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Kilgore Addresses U Of I Trustees

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(Duration: 5:11)

James Kilgore

University of Illinois adjunct professor James Kilgore speaks to the U of I's Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday in Springfield. Kilgore's contract was not renewed after his criminal history came to light. (Hannah Meisel/WUIS)

University of Illinois instructor and 1970's-era radical James Kilgore says he's ashamed of his actions as a younger man but shouldn't be barred from teaching.  His teaching career remains in doubt as one of his contracts expires Thursday.

U of I Trustees ended a meeting Wednesday without taking action on his case.

Kilgore was a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, a group best known for kidnapping Patty Hearst in 1974. A year later, he was convicted of murder for his role in a bank robbery the group carried out the next year in which a housewife died.

After decades on the run, Kilgore served six years in prison for that crime, and eventually found work as an adjunct professor at the U of I's Urbana campus.

Last month, his contract was not renewed. A university committee is now reviewing whether Kilgore can continue teaching after he says he was told he would lose his position.

Kilgore argues that's a violation of academic freedom and mistreatment of adjunct faculty.

"As a young man, I committed acts of which I stand ashamed," he said.  "Who better to tell someone how to avoid a destructive path than someone who has walked that path?"

The Board of Trustees wants to mandate criminal background checks on all new employees.

Trustee Patrick Fitzgerald, the former federal prosecutor who sent two Illinois governors to prison, said there should not be a policy to automatically exclude people with criminal records.

"The issue of how to deal with a population that's gone through prison and tries to reintegrate into society is a vexing one," he said.

Nevertheless, Fitzgerald said the board should still be able to exclude such people in some cases. And he says this case has nothing to do with academic freedom.