Board initiates formal dismissal against Wise, Wilson named as acting chancellor


President Timothy Killeen speaks to media, alongside Acting Chancellor Barbara Wilson (left) following the Board of Trustee’s executive committee meeting Wednesday.

The Board of Trustees is not letting Chancellor Phyllis Wise resign or receive a $400,000 bonus, going against a resignation deal proposed last week. Instead, they have reassigned her position and initiated formal dismissal proceedings against her.

The rejection comes six days after Wise announced she would no longer serve as chancellor, and after Gov. Bruce Rauner criticized the bonus. Now, the board will try to fire Wise from her administrative role, and she will keep her tenured faculty appointment.

“I had hoped to handle Chancellor Wise’s exit in the spirit in which the original contract was conferred, but the Board, with a lot of discussion and a lot of analysis, has mandated a different track, which I fully respect,” President Timothy Killeen said.

Barbara Wilson, dean of LAS, will be making runs between the Swanlund Administration Building to Lincoln Hall as she serves as both dean and acting chancellor. President Timothy Killeen publicly recommended Wilson early Wednesday, and her appointment was later approved by the board.

Wise was not asked ‘directly’ to resign

The board’s executive committee met in executive session for 90 minutes Wednesday. Killeen reassigned Wise as an adviser to biomedical affairs, where she will continue to earn her salary of $549,068.

Wise will report directly to Killeen, who said she certainly possesses expertise on the subject matter.

“I’m really hopeful that she will agree to work on some core issues in biomedical sciences, particularly related to curriculum,” Killeen said. “I don’t believe she’s in the country right now so that conversation will happen soon.”

McMillan wrote a letter to Wise stating the board will initiate formal dismissal proceedings against her and she will receive a statement detailing reasons for her proposed dismissal as chancellor.

Wise will have the option to appear in front of the board to comment on and defend the decisions she made. However, in accordance with the University statutes, the board will not be “bound by formal or technical rules of evidence, and its decision shall be final.”

Killeen said a meeting was held last week to review findings of an investigation into the administration’s use of personal emails, which were previously excluded from Freedom of Information Act requests. The emails were released Friday, one day after Wise’s resignation.

During the meeting, Killeen said he did not “directly” ask her to resign, but said Wise indicated “interest or willingness.” The University and Wise’s legal counsel, along with Killeen and McMillan, negotiated an agreement.

McMillian said one of the most important factors to him — and the University’s lawyers — was that the Board’s decision was not in violation of the contract signed when Wise became chancellor four years ago. The agreement said she would receive a $500,000 bonus after five full years or a pro-rated version if she left “at the election” of the board, according to University spokesperson Tom Hardy.

He said although only three members of the board voted — McMillan and trustees Karen Hasara and James Montgomery — they consider the perspectives of Rauner, Killeen and the other board members.

In the future, Killeen said he hopes to no longer give retention incentives, or bonuses.

“For me, and for all of us, I think that the best retention incentive is the privilege of being able to work at the University of Illinois,” he said.

Instead, Killeen said he would rather administrators receive performance-based incentives.

Killeen said he hopes Wise stays a member of the faculty after the proceedings.

“I would personally like to see Phyllis Wise be a stellar member of our faculty. She brings dynamism, creativity, thought and intellect to the table,” Killeen said. “Obviously this is a very disappointing set of circumstances, but I think she has a lot to contribute going forward.”

Killeen said the ethics investigation that launched when the University discovered administrators were using personal emails is being completed and any additional administrative changes would take place at the campus level.

Wilson to juggle LAS and acting chancellor position

Six days after Wise’s departure, Killeen announced his recommendation of Wilson in a statement early Wednesday afternoon, hours before Wednesday’s executive committee Board of Trustees meeting on the Urbana campus.

“She has a wealth of experience and familiarity with the operations of the chancellor’s office, she’s talented, she’s accomplished, she’s loyal, and she’s willing to step into this role,” Killeen said.

Wilson, 57, will continue serving as the dean of LAS, and will not serve as the permanent chancellor. Wilson said she will make a total salary of $397,500, for both positions. She previously made $325,000 as the dean of LAS.

Wilson, who said she was “surprised” by the appointment, stated her continued dedication to working collaboratively.

“My goal is to consult with people and work closely with the faculty, students, staff, alumni, with the provost’s office,” she said. “I’m a very collaborative person. Anybody who knows me knows that’s my reputation.”

A diverse search committee is being formed and Killeen hopes to appoint a new chancellor in six to nine months. Killeen said he told Wilson she is likely to serve as acting chancellor for one year.

“I’m very confident that we can attract amazing leadership to this campus …,” Killeen said. “We’re building a new strategic plan, we’re thinking of increasing enrollment significantly, we’re looking at technological development pathways that provides rich student experiences of all types.” 

Wilson already has leadership experience on her campus, Killeen said. She became the dean of LAS in 2014. Previously, Wilson served in the Office of the Provost from 2009 to 2014 and served as the executive vice provost for faculty and academic affairs for two years during that time.

Wilson said she met with associate deans from LAS Wednesday morning, whom she said she’ll count on quite a bit to help with daily activities.

“We may have to tweak a few positions to bolster a little more support for me, but LAS is an amazing college,” Wilson said.

Wilson said she is “very honored” to accept her new position, and is looking forward to working as a partner of Killeen’s and the board to move the University forward.

“I’ve talked with President Killeen, and I wouldn’t be accepting this position if I were just doing it so he could make decisions,” she said. “He sees this as a partnership; I see it as a partnership. If anybody knows me, I’m not a quiet person and I don’t sit back and let other people make decisions.”

Issues lie ahead for new chancellor

Killeen spoke with Wilson about the position Tuesday, leaving her with little time to be briefed about the issues facing the University, she said.

As Wise resigned amid multiple scandals at the University, Killeen said her accomplishments should still be recognized during her tenure as “there are many.”

Throughout the summer, continued allegations of mistreatment and racism have come forth from various athletic programs, including the football and women’s basketball teams. One independent investigation of the women’s basketball team showed the allegations to be unfounded, but another is still being conducted by Chicago-based law firm Franczek Radelet surrounding concerns of medical treatment for players. Meanwhile, Wise’s tenure continues to be tainted by conflict surrounding the rejected appointment of Steven Salaita.

Killeen said the University’s investigation of the private emails have been “very thorough, comprehensive, and came to a fairly clear conclusion.” He went on to say his priority was handling the investigation with full transparency and compliance with the law.

“We’ve done that as you have seen and we will do that into the future, and that is what the University of Illinois stands for,” he said.

Wise isn’t the first to resign amid controversy. She joined in 2011 underneath then President Michael Hogan, who resigned in 2012 due to questions of his leadership of the University at the time.

McMillan closed the meeting by thanking Killeen for his leadership in this “challenging time,” and stating his hope for the University to move in a positive direction.

“It’s a difficult time for individuals, for the University, but it’s a time for the University to move forward in a positive direction,” McMillan said. “President Killeen, we look forward to your leadership in these troubling times, and I hope we’ll find the calm going forward and continue to reinforce this great university.”

Ben Lash, Maggie Sullivan, Abigale Svoboda and Megan Jones contributed to this report.