Phyllis Wise, former chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, issued a statement claiming the board of trustees of the University of Illinois reneged on a promise to pony up $400,000 upon her resignation that took effect on August 12. She claims the $400,000 that she had negotiated with new President Timothy Killeen, was not a bonus or a golden parachute but instead a “retention incentive.” She even avers it’s not about money, and that she had intended to be a source of philanthropy for the aborning College of Medicine!:
As the university knows, months before this controversy began, I had begun discussions with campus development leaders about gifting an amount equal to my deferred compensation package to the College of Medicine.
Perhaps she might consider contributing this pot of gold for adjunct compensation or to Steven Salaita whom she fired from a tenured position in a signed letter last August. Dr. Salaita was to receive $85,000 his first year as a tenured associate professor in the American Indian Studies program. Dr. Wise’s annual salary will be almost $300,000, if she joins the faculty following a one-year sabbatical. Subsequently, Professor Salaita moved in with his parents to avoid destitution after the chancellor initially refused to submit his contract for board approval, just weeks before his classes were to begin.
Dr. Wise has retained counsel and may sue the university for breach of contract. Her statement contained a direct warning of legal action: “I find myself consulting with lawyers and considering options to protect my reputation in the face of the board’s position.” Steven Salaita is also suing the U. of I. for a variety of reasons including breach of contract. He returned a signed contract, was given moving expenses, computer access and had resigned honourably his tenured position at Virginia Tech.
Phyllis Wise is tenured in the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology and the board of trustees will not revoke her appointment. Her tenured position is continuous. Steven Salaita, who is suing for the restoration of his position, has a non-tenured appointment at the American University of Beirut.
Recently there have been suggestions from a variety of sources that Dr. Wise was taking the hit of adverse publicity, amidst a firestorm of protest across the academy, for actions that were ordered by her superiors–namely former board chair Christopher G. Kennedy. Yet for over a year she was the point person and visible defender of the persecution and possible destruction of a brilliant career of a scholar, who tweeted criticisms of babies being blasted to death in Palestine. She is the one who established the “civility” test at the flagship university. To this day, she has publicly expressed no remorse and no regret over the summary dismissal of Professor Salaita.
While I am not one to indulge in schadenfreude, it is difficult to empathise with Dr. Wise’s sudden fall from power as a result of her efforts to conceal university business through private e-mail communication. In addition to such egregious conduct, her treatment of Steven Salaita, whether unilateral or complicit, was cruel, relentless and unworthy of an administrator.