Jim Dey | Mixed signals on Kilgore's employment at UI

Jim Dey | Mixed signals on Kilgore's employment at UI

Does James Kilgore, a onetime terrorist who belonged to a 1970s revolutionary group, still work for the University of Illinois? Or doesn't he?

In two statements, one issued to a state legislator and the other to The News-Gazette, the UI says that he doesn't.

Kilgore, reached at his campus office Friday at the UI's Center for African Studies, declined to clarify the situation.

"I have no comment," he said before hanging up the telephone.

The latest Kilgore controversy stems from an inquiry made by state Rep. James McSweeney, who was incensed after watching a recent six-hour CNN documentary series on the Symbionese Liberation Army, its kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst and Kilgore's role in a deadly criminal rampage throughout California.

After seeing the documentary report that Kilgore teaches at the UI, McSweeney prepared to object to his employment in any capacity by the UI.

But before submitting a resolution on the issue to the Illinois House of Representatives, McSweeney inquired about Kilgore's status with UI officials.

"No, he does not have a current appointment. His last adjunct lecturer position ended May 2017," replied Jennifer M. Creasey, who is with the UI's Office of Government Relations.

Based on that response, McSweeney abandoned plans to introduce the resolution. But that answer does not appear to be as complete as McSweeney believed it to be, and he has reversed his decision to abandon the resolution.

As a consequence of McSweeney's inquiry, The News-Gazette inquired further about a subject that has been extremely touchy — and embarrassing — for the university since Kilgore's lengthy criminal history made local news back in early 2014.

The UI's nervous response made it clear that Kilgore is a subject that it is reluctant to candidly discuss.

UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler, rejecting a request for a telephone conversation on the issue, issued a two-paragraph statement that reads:

"Dr. Kilgore is not serving as an adjunct lecturer this semester. Adjuncts often are hired on a course-by-course basis as needed, so there are no automatic renewals. He taught in fall 2017, and I would expect that he likely will teach again at some point in the future. He does not have a current staff assignment.

"No, I did not know about or see the (CNN) series, so I will not offer any reaction to it."

The statements issued by the two UI officials are in conflict. The UI's Creasey said Kilgore's last teaching position "ended May 2017" while Kaler said Kilgore taught during the "fall 2017" semester.

In the past, Kilgore was been associated with the urban planning department and the Center for African Studies.

His name and position — "Research Scholar" — remain posted on the UI's African Studies website.

After the Kilgore controversy broke in 2014, UI officials, acting at the behest of, among others, then-Board of Trustees Chairman Christopher Kennedy, decided not to extend Kilgore's teaching contract. After Kilgore protested and faculty members rallied to his defense, the UI board and administration reversed their decision.

McSweeney, a Republican from Barrington Hills, said he had been led to believe that Kilgore is not associated in any way with the UI and would never be again. Statements by Kaler to the contrary, he said, are "new information to me."

"He should never be hired in any position," McSweeney said.

It's unclear whether McSweeney's legislative colleagues will agree with him. State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, backed a similar measure several years ago, a stance that did not dissuade the UI from retaining Kilgore to work in a variety of teaching and staff roles.

Kilgore came to Champaign-Urbana to join his faculty-member wife after being released in 2009 from state and federal prisons in California, where he served time for a variety of crimes that included the murder of a customer at a California bank.

He and three fellow SLA members were robbing the bank when the female victim, a mother of four, was shot to death.

Despite his reluctance to speak to the local news media, Kilgore is quite active in community politics and policy. Self-appointed as the moral conscience of the community, he's active in a variety of social-justice causes, including leading opposition to an expansion of the Champaign County Jail.

His role in the bank robbery and murder was disclosed in a memoir by Patty Hearst, who wrote of her kidnapping by the SLA, her subsequent decision to join the band of revolutionaries and her participation in a string of bank robberies and bombings before she was finally arrested.

Kilgore was among the SLA members who escaped the FBI dragnet that swept up Hearst as well as SLA members William and Emily Harris. He subsequently fled to Seattle and then overseas, where he spent decades as a fugitive from justice.

Kilgore was finally taken into custody in 2002 in South Africa. During his time on the run, he obtained advanced degrees under the name of Charles Pape. That name was taken from a deceased child in the Seattle area.

The CNN series, which kicked up the latest Kilgore controversy, is based on a book on the Hearst case — "American Heiress" — written by CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. The series ran for two hours on three successive Sunday nights. The network continues to run repeats on a regular basis.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

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Illiniwek222 wrote on March 12, 2018 at 1:03 pm

"Pipe Bomb Jimmy K" certainly seems to be holding himself out as an employee of the U of I. As recently as 2/28/18, in a letter to the editor in the Chicago Sun-Times, he refers to himself as "research scholar, Center for African Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign".

In that letter, he admonishes Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart over his use of electronic monitoring for suspects released on bail.


Considering his past, who can be surprised by his stance on the issue.

Good luck to Rep. McSweeney.

GLG wrote on March 12, 2018 at 1:03 pm

I just now got this off the U of I directory,  somebody at the U of I is either a liar of uninformed! Call Kilgore at the number listed he would love to explain. Does the U of I provide free phones and office space to folks that do not work there ? Maybe a FOIA is in order to get to the truth?

James William Kilgore
LAS Administration910 S. Fifth StreetM/C 485Champaign, IL  61820(217) 778-2354kilgor@illinois.edu


byrdslover wrote on March 12, 2018 at 9:03 pm

The U of I stopped giving faculty office phones years ago.  What else have you got?  What a conspiracy.