Report: Kennedy, chancellor at odds over medical school

Report: Kennedy, chancellor at odds over medical school

University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise used her private email account to quietly line up support among business and political leaders for the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine months before it was announced in April 2014, butting heads with Board of Trustees Chairman Chris Kennedy in the process, documents show.

Emails released Friday show Kennedy expressing displeasure that Wise was getting too far ahead of the board in her planning.

Two emails from Wise in late March refer to an "intimidating" email Kennedy sent to President Bob Easter, which was not provided in the documents released Friday.

"When Bob handed me the email, he said CK was not mad. You sure could not tell it from the email," she wrote to Provost Ilesanmi Adesida.

"BTW, when I told CK that I hoped the idea of a COM would be judged on its merits, CK said it was in fairyland," she added.

"I am not discouraged but a bit disappointed," she wrote later to consultant Paul Umbach.

The proposal for the engineering-focused medical school was announced on April 19, 2014, but wasn't formally presented to a Board of Trustees' committee for several months after that.

In a March 18 memo from Wise describing a meeting with Kennedy about the College of Medicine, she said Kennedy was not happy with the plan and criticized her for not getting board approval before sharing it with others.

"I told him that I was unaware that we (the campuses) were expected to get Board approval of our plans, and had understood that only the overall university strategic plan required Board approval," she wrote.

Wise also said 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 Emanuel 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."

According to the memo, 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 Champaign businessman Rick Stephens, a medical school supporter, Wise also said she didn't tell Kennedy that she had met with several politicians about the plan, including Senate President John Cullerton. She was also hoping to arrange meetings with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

"I didn't want him to think that he was the last person to know," she said.

"Chris doesn't know me well enough to know that when someone tells me that I 'can't do something' it just makes me work harder to prove them wrong," she added.

In that email, Wise also said that she had the "quiet support of UIC leadership, but they will never say this out loud. I'm even more convinced that we have to do this for the state, for Urbana-Champaign and for the university, particularly UIUC."

As early as February, Wise had briefed a number of business leaders about the proposal, including Jim Tyree, former chief operating officer at Abbott, as well as John Sinsheimer, the state's director of capital markets.

"It was John's thought (which I concur) that we get in front of the Governor with this project prior to that (budget) address so that he could include it in his remarks," she wrote.

The emails also include extensive discussions about plans and fundraising for the new medical school with local business leaders, including developer Peter Fox and Habeeb Habeeb.

Of the 1,100 pages of personal emails released by the university Friday, the majority — 773 — concerned the College of Medicine.

Kennedy was unavailable for comment Friday, a spokesman said.

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

Chicago has never wanted a medical school on the Urbana campus.  When the existing school had expanded into a thriving full program in partnership with Carle and other local hospitals and medical providers, Chicago cut it back down to the orignal first year basic medical science program and only allowing the Medical Scholars joint MD/Ph.D. program to continue as a full degree program.  You can see Kennedy was clearly meddling and trying to micro manage where he had no business being.  Good thing he's gone.  While Wise made some errors getting the job done, she certainly outmanuevered some Illinois political heavies.  Might be part of the reason she is stepping down.

andrewscheinman wrote on August 08, 2015 at 2:08 pm

The email from Wise's son Andrew towards the end of the Salaita emails just released is telling, the son goes on and on about Kennedy's not being accurate about what happened at the Board meeting on Salaita.

So perhaps a quid-pro-quo between Kennedy and Wise at that July BOT meeting: Kennedy lets Wise keep the COM, in exhange for which Wise "un-hires" Salaita?