Why I’m Not Crying Over the Fate of Chancellor Wise

I’m hearing a certain amount of ruefulness being expressed over Chancellor Wise’s fate: that she’s somehow the victim here, that she was compelled to do the bidding of forces more powerful than she, that she’s a scapegoat for a larger, more fetid community of rule. I wish we on the left had memories that extended past yesterday’s headlines—and a larger appetite for justice. That Wise is being thrown under the bus by her co-conspirators I have no doubt. And I’m thrilled. For two reasons. First, Wise was never without agency. There’s sometimes a tendency on the left—whether out of a manic structuralism or a liberal sentimentality at moments of poetic justice, I don’t know—to so want to make individuals in power the faceless emblems of a structure that those individuals cease to have power at all. There are structures, there are constraints, but Wise always had the option of bucking those structures and constraints. She could have resigned in protest (not to mention get a better outcome for Steven Salaita​) if she opposed the direction of things. Indeed, she’d be in a much stronger position now if she had: her reputation would be burnished rather than stained, and she’d probably have that goddamn $400,000 bonus, too. But she didn’t. Instead, for whatever combination of reasons, she pursued the course that got her to the place she’s now in. And for that she has no one to blame but herself. She was part of the rotten structure that did what it did to Steven Salaita; if she thought she was exempt from its workings, she was a fool. Second, if we want to honor our structuralism, we have to have a better sense of how this structure works. Right now, it’s a bit of a mystery: Who’s pulling the strings? The donors, the trustees, the president, who knows? The more pressure is put on Wise, the more she’ll be inclined to talk. And then not only may we find out how this damn thing works but we may also be able to throw it—or at least more emblems of it—under the bus. And get Steven Salaita his job back, which has always been my number-one priority in this fight. I often complain around here that we academics are optimists of the intellect and pessimists of the will. But in this case we seem to lack a will to power AND a will to knowledge. This is a moment to press on, to demand more, to expose more. It is not the time to express concern for someone who, whatever happens, will still return to a tenured position on the faculty where she earns $300,000 a year. Steven Salaita should have been so lucky.


  1. Joanna Bujes August 14, 2015 at 1:03 pm | #


  2. RickM August 14, 2015 at 1:03 pm | #


  3. John T. Maher August 14, 2015 at 1:26 pm | #

    imagined as ex Chancellor Wise singing to an empty Uni Board room:

    Don’t cry for me Academia
    The truth is I never left you
    All through my wild emails
    My mad hiring policy
    I did not kept my promise
    Now don’t keep my golden parachute
    And as for Tweet posts and the Gaza genocide
    I never was not on record as denying they did not actually not happen
    Though it seemed to the world
    They were all I desired

    [Trustee Kennedy: You were supposed to be immortal and do my bidding. Lets discuss pribvately.]

  4. Phil Perspective August 14, 2015 at 1:55 pm | #

    And get Steven Salaita his job back, which has always been my number-one priority in this fight.

    Is that really possible? Isn’t it a lot more likely that they’ll come to some financial settlement?

    • Glenn August 14, 2015 at 4:02 pm | #

      Why would it not be possible? Especially after the latest court ruling, which established unequivocally that he he was already employed by the University of Illinois. The U of I is now going to have to prove that it had the right to fire him, rather than that they had the right to choose not to employ him. That’s going to be tough for them to prove, given their own statements about the academic freedom of their faculty (including the statements they made when they were still defending him as one of their employees, before they retroactively declared that he wasn’t).

  5. Bill Michtom August 14, 2015 at 1:56 pm | #

    This is a VERY important post. The tendency by the left to excuse people whenever possible, regardless of their crimes, is a major weakness. One of the commenters on an earlier post in the Salaita thread even expressed sorrow that Wise was getting booted as she had been a high-profile woman in power.

    This is one way corrupt people continue to get and stay in power.

  6. Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant August 14, 2015 at 2:46 pm | #

    I went back and re-visited this site’s posts from last year on the Salaita affair. It’s quite a trip down memory lane.

    Please check out the comments’ sections there. The first thing one will notice at the time as well as now is the suspect strategic argumentation by those defending UIUC and Chancellor Wise, and how un-useful those arguments are now, outside of their immediate and battleground context. There is no real principle at stake for UIUC and Wise other than a fear of large donors, of right-wing politicians, and of apologists for Israel’s apartheid terrorism of an occupied people. Oh, and a healthy dose of political butt-covering and not-so-subtle abuse of labor by the University’s “management”.

