Breaking: Chancellor Wise Disavows Her Own Decision as Her Administration Unravels

From Illinois Public Media:

The chancellor of the University of Illinois Urbana campus Thursday expressed regret about the way she came to a decision to withdraw a job offer to a professor who posted inflammatory comments on Twitter – a decision she said was “pretty unilateral.”

Chancellor Phyllis Wise said members of the Board of Trustees told her in July that they likely would not approve the appointment of Professor Steven Salaita. A week later, Wise sent a letter to Salaita rescinding the job offer.

“The judgment I made in writing him was to convey the sentiment of the Board of Trustees, it was not mine.” She said. “And I did it because I thought I was doing something humane for him.”

Humane, she said, because she didn’t want Salaita to move his family to Urbana only to learn his appointment was not approved.

Earlier today I reported on a meeting Wise had with students on Wednesday, where she said, “I, in hindsight, wish I had been a little bit more deliberate and had consulted with more people before I made that decision.”

But now she goes further, claiming her decision was “pretty unilateral.”

And then she drops this bombshell: that in dehiring Steven Salaita, Wise was expressing “the sentiment of the Board of Trustees, it was not mine.”

So not only did her decision not reflect any of the academic voices on campus; it didn’t even reflect her own opinion.

I’m speechless: I don’t think I’ve ever seen an administration, or a decision, unravel quite like this.

In other news, the department of anthropology and the department of comparative and world literature today took votes of no confidence in the leadership of UIUC. That makes for a total of eight votes of no confidence.

But with the Chancellor herself now seeming to take a vote of no confidence in the University’s leadership, including her own, I have to wonder whether the other side hasn’t simply outpaced us in their criticism and condemnation of their terrible decision.

Update (9 am)

Patchen Markell makes an interesting observation on Facebook:

Actually, it’s not the responsibility of the Board of Trustees to decide whether or not to approve the hire. Article 1, section 1 of the University of Illinois Statutes says: “The Board of Trustees formulates university policies but leaves the execution of those policies to its administrative agents, acting under its general supervision. It is the responsibility of the board to secure the needed revenues for the University and to determine the ways in which university funds shall be applied.” The relevant section about appointments says that “All appointments, reappointments, and promotions of the academic staff, as defined in Article IX, Section 4a, shall be made by the Board of Trustees on the recommendation of the chancellor/vice president concerned and the president.” As at most universities, what this means in theory is that the Trustees retain a kind of formal executive supremacy, but delegate substantive judgments in particular cases to the academic staff and the administration — sort of like the Hegelian monarch who “merely dots the i’s and crosses the t’s.” This is why, in practice, new faculty at Illinois ordinarily start teaching before even having their appointments signed and sealed: everyone knows it’ll go through, and there is no substantive review left. And that’s why, if this was in fact the result of a substantive judgment on the part of the Board, it is arguably an even worse crisis of academic freedom and independence than if the judgment had been Wise’s: it represents a breakdown of the division of labor between the business side and the academic side of the university that Article 1, section 1 carefully establishes.


  1. Susan Davis September 5, 2014 at 7:54 am | #

    Dear Corey — Around UIUC “regrets” mean just that. It doesn’t mean more than that she is sorry but that is the way it is. (Until next time.)

  2. Haaffa September 5, 2014 at 8:51 am | #

    I have to agree with Susan, this seems more like the administration trying to offer empty platitudes as a last resort. This sounds more like an “I’m sorry everyone’s upset” statement than real regret. Last night, the administration created their own counter-petition that reads more like a loyalty oath. Comments are blocked and the discussion tab is disabled (of course.) Faculty in Engineering and Sciences are being recruited (and pressured) heavily to sign. Unsurprisingly, support is very low.

    • Christian Marks September 6, 2014 at 1:32 pm | #

      It is not surprising that faculty in Engineering and Sciences are being recruited to sign on to the counter-petition. I imagine that effort is partly intended to blunt a possible boycott of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at UIUC, which would be a serious blow for the university.

