Outgoing University of Washington Provost Phyllis Wise is in Illinois this week, getting a queen's welcome at the university she will shortly lead and telling reporters that she will do her best to avoid the financial woes that have plagued the home of the Huskies. She has not, however, managed to avoid questions over her Nike board position, an affiliation that stirred controversy at UW.
Like the UW, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a multimillion-dollar contract with Nike, whose swoosh logo appears on the U of I's sports uniforms.
"Is it a conflict or simply a cozy coincidence?" asked a report produced by the investigative team of WLS-TV in Chicago, the local ABC affiliate. The station did not answer that question, but noted that Wise received compensation from Nike, including stock options, worth $160,000 last year. The U of I, according to a 10-year contract reviewed by WLS, gets $325,000 a year from the company. That's apart from a signing bonus of half a million and $11.5 million worth of equipment and uniforms.
At the UW, Wise's relationship with Nike attracted scrutiny as faculty and students were lobbying the university to put pressure on Nike to improve its labor standards in Latin America. Two Nike factories run by subcontractors in Honduras closed after they were unionized, and workers were denied severance pay, according to a report by a workers'-rights group.
The UW branch of the American Association of University Professors called on Wise to give up her Nike post, which she never did, even as then UW President Mark Emmert took the company to task. Instead, Wise announced that she would donate her Nike salary to student scholarships--as she now says she will do at the U of I. Wise also says she will recuse herself from Nike business that concerns her new university.
Joyce Tolliver, chair of the academic senate at the school, tells SW this morning that she's confident Wise will "manage any apparent conflict of interest." Tolliver says she's been "extremely impressed" by the 66-year-old Wise, who in addition to being provost has served as a biology and physiology professor and whom the U of I academic senate leader calls a "scholar" and a "sensitive and principled leader." Tolliver also notes that, with Wise's appointment, all three of the University of Illinois' campuses will be headed by women.