- Associated Press - Friday, August 14, 2015

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise said Thursday night that she has again submitted her resignation and declined an appointment to an advisory job under President Timothy Killeen.

Wise’s move follows the decision Wednesday by a committee of trustees to decline her first attempt to resign, fire her instead and withhold an agreed-upon $400,000 bonus. That leaves the school in a place few, if any, others have been before, higher education experts say. And it also leaves a long list of questions about what happens next.

The three-member Board of Trustees executive committee voted Wednesday to begin the dismissal process. Killeen’s related decision to assign Wise to an advisory role under him followed the disclosure that Wise and others had used private emails to discuss university business without public scrutiny. Wise was already wrestling with lawsuits filed by a professor whose job offer was rescinded and former athletes in two sports who accused coaches and others of poor treatment.

Wise first announced her resignation Aug. 6, just short of four years on the job, and signed a deal with the university that day to get the $400,000 bonus, a prorated 80 percent of the $500,000 she would have gotten at five years.

Before the vote, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office publicly argued against the bonus.

In her email Thursday, Wise said the university’s reversal was driven by politics.

“This action was unprecedented, unwarranted, and completely contrary to the spirit of our negotiations last week,” Wise said in the email, adding that she’s consulting with lawyers on potential next steps.

A university spokesman couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Dan L. King, president of the American Association of University Administrators, agreed with Wise that the move by the university was unheard of. The group represents presidents and other administrators.

“This really surprised me,” he said. “I can’t remember one, and I’ve kind of been a student of higher ed for 30 years.”

A look at the effect of Wednesday’s decision, and what appears to be the uncharted territory ahead:


In short, it began the lengthy process - up to two months - of firing Wise as chancellor.

Had she accepted Killeen’s appointment, she would have reported strictly to him. That’s a far different role than she would have taken on in her original employment deal, which included the freedom to teach and do research as a tenured professor.


That isn’t clear. After a lengthy closed-door session, the three trustees who voted to fire Wise have so far declined to discuss their motivation. And Killeen deflected questions about what if anything had changed since the original Aug. 6 agreement between the university and Wise.

The one thing that is known to have changed was Rauner’s public opposition. Deputy Gov. Trey Childress urged university leaders to withhold the bonus in a Tuesday letter.

Rauner and state lawmakers are locked in a stalemate that means that, six weeks into the new fiscal year, the state government still has no budget for the year. So the university, which last year got about 11 percent of its operating budget from the state, is still waiting to find out how much of that money it will have to spend.


If those proceedings continue, Wise would be due a hearing before the full board of trustees, and a chance to state her case to trustees if she wanted to. That hearing could be a couple of months away, university spokesman Tom Hardy said.


Ray Cotton, a Washington, D.C. lawyer who represents both presidents and boards of trustees around the country in employment negotiations, believes Wise is likely to sue, and should if she wants to keep working. Cotton doesn’t represent Wise or the university.

Being fired usually means “no longer being hirable for a top-level administrative post in higher education,” he said.


Killeen said Wednesday that retention bonuses such as the one Wise would have received will no long be part of administrator contracts at the University of Illinois.

Wise was hired in 2011, but the university has been writing performance-based bonuses into administration contracts the past couple of years.

They are becoming more common. The higher education consulting firm Yaffe & Company says the percentage of university presidents whose pay is at least partially performance-based has grown from 32.4 percent in 2010-11 to 44.1 percent in 2014-15, according to a survey of the private universities.

Doing away with retention bonuses would mean removing one in Killeen’s own contract, and the president has already asked the board to do so, Hardy said.

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