Salaita Case: University of Illinois Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure is apparently investigating the Steven Salaita case. What will be achieved is unclear since the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, the highest unit an appointee can appeal a dismissal on campus, has already cast its unseemly vote to dismiss the professor eleven months after he returned a signed contract. Will Professor Salaita appear before the committee? Will he be given a copy of their report?

American Association of University Professors Associate Secretary Anita Levy sent two letters to Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise. In Dr. Levy’s first letter, August 29, 2014, she referred to the UIUC Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure investigation:

We have been informed that the university’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure (CAFT), acting under its statutory authority, has decided to initiate an examination of the issues posed by the Salaita case.

In Anita Levy’s second letter to Dr. Wise on September 9, 2014, she reveals that an A.A.U.P. investigation was imminent until it learned of CAFT’s intent to examine the rescission of Steven Salaita’s contract:

The issues raised in this case are so critically important, and seen as such nationally, that an investigation by the Association would have commenced by now were it not for the role being assumed by the university’s committee.

A.A.U.P. frequently defers a formal investigation until on-campus internal procedures related to appeals, grievances and adversarial hearings are completed. In the Salaita case he was fired without a specific charge, without the opportunity to defend himself and was basically suspended and dismissed without pay.

The Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure is a standing UIUC academic Senate committee that appears in the bylaws:

  1. Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure
  • (a) Duties
  • The Committee shall serve as an authorized faculty group to safeguard the academic freedom of the faculty and tenure status, and to assure that unit governance is in accord with the University Statutes and unit bylaws. The Committee shall conduct hearings in cases involving dismissal of tenured faculty, as provided in the University Statutes, may investigate instances of possible infringement of academic freedom and hear cases involving allegations of such infringement, and may make such recommendations to the Chancellor and reports to the Senate as are appropriate. The Committee may investigate allegations of violations of the role of faculty in governance as specified in the University Statutes and unit bylaws and report to the Chancellor and the Senate if appropriate changes are not made. The Committee will respect the autonomy of individual units when making any recommendations regarding governance.
  • (b) Membership
  • The Committee shall consist of:
    1. Seven faculty members whose administrative duties are below the level of deans and directors, with no two members from any one college, school, institute, or similar unit; and
    2. Three students, provided, however, that when the Committee is called to serve as a hearing committee under Article X, Section 1(e) and Section 2 of the University Statutes, the student members shall not participate in its activities or deliberations and shall not be counted as Committee members for determining the quorum.

These are the CAFT members and the capitalized names are faculty with students reduced to lower-case listing:




Feng Yiming GRAD 2015



Hamdan Ahmad LAS 2015

Hao Wei GRAD 2015



In perusing the specific Statutes that are referenced in the Senate bylaws, there is a more detailed description of CAFT’s role in managing an adversarial hearing. I do not know whether a hearing in the Salaita case is under consideration but here are some key statutory provisions:

From Article X, Section E. subsection (5):

The appointee shall be entitled to be present at all sessions of the committee when evidence is being received and to be accompanied by an adviser of the appointee’s choice who may act as counsel.  Likewise, the president or the president’s designee, together with counsel if the president desires counsel, shall be entitled to be present at all sessions of the committee when evidence is being received.  Each party shall have the right within reasonable limits to question witnesses and, when all the evidence has been received, to make an argument in support of its position, either in person or by counsel.  A full stenographic transcript shall be made of the hearing unless both parties agree to the making of a record in a briefer form.

Once the committee has completed its report, the following is required according to Article X, Section E, subsection (6):

(6) Findings, Conclusions, and Recommendations. Following the conclusion of the hearing, the committee shall promptly make its explicit findings of fact on each charge, its conclusions, and its recommendations. Reasonable opportunity shall be given to each party to file a written statement setting forth objections to these findings, conclusions, and recommendations and setting forth the grounds for such objections. A copy of one party’s objections shall be given to the other party. The originals of the findings, conclusions, and recommendations, and of the hearing transcript shall be forwarded by the committee to the president and copies shall be promptly transmitted by the committee to the appointee.

Subsection (6) states the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure’s findings are sent to the university president and copied to the “appointee.” Whether Steven Salaita is considered an appointee is unclear as previously noted. Fairness dictates, however, he be allowed to appear with counsel and state his case before the committee. His career is on the line! It would also elevate his rightful status as an “appointee” seeking redress at an adversarial hearing conducted by his peers.

If Professor Salaita receives a copy of the report, he could share this vital document with the American Association of University Professors prior to an investigation. No matter how CAFT conducts its inquiry, I hope the committee will recommend, upon due deliberation, the restoration of Dr. Salaita’s position. Major components of the academic community throughout the United States seek justice for Professor Salaita and the resumption of his professorial duties.

7 thoughts on “Salaita Case: University of Illinois Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure

  1. Earlier this month CAFT appointed a subcommittee “to investigate the events that led to the University administration’s recent decision not to appoint Steven Salaita. The subcommittee is charged with establishing the facts of the matter and determining if infringements of academic freedom and/or violations of the role of faculty in governance took place.” The members of the subcommittee are:

    1) Andrew Alleyne, who is the Ralph & Catherine Fisher Professor of Engineering and holds appointments in Mechanical Science and Engineering as well as the Coordinated Science Laboratory.

    2) Matthew Finkin, who is the Albert J. Harno and Edward W. Cleary Chair in Law, a Center for Advanced Study Professor, and the Director of the Program in Comparative Labor and Employment Law and Policy. Finkin is also a former member of and consultant to AAUP Committee A.

    3) C. K. Gunsalus, who is the Director of the National Center for Professional and Research Ethics (NCPRE), Professor Emerita of Business, and Research Professor at the Coordinated Science Laboratory.

    4) David O’Brien, who is an Associate Professor of Art History in the School of Art and Design and currently Chair of the Art History Program. He is the current Chair of the Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure and will chair the subcommittee.

    The AAUP has been told that this subcommittee will proceed expeditiously, and while AAUP is eager to learn their conclusions, nothing prevents the AAUP from authorizing an investigation before the campus process is complete, especially if that investigation appears to be stalling. I should also note that the AAUP has also expressed concern about the case of James Kilgore, a non-tenure-track instructor whose contract was not renewed for what would appear to be solely political considerations and about the overall impact of recent statements by Chancellor Wise and Board of Trustees Chair Kennedy which suggest the de facto establishment of some sort of vague “civility” standard for appointment and retention of faculty, a standard that to my knowledge appears nowhere in written UI policies. Therefore a broader AAUP investigation of UIUC extending beyond the specifics of the Salaita case may be in order.

    • Thank you for this helpful update and status report. I hope they also solicit information from Dr. Salaita as presumably they would. I had heard from a source they were having difficulty getting information from the administration and that a report may not be issued for months. Again, it is a rumour and I did not want to blog a rumour and we shall see what happens.

  2. And the Wozniak case?

    It seems that UIUC is used to ignoring Prof. Finkin and the Committee and the AAUP has known that for some time.

    Yet the AAUP Vice President makes no mention of this case. It would seem that there is ample reason beyond the new “civility” invocation to justify an AAUP investigation of the status of governance and academic freedom at UIUC.

  3. “What will be achieved is unclear since the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, the highest unit an appointee can appeal a dismissal on campus, has already cast its unseemly vote to dismiss the professor eleven months after he returned a signed contract.”

    I suppose what this illustrates is that there needs to be some mechanism to hold the board accountable when it does something wrong.

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