  3. Michael Lichtenstein September 5, 2014 at 9:30 am | #

    Maybe now, your zeal in this matter seemingly well founded and directed need be eased up a bit?
    Or, do you enjoy kicking someone (or something) while their down?


    • Randy Childs September 6, 2014 at 4:00 am | #

      “Or, do you enjoy kicking someone (or something) while their down?”

      You seem a little confused, Michael. The author is *supporting* Steven Salaita. Professor Salaita, you may recall is the actual victim here.

      You couldn’t possibly be referring to him “kicking” Chancellor Wise or the UIUC Board of Trustees while they’re “down,” right? I mean, running a huge university and making sweeping decisions affecting other people’s lives doesn’t seem very “down” to me.

    • bio September 6, 2014 at 2:46 pm | #

      That makes absolutely no sense Michael. The campaign should escalate until Salaita is de-de-hired and or some other suitable substantial goal is reached (see previous discussions here and elsewhere). The fact that things are starting to move is a sign that the campaign should intensify now.

  4. Mark September 5, 2014 at 9:35 am | #

    That section from the Statutes seems to imply that the board does have final say. Just that it is typical that the board rubber stamps the decision. Nothing in there seems to indicate the board cannot make a decision, just that it seems to be highly unusual for them to disagree.

    • Keith September 5, 2014 at 2:48 pm | #

      There’s some ambiguity in the phrasing but “shall be made . . . on the recommendation” of the university administration is generally understood (in statutes as well as these sorts of charters) to be a mandatory duty, not a discretionary choice. When the chancellor makes the recommendation, the Board shall register its approval. This is a purely ministerial act that the Board has a duty to fulfill.

  5. James Hutchinson September 5, 2014 at 9:36 am | #

    I have to wonder whether Wise’s “humane” act was also not her own. If I were Kennedy, I think I would have urged her to keep Salaita off the campus and avoid the circus of a Board vote while he was already here doing his job, earning his salary, meeting students and colleagues, and winning friends.

  6. keatssycamore September 5, 2014 at 10:05 am | #


    I don’t read “shall be made” as “may be made”.

    • James Hutchinson September 5, 2014 at 10:18 am | #

      I think you are addressing “Mark,” not me.

  7. Robert Schwartz September 5, 2014 at 10:36 am | #

    The video showing Megan Marzec pouring a “bucket of blood” over her head to protest the Israel/Gaza conflict is an obvious fake. Anyone who is familiar with blood (as I, a hematologist, am) will immediately recognize that what she pours over her head is not blood, nor is it a liquid. It is red-colored sand or dirt. Look closely and you will the obvious fakery. So Ms. Marzek is a pathetic liar, caught in the act of a blatant lie. Sadly, when your argument is so weak that you have to resort to lies your global credibility goes down the drain.
    You may want to investigate Marzec’s lies in more detail, or at least expose them in a way that I cannot.
    Congratulations on a terrific nlog,
    Robert Schwartz, MD

    • Anonymous September 5, 2014 at 7:01 pm | #

      My goodness but you are a silly, silly little man, even if you are a hematologist. “Marzec told the Ohio University Post student newspaper that the liquid was water, tomato juice and red paint.”

      • freespeechlover September 6, 2014 at 3:42 am | #

        Am I missing something? What does Ms. Marzek’s actions at Ohio U have to do with Corey’s post?

      • Robert Schwartz September 6, 2014 at 8:09 pm | #

        I may be a silly little man, but that doesn’t change the fact that Marzec is a liar. The substance she poured over her head was not liquid of any kind. Pay attention, and learn to speak respectfully to your elders. Why the “anonymous”? A “freespeachlover” shouldn’t have to cower. What fears keep you up at night?

  8. She Who Makes Her Meaning Clear September 6, 2014 at 9:23 pm | #

    Reblogged this on Radicalize Me!.

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