Wrapping up the year

From Academic Senate meetings to discussions about social media use, Steven Salaita’s name has been everywhere — except the classroom. Salaita was hired as a tenured professor in the American Indian Studies department in October 2013, set to begin teaching in August 2014. However, before school started, Salaita sent a number of controversial tweets regarding the Gaza conflict. Chancellor Phyllis Wise emailed him shortly after, stating she would not be forwarding his hiring recommendation onto the Board of Trustees for approval, citing the tweets. Since his employment was rescinded, Salaita has traveled the country speaking about academic freedom, filed two lawsuits and written a book which will be published in November 2015.

The American Association of University Professors stepped in after the University revoked Steven Salaita’s offer of employment in August and academics from around the world vocalized concerns about academic freedom and tenure on the Urbana-Champaign campus. Officials from the AAUP’s Committee A on academic freedom visited campus in March to investigate, and on April 23, the association released a formal report stating Salaita’s rights were violated.ss The association will formally decide whether to censure the University at its annual meeting in Washington D.C. on June 13, but many have said it is likely. ss

Deborah Frank Feinen unseated incumbent and C-U personality, Don Gerard, in the Champaign mayoral election in early April. Throughout his four years in office, Gerard dealt with a great deal of controversy and praise from both the community and from the student body.ss Members of the community call the position of Champaign mayor frivolous because of the city manager position — but for the student body, the mayor is a face and a representative, someone to know and seek help from, which is something Gerard succeeded at. We will miss Gerard and his attitude toward students, but we are excited for the next four years with Mayor Feinen, and we know Don Gerard isn’t going anywhere.

After Governor Bruce Rauner’s election this past year, he proposed cutting state funding for higher education by 31.5 percent, which, if it goes into effect, would result in $209 million being cut from the University.ss Students, faculty and community members alike have expressed that this is not the right decision for the state of Illinois to take. The University fosters the education of students so they can graduate and create a better world. Whether students become engineers, teachers, doctors, lawyers or any other position imaginable, continual financial support of higher education by the state is critical. The Illinois government is still finalizing budget plans for the next fiscal year, which starts in July.

The Illinois Student Senate’s promotion of their “It’s On Us” campaign to stop campus sexual assault brought Vice President Joe Biden to the University, in what was decidedly one of the coolest moments of this year. His visit brought a slew of Secret Service agents to campus, shut down part of Gregory Drive and inspired Leslie Knope/Amy Poehler jokes at every turn. Biden, alongside Gossip Girl alumna Jessica Szohr, spoke on the importance of ending sexual assault and applauded our campus’ efforts. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have such an important public figure come to campus and recognize us for the good work our campus is doing.

Honoring its mission to remain inclusive for the diverse students we host, the University recently proposed a housing plan for select dorms to become gender-inclusive this upcoming fall 2015. Both Allen Hall and Pennsylvania Avenue Residence Hall will host one wing with gender-inclusive restrooms and floors, allowing freshmen of next year to be able to select a gender-inclusive restroom option when selecting for dorm rooms. This plan is the very first of its kind here. While this is one of the University’s first steps toward gender inclusivity, this new plan attempts to address issues many transgender and other non-binary students face.

As one of the nation’s top research universities, the University announced this year it is adding to its arsenal of scientific learning institutions by establishing the College of Medicine, the first new college in 60 years to hopefully start in fall 2017. This college comes from a $100 million commitment from Carle Foundation Hospital over the next 10 years along with other fundraising efforts. The new college, to be located in Urbana, will focus on engineering and medicine. If successful, the college will not only make the University more prestigious, but offer truly groundbreaking research to help people around the world.

As the University says goodbye to President Robert Easter, we thank him for the amount of time he contributed to our institution. He has been an Illini for 33 years from a professor, department head, interim dean, dean of ACES and University president. While Easter referred to himself as the “accidental president,” many people on this campus claim Easter’s ability to bring the University stability and normalcy was more than just accidental, and in fact, needed. We look forward to seeing what Timothy Killeen is able to accomplish and know that we are in good hands.

At their Nov. 13 meeting in a reversal of an earlier decision, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees decided that academic units at the University could choose to employ former professor James Kilgore. Kilgore came under fire last spring when media reports arose concerning his status as a convicted felon and former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army. At that time, the University seemingly caved to this outside pressure and chose not to reappoint Kilgore without giving much thought to his life and work since his earlier indiscretions. Kilgore did eventually return to a position with the University, but only after a semester-long absence that never should have happened in the first place.

The University grieved through the loss of three Illini: Vicente Mundo, Christian Zamora and William Hempy, all found dead after being reported missing in three separate cases. Mundo, who was killed in January, was a junior studying statistics and is remembered as a funny and generous role modelhttps://www.dailyillini.com/news/article_b252fe24-abc8-11e4-971f-23a25d2efb24.html. A 2014 graduate, Zamora’s death was accidental. His body was found in early March after his disappearance in December. He was known as energetic, kindhearted and universally talentedhttps://www.dailyillini.com/news/article_df10a460-c5f0-11e4-a39e-cbae19e7cecb.html. Hempy was reported missing from his Minnesota home during spring break. His body was found April 26, and while cause of death is currently unknown, no foul play is suspected. He was a senior studying computer science and was described by his family as having being intelligent with many interests and talents. Though they are gone, they will never be forgotten and will forever be members of the Illini family.https://www.dailyillini.com/news/article_757946cc-edd9-11e4-9599-abb9aa38f122.html.

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