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'70s revolutionary fights to keep school position

James Kilgore was in the Symbionese Liberation Army. He served six years in prison before being hired by the University of Illinois.

James Kilgore was in the Symbionese Liberation Army. He served six years in prison before being hired by the University of Illinois.

A University of Illinois adjunct lecturer who was a member of a 1970s revolutionary group asked the school's board on Wednesday to consider the unique perspective he can bring to the classroom if allowed to continue teaching there.

"Who better to tell (someone) how to avoid a destructive path than someone who has walked that path?" said James Kilgore, who publicly addressed the board for the first time since his position at the state's largest university came under scrutiny earlier this year.

Kilgore was the final member to be arrested from the radical group Symbionese Liberation Army, which is most famous for kidnapping Patty Hearst. He was taken into custody in 2002 in South Africa, where he had been living under the alias "Charles William Pape."

Kilgore, now 66, served 6 years in prison in connection with the second-degree murder of bank customer Myrna Opsahl during a 1975 armed robbery in Carmichael, Calif. He was released in 2009 and hired at the University of Illinois.

On Wednesday, he spoke for the maximum five minutes allotted to him, asking the board to consider a policy that would be more open to the employment of individuals with criminal histories.

He also said he is "ashamed" of acts he committed "as a young man" and that he has tried to "chart a different road" for himself since then as an educator. "We must not freeze people in history but allow them space to move forward," he said.

The appearance came days after the board's chairman, Christopher Kennedy, made comments to a newspaper describing Kilgore as a "domestic terrorist" and indicating that he should not work at the school in the midst of the review of his employment.

Kennedy spoke only briefly after Kilgore's remarks, saying "the issue before us is in (university administrators' hands) at this point."

Kilgore's employment became an issue in February when the Champaign News-Gazette ran an in-depth article about his past. Two months later, Kilgore was reportedly told by a campus administrator that the university would not renew any employment contracts with him after the current one expires in August.

A few weeks later, it was determined that a university committee would review Kilgore's case.

When Kilgore applied to the university in 2009, according to documents obtained by the Chicago Tribune, he emailed Merle Bowen, the director of the Center for African Studies. He said that his wife, Teresa Barnes, was a member of the center's advisory committee and a full-time professor.

He said he was not seeking a paid position, but rather wanted to "work with the Center in order to assist me in my own writing as well as promote more interest in African Studies and further the development of young scholars already working in the area."

He did not mention that he had been imprisoned, but said that he recently relocated to Champaign to rejoin his family and noted that he had lived in Africa for nearly two decades.

His resume indicated he was a "self-employed writer" working on a fiction book called "We are All Zimbabweans now." Prior to that, his last employment was seven years earlier, in 2002, when he co-directed a group at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. A footnote indicates that his degrees from Deakin University in Australia were earned under an alias.

Some faculty and students on the campus are supporting Kilgore's employment there, having circulated petitions. His advocates say he has been open about his past and is an effective educator.

'70s revolutionary fights to keep school position 05/14/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 6:42pm]
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