SLA terrorist to return to teaching at University of Illinois

U of I Student Union, Urbana
U of I Student Union, Urbana

By John Ruberry

The University of Illinois has three campuses, Chicago, Urbana-Champaign, and Springfield. The first one was the professional home of Bill Ayers for nearly two decades. Ayers, a longtime friend of the Obama family, was a member of the Weather Underground, one of the most violent of the radical groups of the 1960s and early 1970s.

Until a writer from the News-Gazette reported on his past with the mid-1970s terror group, the Symbionese liberation Army, former member James Kilgore, from 2009 until this spring, was an adjunct professor at the Urbana-Champaign campus–which is my alma mater.

So far no terrorists have been discovered teaching at the Springfield campus, but that is where former University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees when the school was known at Sangamon State University. Churchill, whose invented Native American ancestry came to light when people looked into his background after he referred to the office worker victims of the World Trade Center attack as “Little Eichmanns,” says he built bombs for Ayers’ group.

Ayers retired and Churchill was fired for plagiarism. But Kilgore will be back teaching at the U of I this spring.

The Symbionese Liberation Army is best known for the 1974 kidnapping of media heiress Patty Hearst. Kilgore was a latecomer to the group, which was anything but an army–it never had more than ten terrorists among its roster. Kilgore took part in an SLA bank robbery in 1975 in which a woman making a deposit for her church was murdered. The “army” went AWOL later that year and Kilgore went on the lam, ending up in Zimbabwe and then South Africa. Using a phony name, Kilgore earned a Ph.D in Africa and married a professor, Teresa Barnes. But Kilgore’s life on the lam ended after the 2002 arrest of another longtime SLA fugitive, Kathleen Ann Soliah, who was his girlfriend when they were members. Soliah, who later changed her name to Sara Jane Olson, had briefly lived in Zimbabwe as well. Federal investigators quickly connected the dots and found Kilgore.

The following year Kilgore pleaded guilty to charges of passport fraud, explosives violations, and second degree murder. He served five years in prison, then joined his wife in Urbana, where she was now a University of Illinois professor. It’s unclear how much the school knew of Kilgore’s past, but no criminal background check was performed when he was hired and there was a glaring five-year gap in his resume–Kilgore’s time in prison–that would have given pause to any private-sector human resources manager, as would have his South African university work performed under a different name.

John "Lee" Ruberry
John “Lee” Ruberry

But left-wing academics–an oxymoron, I know, rallied to get Kilgore back in the classroom. Last week they succeeded in their goal.

The Kilgore story is only the latest proof that the “higher education” is out of step with the American mainstream and the taxpayers such as myself who support public universities.

But there is an upside to this narrative. Next month the temporary Illinois income tax hike expires, which means less money for state colleges. And Kilgore’s return to the classroom could cost the University of Illinois an already-pledged $4.2 million donation from a businessman who now says the college has “clearly lost its moral compass.”

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.