This afternoon, the University of Illinois trustees’ Executive Committee voted to reject Phyllis Wise’s negotiated settlement and $400,000 payout to resign last week, effective today.
The Executive Committee is made up of Chair Ed McMillan and trustees Karen Hasara and James Montgomery (the lone trustee who changed his mind about Salaita and voted against dismissing him). All three voted no.
Governor Bruce Rauner spoke out against the $400,000 payout, urging them to reject it. Former chair of the Board of Trustees Christopher Kennedy (who is criticized by Wise in the newly released emails) also she he “wouldn’t give someone $400,000 to leave peaceably.” However, the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette called it “the cost of doing business.”
Kennedy self-righteously declared, “You can fire someone for cause for this. When have we started giving money to people who (do this)?” The answer is, when Kennedy and the other trustees voted for the contract giving Wise a $100,000 per year retention bonus even if the trustees forced her out, regardless of her performance or even if she was dismissed for cause.
President Killeen will reassign Wise as a special assistant to the president for biomedical issues at her current $549,000 salary, and Barbara Wilson, the dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, will be appointed as interim chancellor. According to the Chicago Tribune, Killeen will begin dismissal proceedings against Wise. But it’s not clear if this maneuver is really legal to deprive Wise of the $400,000 bonus, since whenever the Board of Trustees acts to dismiss Wise, she will be entitled to the $400,000 payout. This all appears to be public relations.
Wilson had worked in the provost’s office, but didn’t become dean until after Salaita had been rejected by Wise for the job. In the recently released emails, Wilson is a minor figure. She didn’t participate in the secret private emails, and Wise and other administrators are clearly irritated with her.
On Sept. 8, 2014, an email to the deans about a proposed letter endorsing Wise noted, “I know Barb Wilson has talked to several of you. She feels she cannot sign the letter at this time since more LAS departments have voted no-confidence.”
On Nov. 14, 2014, Wilson gave Ade a draft of her proposed email to the LAS faculty about the Salaita case, and the administration was very unhappy with it. Ade wrote, “it goes into too much details about the past” and asks Robin Kaler to rewrite it, cc’ing Wise and legal counsel Scott Rice.
Wise herself starts rewriting Wilson’s letter: “I think a simple first statement that I (Barb) and the provost and chancellor realize that the Saleit a decision has had greater impact on some departments/programs than others. She does not need to/should not go into the detailed list of repercussions that she did.”
Two weeks later, the administration is still sitting on the letter. Ade wrote on Nov. 30, 2014, “I have been bellyaching about the letter that barb Wilson wants to send to the LAS faculty. I am attaching it here. She feels compelled that she needs to get something out because she may become ineffective in the college!” Ade wants Wilson to wait until the CAFT Report on the Salaita case comes out, and notes, “However, I am not sure that Barb will be able to stay action until then. She is really conflicted!”
It’s not clear if Wilson was merely seeking to appease the LAS departments who objected to the Salaita firing, or if she disagreed with the dismissal and used her faculty as an excuse to resist complete support for the actions by Wise and the trustees.
In any case, it seems clear that nobody associated with Wise’s secret email societies has much credibility on campus, and Wise might be left as the scapegoat of a decision that was made with the enthusiastic support of Rauner, Kennedy, and rest of the trustees. But will Wise decide that since Kennedy betrayed her and tried to pin the Salaita firing on her, that she will reveal some details about how Kennedy pushed for Salaita’s dismissal?