The Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has just issued a subcommittee “Report on the Investigation into the Matter of Steven Salaita.” The Report (see full PDF here) is a powerful critique of how the University of Illinois administration and trustees dealt with the Salaita case. The Report argues that Salaita was protected under the University Statutes, and that the “civility” reasons given for dismissing him by the Chancellor, President, and Trustees “should be renounced.” The Report concludes by calling for a committee of qualified academic experts to reconsider Salaita’s case. Here’s the full Executive Summary:
Steven Salaita’s proposed appointment was initiated, reviewed, approved, and processed in accordance with all applicable university procedures from the initiation of the search through his acceptance of an offer of appointment. It was complete except for final Board of Trustees approval. At that point, less than a month before his projected start date, concerns about his professional suitability for appointment arose and he was notified that his appointment would not be forwarded for that approval. Eventually, it was forwarded for Board approval and was rejected. His status at the time was complex: he was more than an applicant and less than an employee. Under these circumstances, we believe the academic freedom and liberty of political speech afforded to members of the faculty by the University Statutes should reasonably apply.
The process by which Dr. Salaita’s proposed appointment was withdrawn and eventually rejected did not follow existing policies and procedures in several substantial respects, raising questions about the institution’s commitment to shared governance. The reasons given — the civility of tweets made by Dr. Salaita in the summer of 2014 — is not consistent with the University’s guarantee of freedom of political speech. Statements made by the Chancellor, President, and Trustees asserting that the incivility of a candidate’s utterances may constitute sufficient grounds for rejecting his appointment should be renounced. We conclude, however, that the Chancellor has raised legitimate questions about Dr. Salaita’s professional fitness that must be addressed. In light of the irregular circumstances leading up to the Board of Trustees’ disapproval of an appointment for Dr. Salaita, the Committee recommends that Dr. Salaita’s candidacy be remanded to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for reconsideration by a committee of qualified academic experts.