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Ex-radical group member says university ending job

  • Article by: DAVID MERCER
  • Associated Press
  • April 23, 2014 - 8:22 AM

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A former member of the radical 1970s group the Symbionese Liberation Army said Tuesday that the University of Illinois has decided not to renew his teaching contract.

James Kilgore said Provost Ilesanmi Adesida declined to give a reason when earlier this month he told Kilgore and his wife, associate professor Teresa Barnes, that future contracts of employment for him will not be approved.

"He said, 'I can't say,'" Kilgore said. "I subsequently sent him an email asking for a list of reasons as to why. He has not responded to that."

Kilgore, who has worked at Illinois since 2011 and currently teaches two classes, said he believes the evidence points to outside political interference, pointing to several articles about him that focused on his activities 40 years ago.

"(They were) focusing largely on my past and attacking the University of Illinois for employing someone with a criminal record like mine," he said.

University spokeswoman Robin Kaler declined comment on Kilgore's assertion.

Kilgore, 66, was released from prison in 2009 after serving six years for his role in the killing of housewife Myrna Opsahl during a 1975 bank robbery. After the bank robbery, Kilgore fled to Africa and spent 27 years at large.

Kilgore was the longtime boyfriend of fellow Symbionese Liberation Army member Sara Jane Olson, of St. Paul, who also served time for her role in the murderous bank robbery.

As fugitives, Kilgore and Olson, who had married Twin Cities physician Gerald Peterson, went to Zimbabwe along with Peterson in the early 1980s. Olson, known then by her birth name Kathleen Soliah, was fleeing charges in the attempted bombing of two Los Angeles police cars in 1975.

Olson was arrested in St. Paul in 1999, which led to Kilgore's cover unraveling.

Olson served seven years in prison, was paroled in 2009 and returned to her St. Paul home.

The Symbionese Liberation Army is best known for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst in 1974.

"I fully disclosed my criminal background and the political context of my criminal background," he said. "I've made a statement to the court indicating my remorse — I should say in the presence of the family members of the victim."

Kilgore says he will be able to finish this semester's classes on global studies and fine and applied arts, but is still weighing what his next step will be.

"I think this decision by the university needs to be brought into light," Kilgore said. "I think it amounts to political interference in the academic freedom of a university."

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