The University of Illinois’s Board of Trustees on Thursday left academic units on the system’s Urbana-Champaign campus free to make their own decision about rehiring as a part-time instructor James W. Kilgore, a former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army who served time for his role in a 1975 bank robbery that resulted in a murder.
A statement issued on the board’s behalf after its Thursday meeting said that “a robust debate that represented a wide range of divergent viewpoints” about Mr. Kilgore had ended with its deciding to take no action regarding the employment of the part-time instructor. “While the board has clear statutory responsibility to act on tenure/tenure-track faculty and permanent staff hiring decisions, the board traditionally has not been involved in part-time and adjunct employee hiring decisions,” the statement said.
The statement said the board had instead asked Robert A. Easter, president of the University of Illinois, “to develop a clear policy to guide future hiring decisions for part-time and adjunct staff throughout the three-campus university.” The board expects to consider the policy in January. “In the meantime,” the statement said, “chancellors and provosts at each campus should continue acting under their existing hiring practices for these types of positions.”
Phyllis M. Wise, chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Ilesanmi Adesida, the campus’s provost, have already accepted a faculty committee’s recommendation that academic units there that wish to hire Mr. Kilgore be allowed to exercise their own professional judgments under current campus practices. The committee, established by Provost Adesida to look into Mr. Kilgore’s case, had said that the university needs to revise its policies dealing with the hiring of people with criminal backgrounds, but that “barring Mr. Kilgore from employment while those policies and procedures are created would single him out unfairly and unnecessarily, given his creditable employment record with the university.”
“We are going to let the [academic] units do what they want to,” Ms. Wise said, according to the Chicago Tribune, referring to the committee’s report on Mr. Kilgore’s case.
Mr. Kilgore had been a part-time, non-tenure-track lecturer at the campus from 2012 until last spring, when he was denied renewal of his contract without explanation after a local newspaper, The News-Gazette, reported on his criminal past. Some critics have argued that Mr. Kilgore’s criminal history should have disqualified him from teaching there.
The campus decided to review its decision after the American Association of University Professors told Ms. Wise it was “troubled” by the series of events surrounding Mr. Kilgore’s nonrenewal and questioned “whether media reports highlighting Dr. Kilgore’s felony conviction and political activities may have provoked an improperly political response to an academic decision.”
The provost committee’s report said Mr. Kilgore had been open with administrators there about his criminal past, and he had previously told the board he was ashamed of actions he committed in his youth as a radical.
The board’s handling of Mr. Kilgore’s case was especially sensitive given the controversy over its decision in September to deny a tenured professorship to Steven G. Salaita, a scholar who drew fire over his inflammatory criticism of Israel on Twitter.