News Local/State

University of Illinois Urbana Chancellor Wise To Resign Effective Next Week

U of I Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise, in an interview Monday on campus

U of I Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise, in an interview Monday on campus. (Jeff Bossert/WILL)

University of Illinois Urbana campus chancellor Phyllis Wise is resigning.  In a statement, she’s announced her plans to step down on August 12 and return to faculty.  President Timothy Killeen says he’s in the process of selecting an interim chancellor who will serve until an immediate search for a permanent chancellor can be completed.

Wise issued a statement, saying a great deal has been accomplished, but that external issues have arisen over the past year, that have ‘distracted us from the important tasks at hand’ and says the time is right to step aside.  

Those challenges may include the lawsuit filed against the U of I by Professor Steven Salaita over freedom of speech issues, and another lawsuit and additional charges leveled against the university’s athletic programs.

James Montgomery, one of the trustees who oversees the university system and would have a say in Wise's replacement, told the Associated Press that her resignation is a loss for the university.

"It is an unfortunate state of affairs because I thought she was tremendous chancellor," he said, crediting her with pushing the through plans for the "game-changer" medical school against opposition from some on other campuses.

The Director of the American Indian Studies program at the U of I calls Chancellor Wise’s departure ‘a positive thing’, and believes the chancellor may feel the same way.

Robert Warrior heads the department where Steven Salaita had been hired to teach.  But Wise initiated the withdrawal of Salaita’s appointment over the messages on Twitter.  

Warrior said he believes many faculty members lost confidence in Wise, and that she was standing in the way of making progress on several issues.

“It creates an opening for new relationships of trust to be built between the administration and faculty members who had really serious questions about the decisions that Chancellor Wise made," he said.

Warrior says the university has yet to come to an agreement about what academic freedom is, and what shared values faculty members have.  Professor Salaita, who is suing the U of I, starts a 1-year fellowship this fall at American University in Beirut, Lebanon.

U of I spokesman Tom Hardy says Wise will receive $400,000 as part of her resignation. Hardy says the chancellor's s contract includes a $500,000 retention bonus --- $100,000 for each year she stayed. She's been chancellor for four years.  

State Sen. Tom Cullerton criticized the payment. The Villa Park Democrat says tuition dollars should not be used for "filling the pockets of overpaid administrators.''  

Hardy did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Cullerton's statement Friday. 

As for the search for Wise's permanent replacement as chancellor, Hardy says he expects that to take six to nine months, the better part of the academic year.

“President Killeen wants to gets that started immediately," he said.  "There are a few steps that you have to take to get started on something like that --- naming a search committee, and doing the basic work to get a search underway.”

According to the Associated Press, Wise will now take a year's sabbatical before returning to join the faculty at a salary to be determined.  Wise’s areas of study in teaching appointments have included molecular biology and women’s health.

NOTE: This story was updated 8/7/15 to include information on Wise's retention bonus.