Phyllis Wise Fires Back at U of Illinois Board

August 14, 2015

Phyllis M. Wise, who resigned a week ago as chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and then was told Wednesday that she was being dismissed instead, fired back Thursday evening.

In a statement sent to reporters, along with a request that they not contact her, she said that the University of Illinois board broke an agreement it and the system president made with her. Further, she said that the $400,000 she was due to receive was not a bonus or an exit payment, but money to which her contract entitled her. (University officials, who have characterized the funds as a bonus, declined to comment on Wise's statement.) In the statement, Wise also denied that she had any "illegal intentions" in her use of personal email accounts. University officials (and her own email records, in some cases) have suggested she was trying to avoid having email comments become subject to public records requests. The statement also says that Wise is consulting with lawyers on her options.

Here is the statement in full:

For close to four years I have been devoted to helping the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recognize its limitless potential. We’ve achieved inspiring successes but recent events have distracted us from focusing on the university’s future. In the past week, the news media has reported that I and other campus personnel used personal email accounts to communicate about university business; some reports suggested I did so with illegal intentions or personal motivations. This is simply false. I acted at all times in what I believed to be the best interests of the University. In fact, many of these same communications included campus counsel, board members, and other campus leaders.

On Tuesday, in the spirit of placing the university first, I acceded to the board’s and the president’s request that I tender my resignation. In return, the university agreed to provide the compensation and benefits to which I was entitled, including $400,000 in deferred compensation that was part of my 2011 employment contract. The $400,000 was not a bonus nor a golden parachute; it was a retention incentive that I earned on a yearly basis. As the university knows, months before this controversy began, I had begun discussions with campus development leaders about gifting an amount equal to my deferred compensation package to the College of Medicine.

Yesterday, in a decision apparently motivated more by politics than the interests of the university, the board reneged on the promises in our negotiated agreement and initiated termination proceedings. This action was unprecedented, unwarranted and completely contrary to the spirit of our negotiations last week. I have no intention, however, of engaging the board in a public debate that would ultimately harm the university and the many people who have devoted time and hard work to its critical mission. Accordingly, I have again tendered my resignation as chancellor and will decline the administrative position as adviser to the president. These recent events have saddened me deeply. I had intended to finish my career at this university, overseeing the fulfillment of groundbreaking initiatives we had just begun. Instead, I find myself consulting with lawyers and considering options to protect my reputation in the face of the board’s position. I continue to wish the best for this great institution, its marvelous faculty, its committed staff and its talented students.

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