:08 pm

It appears to this writer that Chancellor Wise was going to the wall for the new College.  It is to bad that their are forces within the UI system sold more in helping Chicago than the other campuses.  I applaud the effort while at the same time wishing that the email problem had been avoided.

Rocky7 wrote on August 07, 2015 at 8:08 pm

Regrettably his entire episode is a classic Greek tragedy in a modern form.  The following verse from Henry Purcell's opera "Dido and Aeneus" sums it best:

"Great minds agains themselves conspire,

And shun the cure they most desire ."

 

mgd wrote on August 07, 2015 at 8:08 pm

 

Ick! We were right all the time. Please leave town, Phyllis.

Mary Gates DeRosier

mgd wrote on August 07, 2015 at 8:08 pm

Little article in yesterday or today's New York Times.

Mary Gates DeRosier

 

wayward wrote on August 07, 2015 at 8:08 pm

Makes me think of "House of Cards," but set at a university. Imagining the chancellor as Frank Underwood.

Manscape wrote on August 07, 2015 at 9:08 pm

What were you trying to do for the Research Park?

Save the Farms wrote on August 08, 2015 at 3:08 am

All this talk about "personal e-mails" means that a physical "In place" University is still needed so that one can walk down the hall, or across campus, and have a physical conversation with the individual - a conversation that will not be subjected to FOIA, but only a court of law where heresay applies.

Yet again, do we see the laws lagging the "reality created by today technology" - one can hope the State Laws catches up with the reality of todays reality

In the past, Wise could have let Salaita pass, then tell and admonish him, for his inappropriate comments and it might have matured into an incident in his past with a good career ahead with a simple rough spot where a good Chancellor "taught him."

However, she was forced to fall on her sword for the good of the University - why, because she knew new media - I will bet money most of you learned and realized of this incident well after it had occurred.

Yes, you won, but at a hugely great cost and I am not impressed with what this event has wrought - she was, is, and should be a great Chancellor for us.

Her only mistake was understanding how new media works and responding to it - it she had played dumb, she could had said "Huh, what did he say, where was that, what's Twitter," but she did not, she responded as a knowing new-age person and you eviserated and turfed her out.

I am not impressed with the Faculty today...and I have more degrees than 99% of you - you guys, and gals, blew it and need to spend the next few weeks realizing it.

Sigh.

 

David Green wrote on August 08, 2015 at 9:08 am

She should have supported academic freedom and protected Salaita's 1st amendment rights. Period. She became an enemy of those principles, and her own worst enemy. But she did her job; the result will be a chilling effect on truthful political speech. Nobody should be gloating over that outrageous consequence.

andrewscheinman wrote on August 08, 2015 at 8:08 am

I am an expert on commercializing high tech companies, I have a PhD in molecular biology from UCLA (undergrad from UI in biochem! my alma!) and law degree, I'm a patent attorney and startup strategist.

I volunteered to help their students, was warmly greeted, then blackballed, presumably because I interferred with their hothouse little quid-pro-quo inbreed group.

I have countless emails on the topic, including Laura Frerichs seemingly threatening people not to work with me, and Jed Taylor reporting on my whereabouts to Laura.

The saddest thing is that UIUC is a GREAT school, being dragged through the muck by a bunch of people who had no reason to act the way they did, other than that power corrupts.

