UI’s new chancellor shares application process, opportunities that await her at Illinois

When originally contacted to submit materials for consideration, Phyllis Wise, chancellor and vice president, told the search committee she was not interested in the position. She said she had promised the University of Washington’s board of regents to stay until the presidential search was completed.

In fact, even after Washington had chosen its president, Wise was hesitant about applying. She had also promised the board to help with the transition as she had served as interim president before.

But after a member of the search committee contacted her a second time after Washington selected its president, she was convinced that this was a unique opportunity in higher education.

“(It was an) opportunity of leadership … the University of Illinois is so spectacular that it would be a honor and privilege to serve here,” she said in an interview Friday afternoon.

After the first interview with the committee, Wise became more serious about the position. At that point, she met with University president Michael Hogan, members of the Board of Trustees, deans and search committee members.

“They told me some things about the University of Illinois that I did not know. It was a learning experience for me in terms of finding out more and more about the University,” Wise said.

The mutual interest reached its peak when Hogan announced on Aug. 3 that Wise had been chosen for the position. Hogan said she has the “full package,” in regards to her previous role as faculty member and administrator and has the reputation of a being a leader from a top-tier university.

She said she is ready to lead this campus, partly because of what she learned during her time as a provost and interim president at Washington.

In 2010, Wise began a short stint as the Washington’s interim president after stepping away temporarily from her post as provost, which she held since 2005. She said her positions in administration taught her about oversight of all the academic resources, not just those of a single college or department.

“When I became the provost, I wrote to the dean of the college of biological sciences (at the University at California-Davis, where she was previously the dean), and I said that every dean should have to be the provost for six months first,” Wise said. “And then go back and be a dean because you have an idea of how everything weaves together.”

During her time in Seattle, one of the more debated controversies was her appointment to the Nike board of directors in 2009, where faculty and students called on her to step down, citing a conflict of interest.

Cary Nelson, president of American Association of University Professors, said it would raise ethical concerns because Nike contracts sporting equipment with Washington, as it does with the University.

Wise refused to step down then and will continue in that position while serving as the University’s chancellor, partially, she said, because the universities can learn from businesses. She added that she was candid about the position during the interview process with Hogan, who was very supportive of her additional role.

Though she wishes she could have stayed with her friends and colleagues at Washington, Wise said she knows there is a great challenge awaiting her in Urbana.