By Nicholas Burbules, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
I want to thank Mr. Wilson for sending us his posting on “Shared Governance and the Salaita Case” and inviting us to respond.
Joyce Tolliver and I do call for an honest debate in our editorial. We fully accept that there are serious, principled positions on different sides of this issue, and that the issues are difficult and vexed. Yet the Salaita case has become a public dispute through which people seem to want to advance a number of different agendas. Many of these people have very clear ideas about what the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, should have done. But we find the issues much more complex than that.
Mr. Wilson, like others, says that this case is all about “extramural utterances criticizing the Israeli government.” Anyone who has followed this case, and anyone who has read our editorial, ought to realize that this is far too simple-minded a characterization. If any colleague of ours was dismissed simply for expressing unpopular political views, we would be on the front lines of protest. But that is not why Dr. Salaita was not hired.
Mr. Wilson says that the AAUP’s statement on professional ethics, which we cite, represents “moral ideals for faculty, not enforceable disciplinary guides for the hiring and firing of faculty.” But this admonition is an essential component of the AAUP’s Statement on Academic Freedom. It clarifies why academic freedom is not simply unrestrained license to say whatever one wants. To dismiss it as mere moral idealism is to misrepresent the overall conception of academic freedom, and its limits, as expressed in the AAUP’s own foundational statement.
It is a mystery to us how one can think that these principles of professional ethics are moral ideals for faculty but cannot be taken into consideration in hiring decisions – unless one thinks that they are just helpful suggestions for conduct from the AAUP and not in fact shared values of the academic community.
Mr. Wilson rightly notes that extramural utterances should not be considered unless they go to the question of fitness to serve. But that is just what is in dispute in this case. He thinks the answer is clear, but many people do not.
Mr. Wilson takes us to task for observing that one reason Dr. Salaita’s hiring became controversial is that many people found some of his comments to be anti-Semitic. Mr. Wilson thinks it is obvious that they are not. But we were simply stating a fact: whether you agree or not, that is the conclusion of a number of people who reviewed his public comments and his scholarship. It is open to legitimate dispute and rival interpretations, to be sure, but is a university campus simply supposed to ignore such accusations?
Finally, Mr. Wilson thinks we are traitors to the cause of shared governance. No one who knows us or has watched our battles over many years at UIUC on behalf of our senate and governance processes would take that judgment very seriously. We completely reject his characterization of shared governance as a system wherein “the faculty control faculty matters, the administration controls administrative matters, and they watch over each other’s judgments and work together whenever possible.” We see the need for a much more thoroughgoing partnership across a broad range of decisions (and we observe that this broader view is more in keeping with AAUP’s own statements on shared governance).
Nevertheless, there is a serious governance issue raised by this case, and we raise it ourselves in our article. This extraordinary set of circumstances confronted our campus with an extremely difficult decision, dealing with inherently inflamed and controversial issues, over the summer when many faculty are not on campus, under brutal time constraints, in an area where there are not clear procedural guidelines and precedents for what to do. Within those constraints, I think campus leaders tried to do the best they could, with the campus’s best interests in mind.
We are trying to learn from this situation in order to develop clearer policies for how to deal with similar cases in the future, should they ever arise. And we are trying to think, carefully and conscientiously, about the issues of academic freedom raised by this case. We welcome both the agreements and the disagreements we have received.