Editor's note: The Daily Illini Editorial Board sat down with Chancellor Phyllis Wise to talk about the state of affairs on campus.
The Daily Illini: We know the University is currently undergoing a presidential search committee. What kind of person would you like to see fill the role of the next University president?
Wise: I would love to see someone who is academically really well-respected and really has an excellent record as an academic leader. Also, someone who is ready to go out and do the external work, which is so important at the moment, ... but (someone) really ready to promote the University of Illinois to a broader audience. By that I mean corporate leaders, legislators, the governor, federal legislators, to really promote the value of the University. ... (I learned that) we did a lousy job of communicating and promoting ourselves in a bold but not boastful way. So I took it upon myself to spend a significant amount of time outside the campus, but the president should do it in spades.
DI: Following the recent Salaita controversy, 14 departments issued votes of no confidence. What would your response be to this?
Wise: I'm saddened that this has happened, obviously, because no confidence really means that they have no confidence in my leadership, and I take that very seriously. I have met with faculty in all of the different colleges already. I had planned to do another listening and learning tour this fall, and when all this started happening, I decided I wanted to do it much more intensively. ... I hope we can have a good conversation and a better understanding and even if we don't come to total agreement, we at least understand and respect each other.
DI: Despite saying donors had no influence on Salaita's rejected position, many people insist they did. Do you have a further response to this?
Wise: Everywhere I've gone, I've tried to reemphasize that I was not at all influenced by donors. I was getting emails from both sides — to "hire Salaita" or "I'm so glad you didn't hire Salaita" — and I never went back to check who those people were who were emailing me. ... I never went back and checked whether they had been a donor or whether they were possibly going to be a donor, whether we were talking with them already about a possible gift. As the state contributes less and less towards our overall budget, it becomes critical that we find other sources, otherwise it's going to be on tuition and we already know how high tuition is. So, I'm looking for different sources of revenue and whether it is corporate donations or philanthropy from foundations or individuals, I'm always out there telling our story. The decision about Salaita was purely a personnel decision. It had nothing to do with specifically the Palestine or Israel issue. I would have taken the same action — I hope I would have used more consultation — but I would have taken the same action if it was someone who was for Israel as someone who was for Palestine.
DI: With a lot of faculty members and scholars across the country threatening to boycott the University, how much of an effect does that have on the University's academic goals?
WISE: Whenever someone boycotts the University, it is very troubling. ... The sad thing is that when they boycott the University, it is really not hurting me. It is hurting their colleagues who have invited them to come and participate one way or another. It saddens me that people have chose that way to express their frustrations and clearly, I would hope that as we go forward and correct the processes that might have been flawed, or try to work out issues of academic freedom and freedom of speech, which I think is a very important topic we should be discussing, I hope that colleagues will realize this continues to be a great University and there is no change in our desire to be a place which is founded on academic freedom and freedom of speech.
DI: Do you support faculty unionization on this campus?
WISE: In my opinion, unionization is not going to help the excellence of the University. It is not going to help us achieve our vision. ... I value and cherish shared governance with the faculty, and I enjoy working with the faculty on all sorts of levels: through working groups, through the chancellor and the provost group, by meeting with faculty and departments and by working with the academic senate a lot. I believe that direct contact is much better than having a mediator between us.
DI: The University is looking into developing a College of Medicine for the Urbana campus. There has been concern from the Chicago campus about how having a medical school here will detract from the college there. Do you have a response to this?
WISE: We believe that having a College of Medicine down here is really critical to the future of this campus. That is to say that it's one of the areas that if we're really going to pay attention to health care, that is going to be one of the huge areas of the globe over the next 50 to 100 years, that the College of Medicine will enable us to really contribute to solving those problems of how do you provide better health care for more people at a lower cost? ... We believe that by creating a second College of Medicine at the University of Illinois at large, it will strengthen the entire University, and we can contribute even more than we do. We do not see this as competing with UIC at all. We see this as acting in a complementary way. ... I think competition is good. I think cutthroat competition is not good, but friendly competition and collaboration is what makes everybody better.