The Daily Illini

Fumbles and unprofessionalism in the Wise resignation

By The Daily Illini Editorial Board

The University has been in the headlines a lot these past few weeks — and not for good reasons.

Former Chancellor Phyllis Wise announced her resignation, which was followed by a release of personal emails that skirted Freedom of Information Act requests. In emails, Wise called the University a “messed up” place — and frankly, we can’t help but agree.

Be it in the form of worldwide criticism following the rejected appointment of Steven Salaita or letting adjunct faculty member James Kilgore, a felon, go, the past years have been controversial and have plagued her tenure as chancellor. Her exit follows in the same fashion, and the withheld personal emails are simply the cherry on top.

But Wise is not the sole problem to these issues; it is an entire administration. Wise remains to be the most-talked about user of skirting FOIA requests, but there were more from the University who were not named.

The Board of Trustee’s attempt to strong arm her by initiating formal dismissal proceedings was unprofessional based off agreements previously made.

While students might not have appreciated Wise and the decisions she seemed to have made, Wise’s position as a scapegoat for the Board should be taken into consideration when discussing the events of the past year, as much of the hate directed towards her is without accurate foundation.

Many of the controversial events surrounding Wise were not solely her decision. For example, in personal emails, it was revealed Wise did not immediately wish to reject Salaita’s appointment, but instead wished to sit down and express her dissatisfaction with his tweets.

She later wrote on Dec. 14, “What angers me about this report is that they believe that I made the decision and that BOT followed my recommendation. That is just plain not true.”

While nobody can be completely sure of how the decision to reject Salaita’s appointment was reached, this statement makes it clear there are pieces missing from the narrative, framed in a way that paints Wise as a scapegoat for an entire administration’s misdeeds. This can likely be said of the many other controversies she was faced with, as well.

Wise, who became chancellor after the University’s admissions scandal, was brought in to bring stability. Her exit leaves us questioning who will take charge of the Urbana campus, as it faces an investigation into the athletics program, impending budget cuts and Salaita’s own impending lawsuit against the University.

Arguably, no administrator deserves a $400,000 bonus, especially during a time of such financial distress. But that’s what the board agreed to in her 2011 contract.

The board could have denied the bonus and moved on, but rather chose to engage in what would be a long, expensive and highly publicized process.

By dropping the dismissal proceedings, the board saved the University from future tarnishes to its name.

While Wise’s FOIA skirt was wrong, not all she’s done for Urbana is shameful. She was able to bring stability to the campus in 2011 and helped create a biomedical engineering College of Medicine.

With a new University president, we have an opportunity to start fresh and revitalize the University’s reputation.

We look forward to what Barbara Wilson, acting chancellor, can accomplish during the time in her role. As a leading institution, we can’t have a nine-month down period.

We hope the search for a new chancellor is transparent. We need to see a time when resignations and scandals do not continuously plague this campus. Leadership will never be strong when administrators continue to come and go.

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