Significant backlash defends chancellor on social media

By Anna Carrera

Published 01/27 2014 05:07PM

Updated 01/29 2014 11:00AM

Latest: 10:22 pm, 1/28/14, Tuesday
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS -- UI Chancellor Phyllis Wise is getting her apology. Some students had made racist and sexist comments about her on Twitter. They didn't agree with Wise's decision to keep school open Monday.

The student body president posted a letter on the university's website apologizing for the students who made the comments. The president also included a link where students can recommit to the school's anti-discrimination policies.
Update: 10:06 pm, 1/27/14, Monday
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS -- Some students at UI are circulating a new petition. It's one Chancellor Phyllis Wise might want to see. It asks students to apologize to her after tweets were sent using racial and sexist comments.

It all started after Wise announced classes would not be canceled Monday. On Twitter, students started by using "hashtag thanks Phyllis." Then it took a turn. "Thanks" was replaced with profanity.

Some students admit the tweets went too far. When students who made those controversial tweets were contacted, they had "no comment."
Original: 6:01 pm, 1/27/14, Monday
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS -- Students took shots at Chancellor Phyllis Wise after she decided to carry on as normal despite the cold weather. The issue is now a hot topic on a viral website after students posted racist and sexist comments online. Many students said it was too cold or windy to be outside. WCIA-3's Anna Carrera checks out the chain reaction which started at UI.

After those tweets, the Chancellor's Office has been flooded, but in a good way, with emails and messages from people saying they support her. Thousands of UI students braved the wind and cold to make the trek to campus. For a lot of them, it wasn't a pleasant trip.

"My beard is freezing," said University of Illinois sophomore Joseph Sulzberger.  

"I shouldn't have gone to class today, but I decided to anyway, because I had an assignment due," said University of Illinois junior Juzer Millwala.  

Chancellor Wise sent a message stating school would be in session. She encouraged students to prepare for the winter weather and some did.

"We have people who are grown ups and who know to put on mittens and scarves and hats and that sort of thing," said Associate Chancellor for Public Affairs Robin Kaler. 

But, more than 8,000 didn't want to, so they signed a petition trying to change the chancellor's mind.

"I signed it," said Sulzberger. "I partly just wanted the day off, but also, it is a pretty cold day.”

Others had some different words for the chancellor; ones not allowed on TV.

“When you go to a residential college, it’s not just what you learn in the classroom," said Kaler. "It’s learning to get along with people who have different ideas from you.”

Some students jumped on the bandwagon, adding racial slurs and sexist remarks. But, others say it went too far.

“I thought some of it was a bit too extreme, like making racist or sexist comments," said Millwala. "I’m pretty sure there are a lot of things we don’t know that are going on behind the scenes.”

“I’m pretty sure the school wouldn’t let us go to school if it was really dangerous for us,” said University of Illinois sophomore Sandra Mickeviciute. 

More students and alumni added their two cents, saying the mean-spirited tweets were not OK.

“Those folks are really more representative of the University of Illinois and what we’re about,” said Kaler.

As the back-and-forth continues, students say it’s more important to keep some things in perspective.

“I was fine," said Mickeviciute. "I didn’t die. I’m here. It’s Illinois. What can you do?”

Some of the students making the controversial tweets didn’t want to comment when they were contacted. University leaders say they can’t be disciplined for those because they’re protected by freedom of speech.

The UI technically never closes. People live on campus, so, at the very least, building and food services always need to be running.

But, classes have been canceled before; most recently last March when ten inches of snow fell on Palm Sunday. That was the third time classes were canceled since 2007. Before that, it hadn’t happened since the 70’s.

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