…certainly not about the content of his tweets or of his character. Among other things, it’s about whether or not being scheduled to teach with students actually enrolled constitutes “hiring.” And that’s not a question any of us should have any disagreement on.
Questions we on the faculty need to ask certainly include concern over the impact on us–as a group and as individuals–of what happened to Steven Salaita. As a group, it has an impact on our position within a supposed “shared governance” environment and on how the faculty is viewed both on campus and in the wider community–on whether or not there is respect for the “academic freedom” we find so necessary. As individuals, it can make us pull back a bit on our public involvement and even make us a little leery of pulling up stakes and moving to another institution. It is this, if nothing else, that should concern each of us most directly.
Certainly, one focus of our concern as the faculty should be on the impact of the action by Chancellor Wise on shared governance and academic freedom. What we should be discussing is precedence. What, quite specifically, does Wise’s action mean in terms of shared governance and academic freedom today?
The answer is simple: Both shared governance and academic freedom are, if the Wise decision stands, essentially shams. It’s the emperor’s new governance when decisions made and confirmed within an institution’s standard procedures are shown to be meaningless, when a body of outsiders involved in “oversight” can step in and overturn faculty decisions. “Oversight” becomes “regulation” from above, and that’s not how shared governance is supposed to work. It contravenes of the idea of faculty expertise and sufficiency and, quite frankly, makes a statement that money and power are more important than knowledge and skill. That should be anathema to all working in university environments. Not only does it mean that shared governance exists only at the grace of the rulers (the trustees) but that academic freedom is as meaningless. These are both shown to be temporary grants, at best, revocable at any time by people whose positions rest on circumstances completely outside of the academic environment and whose understanding of the needs of such an environment is minimal, at best.
Individually, we members of the faculty should also be concerned that the impact of the Salaita case seems to be small, so far. No one at a trustee level is saying that a mistake was made, that bounds were overstepped. The top-down structure increasingly present in academic institutions is simply confirmed once more. The power of trustees to meddle in institutional affairs has been increased–just as it was with the institution of CUNY Pathways and in so many other instances this past generation as the corporatization of American higher education has continued.
No longer, if this stands, can we trust that a job offer is, in fact, a job. Each of us, on taking a new position, will have to accept that we will be living in a nebulous zone of quasi-employment until the trustees at our new institution confirm us–something that often happens weeks into the semester and that was once considered pro forma. Argument as to whether Salaita had “actually” been hired is, therefore, beside the point for our individual futures. The problem is that we now seem to have this strange period where employment can be terminated, no matter what had or had not been negotiated previously. This will be true no matter the resolution of the Salaita case–unless he is restored completely to his Illinois position. So, it doesn’t matter what the status of his contract was, whether he was “de-hired” or “fired,” not in terms of impact on the profession as a whole. That he was scheduled to teach and then was terminated, that is what should concern us. Otherwise, unless this is overturned, any of us may eventually find ourselves suddenly ousted from a new position even after the semester has begun–and for any reason whatsoever.