Trustees Refuse to Reconsider Salaita’s Firing: “That Decision Is Final”

The University of Illinois Board of Trustees today announced that it will never reconsider the dismissal of Steven Salaita, and it will not listen to any faculty committee about Salaita’s qualifications: “That decision is final.”

According to the trustees, “The decision concerning Dr. Salaita was not reached hastily. Nor was it the result of external pressures. The decision did not present a ‘new approach’ to the consideration of proposed faculty appointments. It represented the careful exercise of each board member’s fiduciary duty and a balancing of all the interests of the University of Illinois. In the end, this is a responsibility that cannot be delegated nor abdicated.” Actually, hiring faculty is not a fundamental responsibility of the Board, but a power that easily can and definitely should be delegated and abdicated. It would be as simple as the Board declaring that it is delegating its normal hiring authority over faculty appointments to the president and chancellors, which is exactly what the Board does with adjunct faculty, and exactly what many Boards do for all faculty. Considering that the Board of Trustees is entirely unqualified to judge faculty, is incapable of examining the large numbers of hires made each year, and has declared that it uses non-academic criteria to determine faculty hires (and even those who supported the firing of Salaita have criticized the Board’s approach), the best possible outcome for the University of Illinois would be if the trustees did exactly that.

This is a devastating blow to the University of Illinois. It means that an AAUP censure of the University of Illinois is virtually guaranteed to happen on June 13, 2015, and it may take a very long time before censure is lifted. Normally, administrators are anxious to remove the stigma of censure, and a new president at a major university is quick to move toward correcting the mistakes of predecessors. But the current Trustees (and any new ones appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner) will never admit they were wrong.

The Board of Trustees’ refusal to admit any mistakes means that the University of Illinois will be at a severe disadvantage in recruiting faculty. Few tenured faculty will want to move to the University of Illinois if the trustees can simply revoke the job after they begin teaching. The boycott against the University of Illinois will continue.

This is an attempt to shut down debate and discussion. The Trustees imagine that if they refuse to listen to any criticism, the criticism will stop.

6 thoughts on “Trustees Refuse to Reconsider Salaita’s Firing: “That Decision Is Final”

  1. I noted that the Board of Trustees’ statement misspelled Dr. Salaita’s given name. I wonder if they bothered to proofread the document. Also, there is the possibility of litigation and a court’s decision to order his restitution. I presume the board would not ignore a court order.

  2. Seriously, would any AAUP representative actually lobby for unbridled power and authority vested administrators? With no check on their behaviors and performance by the Board of Trustees? No opportunity to ask the Board to reconsider and overturn an administrative negative tenure decision as was the case for Prof. Johnson at CUNY? This AAUP member is dumbfounded at the thought.

    As for the possible or probable censure of the U of Illinois administration by the AAUP, Committee A, like the Board of Trustees of UIUC, has already departed from its own standard procedure requiring the appointment of an external third-party investigating committee, accepting a local faculty committee’s ad hoc report instead.

    In “celebration” of the centennial in June 2015, AAUP members just may be treated to an ironic spectacle where the AAUP administration “pot” calls a UIUC administration “kettle” black.

    Dewey and Lovejoy are turning in their graves. “The AAUP is dead! Long live the AAUP!”

    • I would argue that trustees can intervene to overturn the firing of a professor when the process is flawed as in the KC Johnson case, but not that they should have the power to judge every faculty appointment. I also think that trustees can be the court of last resort when the faculty and administration disagree on an appointment. But the routine power to make judgments of academic expertise? No, trustees should not do that, and the Salaita case is a clear example why.

      I also think it’s ridiculous to compare the AAUP’s process in this case to the U of I violations of its own statutes and academic freedom policies. The AAUP has far more information about this case than most it reports on. The Chancellor’s and trustees’ public statements, the CAFT report, and the documents in the case (except for the internal emails that the administration is keeping hidden) all give the AAUP more than enough information. Most cases require some detailed investigation to get the facts out, but this case is one of the easiest that the AAUP has ever dealt with. There’s no need for a pointless investigation that will uncover nothing new.

  3. The University of Illinois is firmly committed to changing the schedule by which appointments are confirmed by the Board. In the future the Board will sign contracts well BEFORE the semester begins. The current practice of approving appointments after the semester begins is absurd and unacceptable.

  4. I agree that Trustees should be affirming good processes and not producing or interfering with the products of good processes. They do have an important role to play and that role has been enshrined in many a Federal and state court decision –and cannot be wished away.

    Moreover, the AAUP has indeed in the past had as much information on a case as that of Prof. Salaita. The high profile case of Prof. Dube of SUNY Stony Brook in the 80s/90s was officially added to the SUNY censure that was originally imposed in the 70s (although most AAUP administrations have forgotten the Dube case). Prof. Dube’s tenure denial was all over the media for his comparing Zionism to racism, and his long battle raged in Federal court as well.

    AAUP leaders are violating the Association’s own procedures in the Salaita affair — nothing erases that fact, and this violation undermines whatever decision Committee A reaches.

    When one obviates standard procedures to “stack the deck” to ensure a desired outcome, one should not be surprised if the objectivity and value of the outcome is called into question. A third-party _external_ investigation is essential to the probity of the process.

    AAUP leaders should learn — above all in this centennial year — that the organization is not their private preserve, that there is a legacy to be revered and respected — and that legacy cannot be refashioned at will to suit the desires of AAUP administrators who have, themselves, weakened the organization substantially with their often relentless ad hoc revisions of longstanding AAUP policies.

  5. Pingback: An Especially Worthy Entry in Our Ongoing Series of Wednesday Links | Gerry Canavan

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don’t impersonate a real person.