News Local/State

Kilgore Supporters Call On Board To Consider Employment

James Kilgore

Former Symbionese Liberation Army member James Kilgore sits during his arraignment on murder charges in Sacramento Superior Court, Tuesday, May 13, 2003, in Sacramento, Calif. (Steve Yeater/AP)

Two months after the University of Illinois' Board of Trustees decided to not approve the appointment of Professor Steven Salaita, the board may again grapple with claims the school infringed on academic freedom at their meeting this week.

Supporters of former U of I lecturer James Kilgore are calling on the board to reconsider his employment.

It's been six months since Kilgore went before the board to ask for consideration on his contract. Trustees did not consider Kilgore's employment in the Spring, but instead formed a task force to evaluate how he was hired.

Kilgore didn't undergo a background check when he was hired, but those who hired him say they knew about his background, which includes a six-year sentence for his part in a 1975 bank robbery, in which a person was killed. 

Kilgore was a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, best known for kidnapping socialite Patty Hearst in 1974.

Professor Merle Bowen, director of the Center for African Studies, hired Kilgore. She says the University forced its way into Kilgore's employment.

"This is really micromanaging and making mute our bylaws," she said. "It was really difficult for us. And we still are hoping that we can employ him because we have a great gap in our office."

Bowen says Kilgore had won the Center a $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, but without Kilgore to direct the money, projects have stalled.

Supporters like Professor D. Fairchild Ruggles say the Board has waited too long to take action on Kilgore's contract. She says the Board has set a bad precedent for hiring.

"It's very disruptive when you have this reaching down from on high, deep into the workings of the University on this small scale, to tell us, 'You can hire this person, you can't hire that one,'" she said.

Kilgore's employment status isn't listed on the Board's agenda's for this week's meeting, but it may be added at the last minute. 

The board may consider the employment task force's recommendation to conduct background checks for more University hires.

"Notwithstanding the committee’s findings that the hiring officials did not violate any university or campus policies or procedures when hiring Mr. Kilgore, the committee finds that the existing hiring policies regarding the inquiry and review of criminal convictions are inadequate to protect important institutional interests," reads an excerpt from the report.

The report goes on to recommend evaluating situations on a case-by-case basis. 

The board of trustees meets Thursday in Chicago.