U of I rejects chancellor's resignation, rescinds $400,000 bonus offer

Board of trustees begins steps to dismiss her

On Wednesday, the University of Illinois (U of I) board declined Phyllis Wise's resignation as chancellor of the Urbana-Campaign campus and informed her they were beginning steps to dismiss her from that position, Scott Jaschik reports for Inside Higher Ed.

Last week, Wise announced she was leaving her position because of "external issues." The board was expected to approve a $400,000 bonus for her—a payment she would not normally be entitled to. Had she remained for another year, she would have received $500,000 for five years in the position.

The university had confirmed she would receive it. However, many politicians and U of I community members opposed that decision. The deputy governor published a letter before the board met, urging them to reject the deal.

Many politicians say they saw the $400,000 as unnecessary amid statewide budget struggles.

The bonus was widely viewed as an incentive for Wise to step down amid pressure from the board, Jaschik says.

Even if Wise is fired, however, she will remain with the university as a professor of molecular and cell biology earning about $300,000 annually. Her contract entitled her to an income equal to that of the highest faculty salary in the department.

The board's decision may deter future candidates from the president's seat, says Raymond Cotton, a lawyer specializing in higher education president contract negotiations.

"What my clients tell me is that one of the key decision points is to look at how the board treated the prior president," he told Inside Higher Ed.

The Salaita affair

Recently, Wise oversaw the institution's controversial decision to rescind its job offer to Steven G. Salaita after he made inflammatory comments on social media.

Professor sues university over lost job

Throughout the Salaita affair, Wise issued statements and met with representatives across campus. But Robert Warrior, who directs the program Salaita would have joined, says the controversy irrevocably soured relationships between Wise and faculty members. Cary Nelson, a U of I Urbana-Champaign English professor, told the Chronicle of Higher Education that most faculty supported Wise's decision about Salaita but about 40% were "strongly" opposed.

The day after Wise announced her resignation, U of I released hundreds of email pages that were improperly withheld from public records requests. Many of the messages came from private email accounts and discuss the Salaita situation, which the board says may have been an attempt on her part to make off-the-record comments about the situation.

Late Thursday, Wise submitted her resignation a second time and criticized the board's move, which she described as "motivated more by politics than the interests of the University" in an email to the media.

Currently, the board and Wise are locked in disagreement about the nature of Wise's emails and whether the board or Wise herself initiated her resignation—which is part of what determines whether or not Wise is owed the $400,000 bonus (Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 8/13; Cohen, Chicago Tribune, 8/13).

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