What Barbara Wilson Knew

When Barbara Wilson was appointed interim Chancellor of UIUC there were circling questions of what involvement she’d had in the Salaita Affair, if any.  No particular documents were forthcoming from UIUC, although (as I recall and am in the process of tracing down) various FOIAed documents showed she was copied on back-and-forth between then-Chancellor Wise and University Counsel Scott Rice and others that was presumably legal strategizing about Salaita, since everything in those emails but the recipients had been blacked out as, presumably, privileged Lawyer-client communications.

9 months ago I filed FOIA with UIUC to get Wilson’s sent emails during Salaita week (July 21 – 25, 2014) and for the next week or so thereafter.  Now, after a 9 month delay I’ve gotten the first tranche of emails, from July 21 to July 23.  And sure enough, there’s direct evidence Wilson knew about Salaita from day 0 (July 21), evidence that was never released in any of the preceding 20-odd FOIAs on Salaita:



Here are the .pdfs of the excerpts from that FOIA with the full set of those Salaita-relevant emails: 15-478_OCR_WILSON1 and 15-478_OCR_WILSON2 … note that I have to go back through the several thousand pages of previous disclosures (including the ones Wise and cronies sent on personal accounts with the specific intent of avoiding FOIA, according to Wise as per Robin Kaler’s advice) to reconstruct as much of the Wilson story as those FOIAed documents allow.

Where does this leave us?  Two possibilities: 1) we can be over-the-top angry that Wilson was heavily involved and that no one ever thought it would be important to let that out to the public as part of the process of “restoring trust” in UIUC administration by making Wilson interim Chancellor.  Alternately, we can 2) say we don’t know at this point that Wilson did anything terrible, but that the fact she was much more involved than broadcast is detestable when coupled with the fact that apparently UIUC hid emails from Wilson for 9 months.

Since I believe in “civility” I’ll pick #2, and express outrage not at what Wilson may or may not have done (which we don’t yet know) but at the fact that the public has once again been snookered by UIUC, which yet again has hidden emails that should have been disclosed long ago.


On that note, here’s another revelation: apparently last fall UIUC produced the 8,000-10,000 pages of emails that Salaita had sought under FOIA and that required intervention by the Illinois courts to force UIUC to produce.  As you’ll recall, in the suit brought by Salaita UIUC’s lawyers claimed there was no real public interest in Salaita, and that it was just rubbernecking akin to interest in Kim Kardashian.  While the “Kim Kardashian defense” hasn’t made it into the annals of legal history along with the twinkie defense, it stands out as tin-eared lawyering, the tune being sung to the sum of (as I recall) $100,000 in lawyers fees for that brilliant losing argument.

I’ve been waiting to see those documents for the 8 or 9 months since UIUC lost in court; it turns out they were indeed produced last fall, but only to Salaita’s lawyers, and not to the general public.  There was no legal obligation for UIUC to provide that information to the taxpayers that underwrite UIUC, but still, you’d have thought that after being blown out of the water on the stupid argument that the public didn’t care about Salaita, UIUC would have concluded that the documents should have been released publicly regardless of what UIUC could get away with in terms of sitting on them.

I’ve now filed FOIA to obtain those 8,000-10,000 pages of documents.  I fully expect UIUC to delay production to me by months if not years; even if I’m pleasantly surprised in that regard, I also expect that virtually everything will be blacked out.

We’ll see.  The point is that UIUC was never forthcoming about the Salaita Affair, and now after spending about $2M on the settlement and lawyers fees, continues to hide information that it was legally obligated to provide.

So much for “shared governance.”


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