Andrew Scheinman

David Green wrote on August 08, 2015 at 9:08 am

A quote that's in the newspaper itself is not included in the above article, although perhaps it's a different article--this is getting confusing. In any event, I'm bemused by Burbules' assertion that there's going to be a "chilling effect" on private communication among the honchos. Salaita was honest enough (and appropriately outraged enough) to share his political views publicly, and Burbules thinks that he rightfully lost his job for that. But in the larger scheme of things, this is all about the consequences of avoiding the truth. The fundamental truth being avoided has to do with Israel/Palestine itself, and the fact that our tax dollars go for Israeli Jews to murder Palestinian children, and that that has now become a matter of IL state policy (SB1761). Everything leads from there: the lying about donor pressure and Kennedy's role; the lying about Wise's acquiescence, involvement, and ultimate responsibility; the lying about the lying. Wise couldn't avoid being drawn into this, because she has no regard for the truth and no integrity, and hasn't a political/moral principle to her name, witness Nike/Busey. All she had to do from the start was firmly say to the BOT that either Salaita is hired, or I am gone--a fundamental case of academic freedom and freedom of speech. Simple is that. Salaita would be here, and so would she. But she couldn't do it, because you don't get to that position in life by not following orders from the one percent (not that she isn't now a member). So she's wasted a year of her and everyone else's time, with the result that she will ultimately be disgraced. Thank you, Israel Lobby! And where will all the signers to the numerous ads supporting her be? Well, at least the Gazoo was able to make a pile with those ads.

Alex M. Mobley wrote on August 08, 2015 at 9:08 am
Profile Picture

"The saddest thing is that UIUC is a GREAT school, being dragged through the muck by a bunch of people who had no reason to act the way they did, other than that power corrupts."

Yeah I'm another alum with the same sentiment. I got a great graduate education from all of my UIUC professors in all of those departments that have been at the mercy of this corporatized, nay, I say downright medieval culture of higher education that exploits the peasants, rewards royalty, and worships money above all. Only a medieval culture can match the current campus atmosphere filled with both the lamentations for the loss of their beloved Chancellor, and raucously joyful partying of the resisters.

I applaud President Killeen for whatever part he has played thus far in bringing closure to this tawdry yet familiar tale of UIUC hubris. Who will be the next interim Chancellor? I'm pretty certain it won't be the Provost ... . Or perhaps more pertinently, who's next to resign? MT?

#KilleenHouse 

 

 

Alex M. Mobley wrote on August 08, 2015 at 9:08 am
Profile Picture

"The saddest thing is that UIUC is a GREAT school, being dragged through the muck by a bunch of people who had no reason to act the way they did, other than that power corrupts."

Yeah I'm another alum with the same sentiment. I got a great graduate education from all of my UIUC professors in all of those departments that have been at the mercy of this corporatized, nay, I say downright medieval culture of higher education that exploits the peasants, rewards royalty, and worships money above all. Only a medieval culture can match the current campus atmosphere filled with both the lamentations for the loss of their beloved Chancellor, and raucously joyful partying of the resisters.

I applaud President Killeen for whatever part he has played thus far in bringing closure to this tawdry yet familiar tale of UIUC hubris. Who will be the next interim Chancellor? I'm pretty certain it won't be the Provost ... . Or perhaps more pertinently, who's next to resign? MT?

#KilleenHouse 

 

 

Reykjavik wrote on August 08, 2015 at 12:08 pm

"my UIUC professors in all of those departments that have been at the mercy of this corporatized, nay, I say downright medieval culture of higher education that exploits the peasants, rewards royalty, and worships money above all"

What is that all about? 

Phylis was really good for the place - a class act hounded by, in my opinion, conspiracy theorists and folks disappointed by their own non-careers.  She resigned over a fumbled attempt to unhire a real loser and inept use of email.  Those acts were committed with the intention of trying to do the right things in a fairly poisoned atmosphere.

It is a great institution in part because, regardless of the administration, the students, the staff, and the faculty in the trenches keep on truckin'.

Sid Saltfork wrote on August 08, 2015 at 1:08 pm

When do unethical actions equate to "the intention of trying to do the right things"?  She knowing committed an unethical crime.  As corny as the annual Ethics Test maybe, it is there to remind state employees what is unethical.  I doubt that Wise, and most of the faculty bother with the annual test.  Academia is too busy to do it once a year.  Until the university is a private university, it need to follow state employment rules.  Transparency is what the Illinois citizens want along with ethical behavior.  The university has repeatedly created scandals due to the lack of ethics.

