News Local/State

Kilgore Could Return To U Of I, Following Trustees’ Decision


James Kilgore could return to teaching at the University of Illinois, despite controversy over a past felony conviction. The Board of Trustees has said it’s leaving decisions on hiring him to those at the campus level.

In a statement, trustees said they held a “robust debate” over Kilgore in executive session during their Thursday board meeting in Chicago. Their conclusion --- campus units should continue with their current hiring practices, while the university president develops a clear policy for hiring part-time and adjunct employees.

“What that decision means”, said Urbana campus spokesperson Robin Kaler, “is that units on any of the campuses are free to hire adjunct, part-time employees. So for example, if units on the Urbana campus have an interest in hiring Professor Kilgore, they can now do that.”

Kilgore did not return phone and email requests for comment Thursday. But the director of an academic unit that formerly employed Kilgore is looking forward to his return.

Terri Gitler at the University of Illinois Center for African Studies stated in an email on Friday that director Merle Bowen feels Kilgore is a "tremendous asset" and the Center is "eager to have him return to work"

Meanwhile, a friend of Kilgore, U of I Landscape Architecture Professor Bill Sullivan, says the announcement is “exactly what we were hoping for”. Sullivan, who took part along with Bowen in a “Friends of James Kilgore” news conference on the Quad of the Urbana campus on Monday, says Kilgore is ready to return to work.

“I think he’s delighted with the decision”, said Sullivan, “and I do believe he wants to go back to teaching and contributing to the scholarship on our campus.”

Sullivan says the decision is also important for allowing a person with a felony conviction to contribute to society instead of being cut off from it, and for making sure the board refrains from micro-managing.

In its statement, the Board of Trustees states that while it “has clear statutory responsibility to act on tenure/tenure track faculty and permanent staff hiring decisions, the Board traditionally has not been involved in part-time and adjunct employee hiring decisions.”.

Trustees regularly vote on appointments to tenured faculty positions --- including their vote in in September against hiring Steven Salaita because of controversial online comments about Israel.

Kilgore’s employment at the U of I ended earlier this year, after the News-Gazette reported on his past membership in the 1970s-era Symbionese Liberation Army --- and his 2nd-degree-murder conviction for his part in a bank robbery in which a person was killed.

A Provost’s review committee concluded that Kilgore should be allowed to continue working at the U of I.

But others have criticized his employment, including Board of Trustees Chairman Chris Kennedy, who told the News-Gazette in May that Kilgore’s past with a group dedicated to the violent overthrow of the government made him unsuitable for employment at a public university.

UPDATE: This article was updated on Friday, November 14th, to include comment from the U of I Center for African Studies.