Phyllis Wise Resubmits Resignation, Calls Board’s Move Politically Motivated
The outgoing leader of the University of Illinois' Urbana campus is tendering her resignation for a second time after board of trustees members voted to deny her a $400,000 retention bonus.
Former Chancellor Phyllis Wise says she earned the money in her nearly four years on campus. "The $400,000 was not a bonus nor a golden parachute; it was a retention incentive that I earned on a yearly basis," Wise wrote in a statement to media Thursday evening. Wise noted the money would have gone toward the Urbana campus' new College of Medicine, which she had pushed for.
University officials had voted Wednesday to not treat Wise's exit as a formal resignation, but instead are going ahead with "dismissal procedures" against her. This means no $400,000 — something she'd negotiated with U of I lawyers — and no year of paid sabbatical.
Instead, Wise was offered an advisory role in U of I President Tim Killeen's office.
"I would personally like to see Phyllis Wise be a stellar member of our faculty," Killeen said Wednesday. "She brings dynamism, creativity, thought, intellect to the table. Obviously this is a very disappointing set of circumstances, but I think she has a lot to contribute going forward."
But Wise says she's rejecting that role offered, and resubmitting her resignation.
She called the Board’s move “motivated by politics” and said she’d resigned at the request of the board and of U of I President Tim Killeen.
Killeen minimized his role when talking to reporters Wednesday.
Killeen: "She indicated her interest or her willingness, desire to resign…”
Reporter: "So you did not ask her to resign."
Killeen: "I did not ask her to resign. Directly."
In her statement, Wise also defended herself against allegations she meant to skirt freedom of information law by using personal email to conduct campus business.
"This is simply false," Wise wrote. "I acted at all times in what I believed to be the best interests of the University."
"For close to four years I have been devoted to helping the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign recognize its limitless potential. We’ve achieved inspiring successes but recent events have distracted us from focusing on the University’s future. In the past week, the news media has reported that I and other campus personnel used personal email accounts to communicate about University business; some reports suggested I did so with illegal intentions or personal motivations. This is simply false. I acted at all times in what I believed to be the best interests of the University. In fact, many of these same communications included campus counsel, Board members, and other campus leaders.
"On Tuesday, in the spirit of placing the University first, I acceded to the Board’s and the President’s request that I tender my resignation. In return, the University agreed to provide the compensation and benefits to which I was entitled, including $400,000 in deferred compensation that was part of my 2011 employment contract. The $400,000 was not a bonus nor a golden parachute; it was a retention incentive that I earned on a yearly basis. 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.
"Yesterday, in a decision apparently motivated more by politics than the interests of the University, the Board reneged on the promises in our negotiated agreement and initiated termination proceedings. This action was unprecedented, unwarranted, and completely contrary to the spirit of our negotiations last week. I have no intention, however, of engaging the Board in a public debate that would ultimately harm the University and the many people who have devoted time and hard work to its critical mission. Accordingly, I have again tendered my resignation as Chancellor and will decline the administrative position as advisor to the President.
"These recent events have saddened me deeply. I had intended to finish my career at this University, overseeing the fulfillment of groundbreaking initiatives we had just begun. Instead, I find myself consulting with lawyers and considering options to protect my reputation in the face of the Board’s position. I continue to wish the best for this great institution, its marvelous faculty, its committed staff, and its talented students.
Phyllis M. Wise