Have you taken the annual Ethics Test?

uncle freddy wrote on August 08, 2015 at 5:08 pm

You are right on the mark UIUCHoopFan.  This $400,000 bonus really upsets me.  While the majority of Americans have had flat wages over the last decade or longer, CEOs, and apparently high level employees of public institutions, get away with all types of malfeasance and walk away with a large check.  Or in this case, probably teach one class a semester for 100k or more in salary.  The U of I should have provisions to avoid paying these bonuses when policy violations have occurred.  If it is discovered after the bonuses have been paid, there should be claw back provisions.  In this case, if a policy has been violated, then why would they even be welcome to remain as a professor?

I am not one of those who think non-managerial fast food workers should make $15.00 as the skill set just not equate to such wages, especially in C-U.  At the same time, this cronnie capitalism is repugnant.  Have you no shame?

annabellissimo wrote on August 09, 2015 at 2:08 am

There are so many disturbing aspects to all of this. There is no “good” to be found anywhere in this apparently, no “right.” In my opinion, Salaita is – and always was – an unsuitable candidate for the position he was offered. I supported that offer being rescinded and I still hope he is never employed at the University. Illinois needs the BEST, not the most sensational or the mediocre with a cause, an agenda. I also have thought that Wise was an inept administrator, evidenced in the Salaita debacle that has so damaged the University, but in other instances as well. In spite of her seeming ineptitude, I also have thought she was being scapegoated and while I did not like what seemed to be “piling on,” I also thought her poor conduct of the Salaita situation in particular meant she had forfeited her administrative position. It does seem that UIUC is just rank with opportunism, if not outright corruption, at every turn, and it is sickening to read day after day of new charges, new revelations, and new lawsuits, even if those are just from yet even more greedy opportunists. It is becoming very hard to speak with pride of the University, for HIRIING Salaita – not for rescinding the offer – and for all the extremely poor “leaders” over recent years. We hear about all the scandals, the bad stuff, while in the meantime, the greatest academic work is going on at the University without the least bit of attention! That is just wrong. It means that Wise and those who are like-minded do not deserve to be at such a fine institution, just as Salaita does not. Primary opportunist, Nancy Cantor, followed by a line of others have used and misused the University and their very elite positions in various ways, down to the absolutely painful Wise-Salaita episode. Recent news reports about Wise’s efforts for the medical college seem to imply that she has been laying the groundwork for a powerful position at that future institution. If that is the case, there is a name for that. Furthermore, UIUC needs to be questioned and held accountable for so many of its personnel decisions; at a time when other public universities in Illinois are struggling, Illinois pays its new Dean of Business as if there are no limits to the Bank! Eastern Illinois University has superb statistics in all areas and is highly ranked by US News (regardless of one’s opinion of that, it continues to matter), but it is experiencing lay-offs and furloughs and is struggling with fiscal matters, in spite of integrity and frugality in its fiscal management! Where is the justice in this whole scenario? I hope that smart students and their families will go to the EIU website and learn about it after they read about what UIUC is doing to the once-fine reputation and status of the University of Illinois. Finally, and maybe even the most important of all: the efforts of very powerful entities in Chicago and at the highest levels of Illinois government (Emmanuel, Rauner, et al.) to undermine, sabotage, do serious harm to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, in favor of any/all University activities in Chicago/Cook County are just despicable. As if the State legislature undermining the University isn’t enough, these jackals are piling on in stellar opportunist fashion. Does Emmanuel think that an engineering college there will save his sorry record? Somebody somewhere needs to fix UIUC and quick before all the hyenas have picked over the bleeding carcass! President Killeen seems to be a fine scholarly leader; maybe he is up to the task. We’re pulling for him, but in the meantime, families looking for a fine education at a fine little school, go to www.eiu.edu and check it out.

David Green wrote on August 09, 2015 at 9:08 am

You might like to just step back and look at the situation objectively. We have a society that is dominated by the 1%. The university is part of that society. Lots of systemic chicanery and grandiose pronouncements by way of accumulating lots of wealth. If you keep reacting to everything at a personal level, you get nowhere in your understanding of the situation. And you use a gazillion words to get there.