D. Fairchild Ruggles, Open Letter to the Board of Trustees

Saturday, September 25, 2010

[D. Fairchild Ruggles, Professor of Landscape Architecture, is the author of the below Open Letter, written in response to a Board of Trustees meeting she attended Thursday. Professor Ruggles has asked the readership of Kritik to post comments and for those who would like to join her in signing the Open Letter to email her: dfr1@illinois.edu or email the Board of Trustees: UIBOT@ullinois.edu]


On a campus that has been shaken to its foundations by recent admissions scandals, we would do well to look closely at the conflict of interest posed by trustee Christopher Kennedy’s recent vote against awarding the title of Professor Emeritus to Professor William Ayers (UIC). Kennedy, who chairs the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, voted against the emeritus petition on the grounds that Ayers’ “body of work includes a book dedicated in part to the man who murdered my father, Rob F. Kennedy.”

But the key point in such a vote should not be Ayers’ hot-headed dedication in his co-authored 1974 book, nor the political context of the Vietnam conflict and the American civil rights movement that prompted the dedication. Emeritus status is not given on the grounds of statements and events that took place 36 years ago, but rather Ayers’ 23 years of service as a professor. If years of great public service could be cancelled out by a terrible deed with irreversible consequences, Senator Ted Kennedy might not lie in Arlington Cemetery today.

The emeritus title is not a lifetime achievement award but a confirmation of a productive career as a professor and scholar. More to the point, it is not awarded on a whim or as a gift. Kennedy’s condemnation, while entirely understandable in the heart, was a personal response to a student activist’s statements about Kennedy’s father. The personal and professional conflict of interest between grieving son and university trustee is clear, and either Kennedy should have recused himself from the vote and refrained from comments that could have influenced the members of the Board which he chairs, or someone else at that Board meeting should have put forward such a motion.

Scandals at the University of Illinois? Ethics violations? It’s a way of life.

D. Fairchild Ruggles
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
September 25, 2010


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Walter said...

The letter is exactly right. We were all shocked and saddened when Robert Kennedy was murdered, but Ayer's ill conceived response at the time should not determine his status now.