Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise – Sacked Lecturer Steven Salaita for Supporting the Palestinians – Now She’s Resigned!
Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise – Sacked Lecturer Steven Salaita for Supporting the Palestinians – Now She’s Resigned!
I’ve written before about Steven Salaita, who
was fired by Illinois University and its Chancellor Phyllis Wise for tweeting
messages in support of the Palestinians in Gaza. His messages weren’t very civil and that was
used as an excuse to terminate his contract.
Steven Salaita had given up a previous lectureship to take a position at Illinois but the University pretended that he hadn’t yet
been hired. Well a judge last week held
that was untenable.
And then Phyllis Wise resigned. She had been hiding e-mails on her own
personal account and deleting them and advising others to hid emails. All of which is illegal under the Freedom
of Information Act once litigation starts.
She has possibly committed criminal acts, hence the resignation.
She agreed a $400,000 pay off and then
resigned but the Trustees overturned the agreement refusing her resignation because
it preferred to dismiss her. It has now
agreed to accept a second resignation but there will be no pay off.
Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada has
written extensively on what has been happening and the 2 articles below are by
Chancellor Phyllis Wise during the University of Illinois Homecoming Parade, 24 October 2014. (via Facebook)
Is the University of Illinois telling the truth about when it knew
that some of its top officials were sending – and deleting
– emails from private accounts to evade disclosure of their discussions of
controversial matters including the firing of Steven Salaita?
Emails released last week raise serious questions about the university’s
The university’s board of trustees is voting today on whether to approve a
$400,000 bonus for Phyllis
Wise who resigned
on 6 August as chancellor, the top official of its flagship Urbana-Champaign
Wise is a key figure in the firing of Salaita over his tweets critical of
What’s the story?
The day after Wise announced her resignation, the university issued a press release
The University of Illinois became aware in late April that certain members
of the Urbana-Champaign campus administration and other campus employees might
have used personal email accounts for University-related communications, and
that those emails may not have been made available to those at the University
responsible for responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
The university then released more
than 1,000 pages of the previously undisclosed emails about three
controversial matters: Wise’s attempts to set up a college of medicine, the
disqualification of James Kilgore from teaching contracts due to his criminal
record and the employment of Steven Salaita.
But at least one of the emails (below) suggests that the university knew, or
should have known, about the secret email ring months earlier.
The email, dated 16 December 2014, was sent from Chancellor Wise’s personal
email account to Scott Rice,
the university’s chief legal counsel.
In the email, Wise forwards talking points prepared by her son Andrew Wise, a
Washington, DC, attorney, about the Salaita affair.
It is not clear whether Wise sent it to Rice’s official work email or to a
What it suggests is that Rice, the university’s top lawyer, knew that Wise
was using her personal email account.
Moreover, as Andrew Scheinman points
out at his Samizdat-Startup blog, the email Phyllis Wise sent to
Scott Rice from her personal account “is clearly about university business – in
fact, sensitive business that should NEVER have been shared by Wise with her
Scheinman adds that Rice, as university counsel, “should have immediately
flagged [this] for discussion with Wise.”
According to Scheinman, who is himself an attorney, Phyllis Wise’s email
ought to have raised alarms for Rice because “disclosure of information that
may be otherwise claimed as exempt from discovery because it is shared
internally LOSES that claim if sent to third parties, as Andrew Wise clearly
What this means is that by sharing internal discussions about the Salaita
case with her son, Wise could inadvertently end up helping Salaita make his
case in court.
I have put these questions to the university spokesperson’s office:
Why is there a discrepancy between the
university’s statement that it only learned of the use of private emails in
April 2015 and the fact that university counsel Scott Rice apparently knew, or
should have known, the previous December?
Did Scott Rice use a personal email address to
conduct university business?
Was Scott Rice a subject of the “ethics inquiry”
the university says it conducted into the use of personal emails?
The university does not have a good record of responding to my inquiries,
but if they do on this occasion I will update this post.
The bigger picture is this: while Wise certainly deserves all the blame she
is getting for her handling of Salaita and other matters, she is not the only
Indeed the talking points prepared by Andrew Wise seem aimed at protecting
his mother from sole blame for Salaita’s firing and casting the primary
responsibility on then board of trustees chair Christopher
In the pungent view of Scheinman, Wise is being “thrown under the bus as a
way of preventing the flipping over of the rock on the rats-nest of enablement
that surrounded her.”
The university must not be allowed to just shuffle her out of the door –
with or without her outrageous bonus – and carry on business as usual.
The executive committee of the University of Illinois’ board of trustees voted
unanimously to reject Wise’s resignation along with the $400,000 bonus.
Instead, the university will initiate
dismissal proceedings against her. Barbara Wilson, dean of the College of
Liberal Arts and Sciences, has been named as her temporary successor.
University of Illinois employees were formally warned by lawyers last
September that they could face civil and criminal penalties for failing to
preserve records related to the Steven Salaita
case, The Electronic Intifada can reveal.
Last week, the university acknowledged that senior officials, including Urbana-Champaign
Wise, had over the past year used private email addresses in an attempt to
conceal their communications about the August 2014 decision to fire Salaita
after he posted tweets critical of Israel.
suddenly on 6 August under a growing cloud over her conduct. The next day,
the university released more than 1,000 pages of the previously hidden emails
concerning the Salaita matter and other controversial university business.