    The bad-faith arguments of the anti-Salaita forces really stick out. Further, the venal opportunism of UIUC officials and their inability to see that their actions have consequences (like a boycott or FOIA or investigative journalism looking to see what the fuss is about) or that after their victory in de-hiring Salaita he and his defenders would not let this injustice lie. So, here we are now a year later and the story bounds back to the front pages.

    And out of all the consequences that one could easily predict from UIUC’s self-inflicted fiasco, probably the most fascinating of them is the spectacular collapse or implosion of the University’s officialdom. Did anyone really believe that the University’s abuse of Salaita would end with him just going home, the reactionaries doing a victory lap, and the University seeing not only no stoppage of its donors’ generosity, but possibly a widened floodgate of new and even bigger donations? A career booster for all but that jihadist Salaita, right? The University strengthened and secure, thanks to Wise and the Trustees! Congratulations all around, no?

    Establishment forces saw heroism in the University’s actions against Salaita then. We knew better at the time and we still lost. But it appears that our – Salaita’s – defeat was temporary. And now the officials at UIUC are scrambling for – what, exactly? It should have been clear that a university administration so craven as UIUC’s should have come to this point after so cowardly a display in their handling of him.

    Which brings me to this snarky question: Where are Wise’s and UIUC’s defenders now? Would they not feel the need to come to the aid of Wise, and to plead with UIUC to stay its hand against her? Is there no one out there to assist this savior of UIUC’s terrified Jewish students, at the time quaking at the prospect of a professor who would use his awesome powers of grading to intimidate them and propagandize jihadist hostilities into their vulnerable young minds? Should not those oft-invoked frightened prospective Jewish students and their parents, and the alumni donor class, all so nobly served by Wise/UIUC, be now prevailed upon to heed their consciences and intercede to defend their and (let us face it) Israel’s defender?

    Hasbarists! Duty – and civility – calls upon you!! Unite and advance, ho!

    But seriously folks…

    It is worth stepping back a little to observe clearly the collapse of the University’s anti-Salaita forces into an incoherent mass of finger pointing and mutual recrimination — all thanks to the forensic evidence of the e-mails. Absent entirely is any willingness NOW to assert boldly the rightness of the actions taken by the Wise and/or the University’s administration. The injustice against Salaita finds no mouthpieces now. Instead, there is this brutal infighting at UIUC. If anything betrays the nature of how Salaita was treated, it is surely this situation. One may be forgiven if in despair one could not see it coming. But now it does look kinda inevitable.

    Salaita was treated like crap and evidently his legal case against the University now can proceed. Like I suggested last year, he rather may have dodged a bullet with his un-hiring there.

    The defenders of UIUC and of Wise can look upon their work and see nothing of which they can boast and, hence, their silence now.

    You know who you are….

  7. Edward August 14, 2015 at 2:47 pm | #

    Probably the most famous example this situation was the pardoning of Richard Nixon.

  8. David Green August 14, 2015 at 3:06 pm | #

    This comment, which was entered on the News-Gazette website, reflects how I have felt from the start of this affair, as well as my long-term frustration regarding public/scholarly discussion of I/P on the UIUC campus:

    But in the larger scheme of things, this is all about the consequences of avoiding the truth. The fundamental truth being avoided has to do with Israel/Palestine itself, and the fact that our tax dollars go for Israeli Jews to murder Palestinian children, and that that has now become a matter of IL state policy (SB1761). Everything leads from there: the lying about donor pressure and Kennedy’s role; the lying about Wise’s acquiescence, involvement, and ultimate responsibility; the lying about the lying. Wise couldn’t avoid being drawn into this, because she has no regard for the truth and no integrity, and hasn’t a political/moral principle to her name, witness Nike/Busey Bank. All she had to do from the start was firmly say to the BOT that either Salaita is hired, or I am gone–a fundamental case of academic freedom and freedom of speech. Simple is that. Salaita would be here, and so would she. But she couldn’t do it, because you don’t get to that position in life by not following orders from the one percent (not that she isn’t now a member). So she’s wasted a year of her and everyone else’s time, with the result that she will ultimately be disgraced. Thank you, Israel Lobby! And where will all the signers to the numerous ads supporting her be? Well, at least the News-Gazette was able to make a pile with those ads.

