Guest commentary: Reinstatement of Kilgore would be right move
By Ricky Baldwin and Clair Szoke
Central Illinois Jobs with Justice, a coalition of labor, faith-based, and secular civic organizations that advances the interests of the unemployed and working people in both the public and private sectors, condemns the termination of James Kilgore and calls for his reinstatement. This termination violates many of the principles of fairness and justice advocated by CIJWJ.
First, it disregarded excellence in job performance. Kilgore's excellent performance has been recognized by his students and by the administration of the unit that hired him and wanted to retain him.
Second, it violated due process. When Kilgore sought an explanation for his termination from Vice Chancellor and Provost Ilesanmi Adesida, he was met with a stony refusal to give any explanation of why the higher administration was overruling Kilgore's unit's attempt to retain him.
Additional violations of due process are the prejudicial public statements made by trustees Chris Kennedy and Patrick Fitzgerald on the issue before the committee appointed by the university to investigate the issue has had a chance to conclude its investigation.
Third, as the statements by the trustees makes very clear, political motivation is at the root of the termination. Kilgore was involved with a revolutionary organization in the 1970s. During that period, there were a number of organizations that used violence to fight against both domestic racist violence and imperialism (especially in Vietnam). They included the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground. The trustees transpose the inflammatory word "terrorist" in the present post-9/11 context back to a period when there was large-scale domestic unrest and repression over domestic rights deprivations and the Vietnam War.
However one might judge Kilgore's commitments in the past, since he has been in Champaign-Urbana, he has been an active contributor to the civic life of this community.
And no one has charged that he has urged his students to become "terrorists."
Fourth, there has been outside pressure brought to bear upon the university that it should have resisted. First is that of Sen. Chapin Rose, who is threatening the university with legislative action if it does not take the restrictive actions that he wants. This is too reminiscent of the impact that state Rep. Charles Clabaugh had on the university back in the late 1940s through the 1960s. His law forbade communists or members of organizations that the attorney general classified as subversive from not only being employed by the university, but even from speaking on the campus. In addition, the university succumbed to external legislative pressure in the firing of Professor Leo Koch in 1959, which landed it on the AAUP's violators of academic freedom list for a number of years. We had hoped that this kind of political intimidation was a thing of the past. In addition to Sen. Rose, Jim Dey of The News-Gazette seems to have initiated this whole uproar over Kilgore's employment. There again, there is precedent. The Gazette (and conservative lawmakers Clabaugh and E.R. Peters) played a role in the protest over bringing Keynesians into the Department of Economics at the UI, which resulted in Howard Bowen, dean of the College of Commerce and Business Administration, being forced out in 1950. It also contributed to the 1953 board of trustees' firing of university President George Stoddard, who had been deemed too supportive of Bowen. The university can ill afford reversion to this ugly past.
Fifth, we are very much committed to the proposition that people who have committed felonies and have paid the price in terms of prison terms and/or fines should have access to employment opportunities. Here the university should be setting an example. Refusal to hire felons after release is the surest way to encourage recidivism and risk to the society. It is also unjust, especially when practiced by a state institution.
For all the above reasons, CUJWJ calls for the reinstatement of James Kilgore to the position from which he has been unjustly terminated.
Ricky Baldwin and Clair Szoke are co-chairs of Central Illinois Jobs with Justice.