It’s good news that the Board of Trustees has backed-away from its banning of James Kilgore.
Organized faculty, especially The Friends of James Kilgore (many of whom are active CFA members) kept the issue before the Administration and the Board, with demonstrations, speeches, letters, petitions and press conferences. It was an amazing show of activism and solidarity in the face of a domineering Board and a hostile press, and it gave the Provost’s committee backing to issue the right decision. Had the Board continued to bar James Kilgore from working on campus, it would have been a public slap in the face to the faculty committee, the Provost, and the University’s already established procedures.
Another, nationally visible case of Board overreach is still being examined. In the matter of Steven Salaita’s barring from campus, we expect the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure and the Faculty Advisory Committee to issue strong reports about the troubled relationship between the trustees and the University’s statutes. But what will happen? In the Salaita case, the stakes are higher for the Administration, since the Chancellor and the Provost have both said repeatedly and publicly that they knew for a fact they needed to “protect” students from a clearly “biased” teacher. These assertions will be much harder to walk back because they have been made so insistently.
We don’t know who Illinois’ new governor will appoint to the Board, but we know BOT overreach will continue or worsen in the Rauner era. As we have seen, trustees from the corporate sector naturally think of themselves as handling a big business, and they disregard the University’s statutes when they want to. We’ve seen they don’t understand academic freedom, or even care much about it.
Only a unionized faculty can exert the systematic and organized power to prevent misguided, even disastrous decision-making at the top.
We could wait until the next Board decides to step past the faculty and academic senate, and then begin organizing protests, letters and petitions on an emergency basis. Or we can organize a real and independent center of power for faculty now, by forming a tenure-stream union that will have legal and contractual clout.