    • VL August 15, 2015 at 3:56 pm | #

      Excellent comment. “The consequences of avoiding the truth:” yes!

  9. jonnybutter August 14, 2015 at 3:09 pm | #

    Did anyone really believe that the University’s abuse of Salaita would end with him just going home, the reactionaries doing a victory lap, and the University seeing not only no stoppage of its donors’ generosity, but possibly a widened floodgate of new and even bigger donations?

    I think the hotshots did think they might get away with it. And in another context they may well have done. Speaking of left and right here – we ought to recognize that the right in the US knows how to use shock as a tactic. It works for them over and over, often to everyone’s surprise. I would guess it gets *routine* after a while. I repeat myself, but that this gambit was so brazen was part of its appeal. Clampdowns work because they’re ‘bold’. So they screwed this one up bigtime. But their contempt for public education is intact, and no one is resigning except Wise. They’re out there getting very big money from big companies. Your model, with earned reputations, is already gone, as far as they’re concerned. It’s now just another bidnis.

    • Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant August 14, 2015 at 3:39 pm | #

      I think you are on to something. These reactionaries are very used to winning. However, what is new is the present implosion at UIUC. I find that to be quite telling. To me, it suggests that UIUC’s administration are at a loss to justify their actions, and all there is left to do is to attempt to minimize their exposure — to boycotts, to a lawsuit (maybe two now?), to a restive faculty and student body, to a PR horror show. This ain’t where a reactionary “win” is supposed to take its “victors”.

  10. jonnybutter August 14, 2015 at 3:58 pm | #

    the present implosion at UIUC

    I wouldn’t call it an ‘implosion’ Donald, but that’s just me. They don’t care about institutional reputation the same way academics do. This stupid saga wrecks some aspects of a great public institution? In a sense, that’s what they want – the ‘Katrina Effect’. They want to cash in on and leverage a great reputation, but not preserve it. They want to take value out. Same as it ever was, imho

    • Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant August 14, 2015 at 4:03 pm | #

      Ah, but isn’t Disaster Capitalism supposed to benefit the elites who wreck the joint — and this is a man-made disaster if ever there was one — and not send them at each other’s throats (instead of ours) amidst the wreckage?

      Jus’ sayin’!

      Still, I be likin’ this turn of events…

      • jonnybutter August 14, 2015 at 8:22 pm | #

        I like it too, Donald – it’s bitterly satisfying to see the rats turn on each other.

  11. Marcy August 14, 2015 at 4:15 pm | #

    This just in: http://uofi.uillinois.edu/emailer/newsletter/77658.html

    Chancellor Wise says she will resign, resume tenured faculty role
    University drops employment action

    August 14, 2015

    URBANA – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise has announced that she has resigned from her administrative roles and will take up a tenured faculty position in the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology. In turn, the University informed Wise today that it will not initiate administrative dismissal proceedings aimed at removing her as chancellor of the Urbana campus and vice president of the University.

    In letters to U of I President Timothy Killeen and Board of Trustees Chairman Edward McMillan on Thursday evening, Wise tendered her resignation as chancellor and vice president and declined an administrative reassignment that Killeen had made on Wednesday. “Effective immediately, I will resume my position as a tenured member of the faculty in the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology,” Wise wrote.

    Killeen and McMillan separately responded to Wise, acknowledging receipt of her communication and thanking Wise for her administrative service to the University. “Please be advised that Article IX, Section 10 administrative dismissal proceedings will not be initiated,” in light of Wise’s administrative resignation, McMillan informed Wise.

    On Wednesday, Killeen reassigned the four-year chancellor to duties reporting directly to him and named as acting chancellor Barbara J. Wilson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, effective immediately.

  12. George Munchus August 14, 2015 at 6:15 pm | #

    Wise created her own removal.
    Thanks for these updates.
    I wonder when deposed under oath will she tell the truth?

  13. Akibare Nanashi August 14, 2015 at 6:16 pm | #

    Sigh. Looks like they’re accepting her resignation after all – possibly in an attempt to avoid her blowing this open any further?

    I for one, as a regular non-faculty staff member at UIUC, hope that people keep demanding to see the content of all of these emails – very much including the ones made from private email accounts, and including the talk about the proposed new medical school. The entire thing stinks to high heaven.

