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U. of Illinois to Dismiss Chancellor, Reject $400K Bonus

URBANA, Ill. ― University Of Illinois trustees plan to begin the process of firing Chancellor Phyllis Wise rather than accept her resignation and pay her a $400,000 bonus she had negotiated. President Timothy Killeen instead plans to assign her to an advisory position reporting directly to him.

Killeen and university trustees announced those moves after a lengthy closed-door meeting of a trustees committee Wednesday, nearly a week after Wise said she planned to resign as the top official at the Urbana-Champaign campus.

The action followed calls by Gov. Bruce Rauner and others to reject the bonus in the aftermath of the school’s announcement last week that she and other administrators had used their private email accounts to avoid public scrutiny of their communications on university business.

“I think this is a time to turn a page at the university,” Killeen said after the meeting. “Practices of the past are not going to be the practices of the future.”

Killeen said that, with students coming back this month for fall classes, he hoped the decisions made Wednesday would help quiet what has been a series of storms on campus this year. They range from the ongoing lawsuit by a professor whose job offer was rescinded over a series of anti-Israel Twitter messages to allegations of mistreatment by some former athletes and two related lawsuits.

“It’s important to put some things in a rear view mirror and in a very speedy way,” the first-year president said.

But he also acknowledged the move could bring more litigation.

“In my first 100 days here, I’ve noted a few instances of litigation risks. I’m hoping we can mitigate or minimize that,” he said.

Trustees on the committee ― Chairman Ed McMillan and Karen Hasar and James Montgomery ― voted against Wise’s resignation deal and bonus without comment on their decision.

Wise did not immediately respond to a call from The Associated Press, and Killeen said he believed she was traveling Wednesday.

Trustees and Killeen planned to inform her of their decision not to approve the previously negotiated resignation deal or the bonus, as well as the decision to begin dismissal proceedings, in a pair of brief letters.

The trustees’ letter indicated the dismissal process would not be immediate and would include a hearing before the board of trustees.

The one-paragraph letter from Killeen says, “You are being assigned new duties as an advisor on biomedical affairs reporting directly to me.”

The letter says her salary will remain at her current $549,069 a year until the dismissal process is complete. That could take a couple of months, university spokesman Tom Hardy said. After that she would be paid the faculty salary that was part of the resignation deal, something approaching $300,000, he said.

Wise and the university had earlier agreed to the deal that saw her resign last Thursday, and she had expected to be paid the $400,000 ― a prorated portion of the $500,000 retention bonus she was due if she kept the job five years. She has been at the university for almost four. She was also due to join the faculty and teach.

Neither McMillan nor Montgomery would say why trustees decided against the agreement.

The Rauner administration on Tuesday had pushed trustees to reject the bonus for Wise. Deputy Gov. Trey Childress wrote to the chairman of the board of trustees, saying the administration had “deep reservations” about the deal in the midst of a state budget crisis. The Republican governor and Democratic lawmakers have been deadlocked on a plan to solve it since the spring.

Killeen earlier announced that Barbara J. Wilson, dean of the school’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, would be Wise’s interim replacement. The process of finding a permanent chancellor could take anywhere from six months to a year, Killeen said.

Wilson, who will be paid at an annual rate of $397,500, said she was only offered the position Tuesday and didn’t yet know what is ahead of her.

The campus still faces the same issues that dogged Wise.

In addition to the email controversy, two lawsuits have been field over allegations of mistreatment by former soccer and women’s basketball players, and the university is still waiting for a report from a law firm on allegations raised by three former football players.

And the professor, Steven Salaita, continues to pursue his lawsuit.

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