This is a letter from the University of Iowa AAUP chapter to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise seeking reinstatement of Professor Steven Salaita. It is admirable that an AAUP chapter from another campus would engage itself in this manner. I think chapter solidarity in upholding AAUP principles and statements is essential in affirming the Association’s mission.
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF UNIVERSITY PROFESSORS UNIVERSITY OF IOWA CHAPTER
President: KATHERINE TACHAU, HISTORY
Vice-President: JEFFREY COX, HISTORY
Secretary: RICHARD VALENTINE, ENGINEERING
Treasurer: KATHLEEN CLARK, NURSING
Membership: FRANK DURHAM, JOURNALISM
Open Letter to Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise of UIUC Re Prof. Steven Salaita
September 13, 2014
Prof. Phyllis M. Wise
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Swanlund Administration Building
601 John Street
Champaign, IL 61820
Dear Chancellor Wise,
As the A.A.U.P. chapter at a university that, like yours, is a member of the C.I.C., we are writing to express our concurrence with the views and expectations that the national A.A.U.P. articulated to you regarding Prof. Salaita’s appointment in their letter dated August 29, 2014.1 We, too, view your decision as conveyed in your letter to Prof. Salaita of August 1, 2014, as incommensurate with A.A.U.P. policies on academic freedom, tenure, and due process.
No matter how much we all may prefer civility in discourse, we find untenable your ex post facto reason given on August 22, 2014, for your actions of August 1, that your university “will not tolerate … personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them,” a stipulation that free speech in a university community must be civil to be protected. That your position is indeed a limitation of academic freedom and the first amendment rights of students, staff, and faculty at the University of Illinois has been further demonstrated in an open letter on August 22, by Christopher G. Kennedy and the other members of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. In that letter, the Trustees state that “there can be no place for [disrespectful and demeaning speech that promotes malice] in our democracy, and therefore there will be no place for it in our university.”
In open letters to you, numerous academic associations and scholarly experts have rightly rejected, as an impermissible constraint on academic freedom, the position that you and the Board of Trustees have asserted. The A.A.U.P. / A.A.C.U. joint 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure requires that when “college and university teachers … speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.” The requirement that the speech be civil as you define civility imposes censorship, and rescinding a tenured appointment on that ground constitutes the university’s most severe form of discipline.
Moreover, even if the standard of civility and its discernment were well defined, your discharge of Prof. Salaita would still constitute a limitation on a faculty member’s First Amendment rights that the Supreme Court has already rejected as constitutionally impermissible in a number of decisions, as several published open letters to you point out. The UIUC may find most instructive among these letters those from the American Historical Association (Aug. 31, 2014),2 the constitutional law faculty from around the country (Franke, Dorf, et al., Aug. 15, 2014),3 and the California Scholars for Academic Freedom.4 As the American Historical Association emphasizes in its letter to you of Aug. 31, 2014, “[t]he First Amendment protects speech, both civil and uncivil. It does so for good reason.” We agree. There is no exception for public universities; on the contrary, in Keyishian v. Board of Regents 385 U.S. 589 (1967), the Supreme Court held that academic freedom is “a special concern of the First Amendment.”
We expect that the UIUC administration and Trustees will have noticed the skepticism expressed in many quarters regarding your claim that the civility of expression – itself inseparable from the content of protected speech – rather than Prof. Salaita’s specific political views was in fact what prompted his discharge. We share the conclusion that many readers have reached, on the basis of the 276 pages of emails that your administration made available on Aug. 22, 2014 pursuant to a FOIA request,5 that your decision regarding Prof. Salaita’s appointment was affected by objections from donors, alumni, students, organizations, and others to the content of his speech expressed as a citizen on an issue of public concern. Regardless of whether such a reading of this correspondence is correct, the widespread impression that UIUC is failing to honor its commitment to Prof. Salaita because of his specific political views will be difficult to erase. Precisely such treatment of faculty members was the reason for the founding of the A.A.U.P. in 1914, and it is not compatible with the joint 1940 Statement of Principles.
For at least a hundred years, then, college and university trustees and administrations have been subject to external pressures not to hire and not to retain faculty members whose intramural or extramural speech is controversial at a particular time. We urge you and the University of Illinois Board of Trustees not to yield to such passionate but temporary pressures from those who do not fully appreciate the importance for academe and democracy of defending speech with which we disagree – we do not, after all, require a First Amendment to protect the freedom to express calmly and temperately views from which no one dissents. We believe that, despite your decision of August 1, 2014, and the Trustees’ ratification of it on September 11, 2014, it is not too late to reverse course and restore Prof. Salaita to the tenured position he was offered in October, 2013.
5 The emails: http://www.news-gazette.com/sites/all/files/pdf/2014/09/03/document.pdf; see too https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/08/25/u-illinois-officials-defend-decision-deny-job-scholar-documents-show-lobbying
Katherine H. Tachau
University of Iowa A.A.U.P. Chapter
Contact information: Prof. Katherine H. Tachau, Department of History, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa 52242; firstname.lastname@example.org
cc: Mr. Christopher G. Kennedy, Chair, University of Illinois Board of Trustees
Professor Roy Campbell, Chair, UIUC Senate Executive Committee
Professor Rudy H. Fichtenbaum, President, AAUP
Professor Michael Harkins, President, Illinois AAUP Conference
Professor Peter Kirstein, Chair, Illinois AAUP Conference Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure
Professor John Prussing, President, UIUC AAUP Chapter