An organization of professors at the University of Washington has asked
Provost Phyllis Wise to step down from her recent appointment to Nike
Inc.’s board of directors. In a statement, the Seattle university’s chapter of the
American Association of University Professors said Wise’s position on
the Nike board is rife with conflicts of interest.

The faculty cited several conflicts of interest, including Nike's $35 million deal
to outfit the university’s athletic department. But the faculty members seem more fixated on the association between the
university’s second-in-command and a corporation tied to claims of
unfair labor practices.

“It may not be Provost Wise’s intention to silence criticism from labor
rights experts. But when faculty report to a provost who is on Nike’s
payroll, institutional incentives favor tolerance for sweatshop
abuses,” the faculty wrote. “This is not in the best interests of
academic freedom nor of the university.”

“I understand that reasonable people hold differing views on whether
university administrators should serve on corporate boards,” Wise said
in a statement published Tuesday by The Seattle Times. “I believe
universities and corporations have much to learn from each other.
Corporate leaders serving on university boards of trustees and regents
and university leaders serving on corporate boards can benefit both and
can do so in ethically responsible ways.”

A university committee on trademarks and licensing recently voted that
Nike was in violation of the university’s code of conduct. The
committee said Nike failed to take effective action after two
contractors in Honduras closed factories a year ago without paying
workers after they unionized.

Nike issued a statement Tuesday saying the contractors, VisionTex and
Hugger, were forced to close due to insolvency. Regardless, the company
said it has been working to resolve the issue regarding severance for
the employees.

“Nike believes that factories which directly employ workers are
responsible for ensuring that their employees receive their correct
entitlements,” the company said.

Nike announced Wise’s board appointment in November. Nike Chairman Phil
Knight at the time said her experience as a respected leader and
administrator of a multibillion-dollar budget “is a rare combination
that makes her an ideal addition to our board.”