A former member of a 1970s radical group who is fighting to keep his job at the University of Illinois told trustees Wednesday that he is “ashamed” of acts he committed as a young man but that he has tried to “chart a different road” for himself since as an educator.

James Kilgore, who was sentenced to six years in prison in 2004 in connection with charges of second-degree murder and other crimes, had been working at the school since 2009, the year he was released from prison.

His employment came under scrutiny in February after the Champaign News-Gazette detailed his former involvement with the Symbionese Liberation Army, which is most famous for kidnapping media heiress Patricia Hearst in 1974.

About two months after the article was published, Kilgore was reportedly told by a campus administrator that the university would not renew his contract after the current one expires in August.

Kilgore, now 66 and by many accounts a respected teacher, writer and activist in the Champaign-Urbana community, addressed the board for five minutes Wednesday at its regularly scheduled meeting in Springfield. He asked trustees to consider the unique perspective he can bring to the classroom.

“Who better to tell someone how to avoid a destructive path than someone who has walked that path?”

Kilgore’s appearance came days after the board’s chairman, Christopher Kennedy, made comments to the News-Gazette describing Kilgore as a “domestic terrorist” and indicating that he should not work at the school.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Kennedy spoke briefly, thanking Kilgore for his comments and saying the review of his employment is in the hands of university administrators. “We’ll let their process run,” Kennedy said.

When asked after the meeting whether his previous comments could influence the university review, Kennedy said he was “very careful in what I said to the News-Gazette in the sense that I know that we have a role perhaps at the end of the process as the last body that can be appealed to, and you know we’re not trying to prejudge the case.”

Kennedy’s role in the case is especially noteworthy given his family’s history and his role in an unrelated case concerning a former 1970s radical who was denied emeritus status at the University of Illinois’ Chicago campus.

Kennedy, a Chicago businessman, is the son of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968.

It was in that volatile era that William Ayers co-founded the Weather Underground, responsible for bombings of government buildings in the early 1970s. He later joined the faculty at UIC.

In 2010, the U. of I. board denied Ayers emeritus status, with Kennedy saying he was guided by his conscience and that he could not support someone who had dedicated a book to the man who assassinated his father. He was referring to a 1974 book Ayers co- wrote called “Prairie Fire,” which was dedicated to a long list of “political prisoners” including RFK assassin Sirhan Sirhan.

In the current case, faculty and students who support Kilgore’s employment at the university have circulated petitions hoping to help him keep his job. Kilgore teaches classes in global studies, urban planning and the College of Fine and Applied Arts, according to the petition, which is signed by 310 academic staff members, including professors and adjunct lecturers on the campus. It states that Kilgore is a “respected researcher, writer, educator and criminal justice activist” who is open about having felony convictions.

According to the FBI, Kilgore was the final member to be arrested from the radical group Symbionese Liberation Army. He was taken into custody in 2002 in South Africa, where he had been living for more than 10 years under the alias Charles William Pape and working at the University of Cape Town teaching English.

He was charged with possession of an unregistered explosive device, false statements in a passport application and second-degree murder in connection to the death of bank customer Myrna Opsahl during a 1975 armed robbery in Carmichael, Calif. He was sentenced in 2004 to six years in a California federal prison but was released in 2009.

That year, according to documents obtained by the Tribune, Kilgore first applied for a university position when he emailed Merle Bowen, director of the Center for African Studies. He said his wife, Teresa Barnes, was a member of the center’s advisory committee and was 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 he recently moved to Champaign to rejoin his family and noted that he had lived in Africa for nearly two decades.

Kilgore’s resume indicated he was a “self-employed writer” working on a fiction book called “We Are All Zimbabweans Now.” Before that, his last employment was 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.

Source: Chicago Tribune