Nike board member named chancellor of UofI

August 5, 2011 3:04:49 PM PDT
The University of Illinois' flagship campus is about to be run by a woman who sits on Nike's board of directors. Nike has a mega-contract with the university.

In this Intelligence Report: is it a conflict or simply a cozy coincidence?

When Phyllis Wise appeared on a Washington university TV show in June, it was to look at her future as provost there. Less than two months later, she is planning to leave Washington for the University of Illinois main campus in Urbana where she is to be paid $500,000 a year as chancellor.

Dr. Wise plans to continue serving on the board of directors of the Nike corporation for which she is paid $50,000 a year, plus several thousand for board and committee meetings. She is also eligible for special stock purchases. Forbes magazine put her 2010 total compensation from Nike at almost $160,000.

That is the same Nike that currently has a 10-year, multi-million dollar contract with the U of I. The familiar Nike swoosh logo, visible on Illini sports uniforms, is part of that deal.

The I-Team obtained a copy of the 23-page Nike contract with U of I that runs through 2016, a deal in which the university received a $500,000 cash signing bonus and is paid $325,000 every year plus performance incentives for championship appearances.

U of I also receives $11.5 million over the term of the deal in sports equipment and team uniforms.

Nike receives eight prime tickets to every home football and basketball game; 12 tickets to bowl and tournament games; up to 50 extra tickets on demand per season and VIP parking passes.

While at Washington, Wise came under fire for her Nike position and the faculty association issued a statement calling on her to give up the position. She didn't and won't be made to leave Nike's board when she starts at Illinois in October.

According to a U of I statement, Wise will adhere to various ethics policies. A spokesman says, "provisions are made within all these policies for active participation by academic staff members in external activities."

Dr. Wise defused her Nike critics in Washington by donating her board salary to student scholarships. She said that would continue at Illinois and that she would recuse herself from a dealing the Illini might have with Nike.

Full statement from University of Illinois spokesman Thomas Hardy:

The employment of Phyllis Wise by the University of Illinois isn't contingent on her resignation from the Nike board of directors.

As a University employee, Dr. Wise will adhere to various policies set out by the University and the state, including a University Policy on Conflicts of Commitment and Interest; a University Code of Conduct; and the Illinois Ethics Act (copies of all can be found on our website, www.uillinois.edu). Provisions are made within all these policies for active participation by academic staff members in external activities. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, President Michael J. Hogan and incoming Vice President and Chancellor Phyllis Wise all have commendable records of integrity and in dealing with issues associated with licensed merchandise vendors.

On the Urbana campus, the University of Illinois was an early adopter of a shared governance (administrators, faculty, staff, students, etc.) approach to addressing these issues. A dozen years ago the U of I established a Licensing Advisory Committee to review all licensing contracts and ensure that the University of Illinois identity is used carefully and in accordance with policies and philosophies of the institution. The official charge (which references sweatshops) is as follows:

"The purpose of the Licensing Advisory Committee (LAC) is to make policy recommendations to the Chancellor regarding the manufacture of products bearing the names, symbols and insignia of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Chancellor may also involve the LAC in the implementation of such policy, as appropriate. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is committed to not having our name on collegiate apparel or other merchandise that is produced by workers in factories where "sweatshop" working conditions exist.

The LAC is charged with primary responsibility within the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for developing policy recommendations regarding relations with the Collegiate Licensing Company and individual licensees, considering the campus role relative to the issue of improving working conditions in factories where collegiate merchandise is manufactured, and informing the campus community about issues and developments in this area. The committee also will provide advice concerning the campus' association with national/international groups such as the Worker Rights Consortium, and the Fair Labor Association."

Before joining the U of I as president, Mike Hogan was president of the University of Connecticut (UConn). There he worked closely with a students, faculty, and staff concerned about "sweatshop" issues. Hogan, in fact, asked the group to expand their agenda to advocate more broadly for corporate social responsibility. As a result, they became the Committee for Corporate Social Responsibility. They worked very closely with the Co-op/Bookstore and Division of Intercollegiate Athletics. They advised the President on procurement arrangements. Hogan also encouraged this committee to go beyond simply assessing UConn vendor relations to holding annual symposia to educate the UConn community about sweatshops, unfair labor practices, and to help identify sustainable partners.

Phyllis Wise joined the Nike board at a time when some groups were very concerned about the company's labor practices. Dr. Wise brought an informed and socially conscientious perspective to the Nike board, which facilitated reforms and earned praise for her role. When it comes to issues of social and institutional integrity, Dr. Wise and President Hogan value an approach that engages both sides to coalesce around a mutually responsible solution.


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