  14. VL August 14, 2015 at 9:10 pm | #

    Corey, this post is incredibly important. I replied on your FB timeline, but want people to know this here, too:

    Wise has a history of recycling her own papers and passing them off as new work. See: http://retractionwatch.com/2014/10/09/u-illinois-chancellor-earns-mega-correction-for-duplicate-publication/

    Apparently she’s done this at least three times in her career, so this is a pattern, not a fluke.

    There can therefore be no doubt whatsoever that Wise’s instincts for self-promotion have been winning out over her ethics for a long time. She seems to me a paradigmatic example of a scientist who went into administration out of insecurity over her scientific career, figuring (wrongly) that administration would be easier. Since I work with many faculty in biomedical research, I have seen this a number of times; scientists seem particularly prone to disrespecting the abilities that are required for good academic leadership–and it invariably causes major problems for the departments and institutions that promote such people.

    • David Green August 15, 2015 at 10:29 am | #

      This is something those of us in the Salaita camp at UIUC have known for some time. Nevertheless, no luck in having this information make a dent in local media coverage of Wise’s virtues.

      • VL August 15, 2015 at 11:23 am | #

        Wow. You’re right –I’ve never read anything about her background at all, even her field of study; I’m actually ashamed of myself that I didn’t look into it before yesterday. Turns out she’s in a field (effects of sex hormones) that is also notorious for sloppy science. Ugh.

    • Marcy August 15, 2015 at 2:48 pm | #

      The retractions have been known for sometimes, without any traction (no pun intended) so far, as David Gren notes, perhaps because Wise was viewed as an administrator, not a scientist anymore.
      Now that she is reverting to her scientist/faculty person, this may change. Will her new department put up with that particular stain, which will be made all the more visible by Wise’s notoriety?
      I am no expert, so I can’t tell whether the retractions are considered small potatoes in her scientific community, or whether they are something worthy of disciplinary review by UIUC’s academic powers-that-be.

      • VL August 15, 2015 at 3:53 pm | #

        The problem is less that the retractions are small potatoes than that they are invisible to colleagues. As a group, biomedical scientists are among the least likely to be activists in a university setting. There are several reasons for this, one of which is quite practical: most are too over-stretched running their labs to pay attention to departmental problems. More precisely, they feel much more pressure to publish and get grants than their colleagues in the humanities, because biomedical research is very technology-driven now, and many studies can be replicated in a matter of months, creating an ever-present threat of being scooped. Their reluctance is also temperamental and philosophical, however. Scientists at medical schools in particular tend to view themselves as shop-owners renting space in a mall and don’t much care to get involved in what the other shops are doing. (Yes, the corporatization of the university is very strong in the biomedical fields.)

        Regardless, the three retractions span her career, starting before she was promoted into upper level administrative positions. The fact she got so far is rather astonishing: she’d been in upper level positions at U Maryland, UC-Davis, U Kentucky, and U Washington before landing at UIUC, which should have raised the search committee’s suspicions. But here scientists have a different problem: like many academics, they denigrate administrative roles and so can be surprisingly clueless when it comes to promoting people into administrative positions. It actually takes character as well as vision and deep intelligence to be a good administrator. Promoting a mediocre scientist into administrative positions does not get them out of your hair: it embeds them like lice. And you never get rid of them–you just pass them on from one host to another.

        • Marcy August 15, 2015 at 6:05 pm | #

          OK then, time to pull out the fine-tooth comb 🙂

  15. Frank Wilhoit August 15, 2015 at 11:17 am | #

    1. This is, and will forever be, the textbook example of karma. (Or busma. The old song about the wheels on the bus going round and round, ad infinitum, never mentioned what had been thrown under them.)
    2. I am aware of at least one major corporation whose IT department was directed, as long ago as 2007, to find a way to make email traffic undiscoverable. (Of course they could not, but they were asked to do it.) Many others have doubtless had the same idea over the past week.
    3. What, at this point, could constitute making Dr. Salaita whole? The job is not worth having; there would be provocateurs in the room at every single class he taught — and most likely at any other institution.

  16. dtr August 15, 2015 at 3:30 pm | #

    Good comment:

    “Jake, it’s capitalismtown.”


  17. Jack Turner August 18, 2015 at 1:23 pm | #

    Corey: You’re as perceptive, caustic, and hilarious as ever. The one thing that gives me pause about the Board’s treatment of Wise: would they have tried this if she was a white dude? Or would they have withstood the media storm and let him go quietly?

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