Leaders of the University of Illinois on Thursday paved the way for the school to rehire convicted radical James Kilgore, a controversial scholar whose criminal past has thrust the university into the spotlight once again.
This is the same university that employed former terrorist Bill Ayers as a professor, and more recently rejected a teaching position for Steven Salaita after he posted a series of extreme anti-Israel tweets during the summer.
Kilgore, who was involved in illegal activities with the leftist Symbionese Liberation Army in the 1970s, has been an adjunct professor of global studies and urban planning at the Urbana-Champaign campus for the last four years. But the university did not renew his contract after board members raised questions about his employment once his criminal activities became public earlier this year.
The Symbionese Liberation Army is famous for kidnapping Patricia Hearst in 1974. Its members also built bombs and killed the first black Oakland, Calif., superintendent of schools with bullets laced with cyanide, allegedly because he wanted students to show I.D. on campus.
As for Kilgore, he participated in a 1975 armed bank robbery during which a 42-year-old mother, Myrna Opsahl, was shot and killed. Kilgore was not the shooter, but served five years in prison for his involvement during the 2000s. Prior to his imprisonment, he was living in South Africa under a false name.
Despite all this – including board Chairman Christopher Kennedy referring to Kilgore as a “domestic terrorist,” the board allowed the university to rehire Kilgore at its discretion. Kilgore, 66, praised the decision in a comment Thursday to The Chicago Tribune.
“The university in making this decision, if I am rehired, is recognizing that people can change and that people should be given second chances and that when they prove themselves, they shouldn’t simply be dismissed from their position on the basis of their criminal background or their past,” he said.
The board’s decision came after a “robust debate that represented a wide range of divergent viewpoints,” according to an official statement.
“While the Board 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,” the statement reads. “Therefore, the U of I Board of Trustees is asking the president to develop a clear policy to guide future hiring decisions for part-time and adjunct staff throughout the three-campus University.”
Under current university policy, Kilgore wasn’t legally obligated to disclose his criminal past, but trustees have asked for a new policy that will likely include mandatory criminal background checks for most new employees. That policy is expected to be presented to the board in January.
The trustees’ decision was influenced in part by a committee of professors’ report, which found that Kilgore was “open” to the university about his criminal history and “voluntarily” disclosed his prior use of an alias.
“The record demonstrates that Mr. Kilgore has been a successful employee and has contributed to the scholarly and educational missions of the campus in the academic hourly and visiting specialized faculty positions that he has held over the last four years,” the report reads.
University of Illinois board member Kennedy – son of former senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy – had previously played a role in 2010 in denying former terrorist Bill Ayers emeritus status at the University of Illinois’ Chicago campus. Ayers was a co-founder of radical left-wing group Weather Underground, which bombed government buildings in the 1970s.
The board also voted 8-1 against hiring professor Steven Salaita to a tenured position, after he posted a series of anti-Israel tweets during the summer, which prompted a wide range of criticism from academics as a violation of scholars’ free speech rights.
College Fix reporter Michael Cipriano is a student at American University.
IMAGE: Main, Tiny Banquet Committee, Flickr; Inside, California Department of Corrections