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New UI Chancellor Defends Role on Nike Board

The University of Illinois' new chancellor maintains that her role as a member of Nike's Board of Directors doesn't represent a conflict of interest.

Both the University of Washington and the U of I hold contracts with the sportswear company. Phyllis Wise currently serves as provost at UW, and will start her role as chancellor at the U of I Oct. 1, pending Trustees' approval.

Wise's role with Nike has been a source of contention for Washington's Faculty Senate, which called for her to step down from the board post. Wise said she has put it in writing to UW that she would remove herself from any university business pertaining to Nike, and intends to do the same at the U of I.

"I have written a letter to the president, and then when I was the interim president, a letter to the Board of Regents, saying that anything having to do with Nike and the University of Washington, I would be recused from," she said. "In other words, I would have nothing to do with the discussion, or even knowledge about the issue."

But anthropology professor Janelle Taylor, president of the American Association of University Professors at UW, said that is not enough.

"How can you take a job as a major administrator at the university and then because you've also kind of accepted this big payoff with a company that has contracts then say 'I'm not going to do this big part of my job because it would be a conflict of interest,' Taylor said. "Personally, I don't find that a satisfactory answer. If I were at the University of Illinois, I'd want a better answer than that."

Wise was appointed to Nike's board of directors in fall of 2009. She said she has always given more money to philanthropic efforts than what she has earned as a board member of Nike. She added that a lot of that money has gone to higher education and student scholarships.

Wise said the Nike position has also helped her as an administrator.

"Everything that I've learned in terms of how they run their budgets and their finances, and with their overall mission of producing the best athletic apparel is something that I've learned about," she said. "I think some of it can be applied to what I do."

Wise's term with Nike is set to expire in September, when board members are elected or re-elected as part of the company's stockholders meeting. The U of I is in the middle of a $16 million,10-year contract with the sportswear provider.

Categories: Education