News Local/State

Former SLA Member Kilgore To Lose U Of I Teaching Position

UPDATE: This article was updated on April 23rd to add additional information on online petitions supporting Kilgore.

James Kilgore, the University of Illinois adjunct instructor whose radical and violent past with the Symbionese Liberation Army was spotlighted in a News-Gazette newspaper article two months ago, is losing his teaching position.

Kilgore confirmed that his contracts with the U of I were not being renewed, after the News-Gazette broke the story Tuesday afternoon.

Kilgore served prison time for taking part in a 1975 bank robbery, in which a fellow SLA member shot and killed a bank customer. Since his release from prison, Kilgore has joined his wife, University of Illinois history professor Teresa Barnes, in Champaign-Urbana. He’s been employed as a staff member at the U of I’s Center for African studies, and a visiting lecturer in the Global Studies program.

Kilgore says his performance reviews at the U of I have been excellent, and that he was not given a reason for his dismissal, when told by Provost Ilesanmi Adesida on April 9th that his U of I contracts would not be renewed. Kilgore noted that the university had initially defended him following the News-Gazette article. He says he suspects that university trustees, donors or state legislators put pressure on the U of I to let him go.

“I think this has grave implications for academic freedom, and I think it has grave implications for the employment prospects for people who have criminal backgrounds, felony convictions in particular”, Kilgore said.

When asked for comment, U of I spokesperson Robin Kaler said she can’t discuss personnel matters.

Landscape architect professor William Sullivan says he also believes that Kilgore’s dismissal was political.  He’s launched an online petition seeking Kilgore’s reinstatement. On Wednesday afternoon, the petition listed 180 names.

Sullivan says Kilgore served his prison sentence, and that the university’s refusal to renew his contracts amounted to another sentence that he called “unfair and outrageous”.

“I’m concerned about two things here”, said Sullivan. “One is a question of fairness and equity with respect to James. And the other is a question of policy, as an institution and our academic integrity. And I’d like to see us make sure that we’re not pressured by outside forces, to make decisions that we should be making ourselves.”

In addition, another online petition supporting Kilgore has been launched by Stephanie Birch of Urbana. As of Wednesday, the petition website state it had collected 100 signatures.

Kilgore says he contacted the American Association of University Professors about the university’s decision not to renew his contracts. The AAUP sent a letter (released by the News-Gazette) to Chancellor Phyllis Wise calling for his reinstatement. In the letter, AAUP Associate Secretary Anita Levy noted that the decision not to renew contracts came even though the Global Studies Faculty Committee had approved Kilgore’s proposal to teach four courses in the next academic year.

Kilgore says he has also contacted the Faculty Advisory Committee about the matter. But he says as a non-tenure track adjunct instructor, he has few avenues of appeal.

Kilgore is the 2nd University of Illinois faculty to receive unwanted attention for a radical past. Bill Ayers co-founded the Weather Underground, another left-wing revolutionary group that engaged in violent acts. Ayers later became an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Upon his retirement, the board of trustees refused to grant Ayers emeritus status.