Electronic Intifada reported, the emails indicate that Wise and others
believed that using private addresses and other practices would allow their
communications to evade disclosure.
In an 18 September 2014 email related to Salaita, Chancellor Wise wrote from
her private account that university spokesperson Robin Kaler “has warned me and
others not to use email since we are now in litigation phase. We are doing
virtually nothing over our Illinois email addresses. I am even being careful
with this email address and deleting after sending.”
The very next day, university employees connected with the Salaita matter,
undoubtedly including Wise and others participating in the secret email exchanges,
received a warning called a legal hold from the university’s external law firm
The Electronic Intifada has obtained a copy of the document, which is
published in full below.
A legal hold is standard practice any time litigation is expected and its
existence indicates that the outside counsel were being diligent.
Headlined in capitals, “Important legal notice for your immediate
attention,” it warns that “Failure to comply with this Notice could subject you
and the University to civil and criminal penalties.”
The document reveals that Salaita’s lawyers informed the university’s
counsel on 16 September 2014 of their intention to file a lawsuit.
The detailed four-page memo warns emphatically: “Under no circumstances
should you delete potentially relevant emails from your computer or from the
The hold applies to “any documents you create or receive at any time prior
to receiving notice that the legal hold has been terminated.”
It includes among other things:
Documents related to or in any manner discussing Steven G.
Documents related to statements on social media by Dr. Salaita
in 2014, including any materials provided to the University by any third
party commenting on any such statements by Dr. Salaita;
Documents relating to the decision not to recommend Dr. Salaita
to the Board of Trustees for approval.
It also states that “we are required to preserve relevant documents wherever
they are kept,” including “on your work and home computers” and “in your email
account (including your personal email account, if you have sent or received
relevant documents using that account).”
When did Wise know?
Wise’s email apparently admitting that she had deleted messages related to
Salaita was sent one day before the hold notice went out, but after the
university had been formally notified by Salaita’s lawyers of possible
The same email indicates that Wise herself had already been informed that
“we are now in litigation phase.”
But it would be bizarre if Wise, the Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) campus’ top
executive, only learned of the imminent litigation from the university’s
spokesperson rather than being told directly by the lawyers as soon as they
Wise’s official schedule, obtained by Urbana attorney Andrew Scheinman
under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), shows that Wise was in
Urbana-Champaign all day on 16 September 2014. (On 17 September she traveled to
Chicago to catch a flight to Portland, Oregon, for a meeting of the board of
Nike Corporation. In 2011, Wise
was paid $237,000 for sitting on Nike’s board.)
Moreover, Wise would surely have been aware that a week earlier, on 9
September 2014, Salaita held a widely covered press conference at the
University YMCA in Champaign where his
attorneys announced his intention to sue.
But according to Scheinman, who runs the investigative online publication Samizdat-Startups,
Wise was likely advised of her duty to preserve evidence even earlier.
He notes that soon after a 24 July 2014 board meeting at which Salaita was
discussed, the name of Scott Rice, the university’s in-house counsel, begins
appearing in Salaita-related emails previously released to him under FOIA.
Everything in the emails is redacted except for Rice’s name.
“This kind of redaction – nothing but the attorney’s name – indicates UIUC
is likely claiming attorney client privilege, which it would only do if they
were discussing, e.g., a litigation matter such as likely litigation by
Salaita,” Scheinman told The Electronic Intifada.
The fact that Wise and other officials expected, or should have expected,
litigation long before the formal legal hold was sent out suggests they already
had a legal duty to preserve evidence during a period when Wise admitted to
“I would think Rice would have taken great pains to point out to Wise early
on his – Rice’s – duty to UIUC – his client – to prevent any UIUC employees
including Wise from destroying documents,” Scheinman said.
“My conclusion is that Wise was likely advised of possible or likely
litigation as early as 25 July 2014,” Scheinman added.
Indeed Wise herself admits to anticipating a lawsuit as early as 31 July
2014, the day before she sent a letter to Salaita telling him that his job had
“It will be the beginning of a lawsuit, I am sure I will be deposed no
matter who sends the letter,”
Wise predicted in an email to Provost Ilesanmi
Adesida. “You may need to get ready as well.”
Windfall for Wise
On Wednesday, the board of trustees of the University of Illinois will vote
on whether to approve Wise’s golden parachute, a “negotiated”
windfall of $400,000.
Though she will give up her $549,000 chancellor’s salary, Wise will also get
a faculty appointment that will still pay her $300,000 a year.
In an editorial, The Chicago Tribune criticized the massive sum promised to Wise,
coming as it does after a “parade of scandals and the attempts to evade not
only public scrutiny but state law through unsavory secrecy.”
In a twist of irony, former board chair Christopher
Kennedy, another key figure in Salaita’s firing, also slammed the payment
“I wouldn’t give someone $400,000 to leave peaceably if they [did what she
did],” Kennedy told the Tribune.
On Tuesday afternoon, the administration of Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner called
on the university to reject the $400,000 payment to Wise.
According to the Tribune, the board’s three-member executive
committee – Chair Edward McMillan and members James Montgomery
and Karen Hasara – will take the decision on behalf of the board.