University of Illinois Board Inappropriate Rejection of Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure Report

The University of Illinois Board of Trustees has issued its “final” ruling on the firing, summary dismissal and suspension of Dr. Steven Salaita for solidarity tweets with the civilian population during the latest Israel/Gaza conflict last summer. It explicitly rejected the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure report. While I found that report to be deficient in its recommendation for further investigation of the “professional fitness” of Dr. Salaita, it did not foreclose the possibility of restitution to his rightful position among the professoriate. While not recommending an end to this egregious example of viewpoint cleansing, the CAFT report provided a possible roadmap to that eventuality: a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences committee to examine “professional fitness.”

The BOT press release, which misspelled Dr. Salaita’s first name, was referenced as “media advisory” and explicitly rejected the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Senate committee report:

Recent media accounts about a report issued by the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure may have given the mistaken impression that the decision regarding Dr. Salaita might be reconsidered. It will not.

It was not the media but the released report itself on December 23 that contained its recommendation that another faculty committee examine the allegation that Dr. Salaita’s antiwar tweets require a “professional fitness” test. I think CAFT believed this would eventuate. On three occasions the report recommended that the Salaita case be “remanded” for further review of the fitness of Salaita to serve in the American Indian Studies Program. Despite its disclaimer of having juridical status, it used a legal term normally associated in ordering a lower court to examine further a case.

If nothing else, the Salaita case was one of faculty status. Did the contract represent a promissory estoppel? Was he in fact tenured? Did he deserve an adversarial hearing with counsel and the right to rebut the bizarre charge of unfitness in teaching?

The AAUP Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities requires consultation, not a press release before a governing board eviscerates the primary faculty prerogative in determining faculty status:

The governing board and president should, on questions of faculty status, as in other matters where the faculty has primary responsibility, concur with the faculty judgment except in rare instances and for compelling reasons which should be stated in detail.

From the AAUP Statement on Procedural Standards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings is a ringing endorsement that the governing board respect and in most instances abide by a hearing committee ruling. I would argue CAFT is a hearing committee:

On the assumption that the governing board has accepted the principle of the faculty hearing committee, acceptance of the committee’s decision would normally be expected. If the governing body chooses to review the case, its review should be based on the record of the previous hearing, accompanied by opportunity for argument, oral or written or both, by the principals at the hearing or their representatives. The decision of the hearing committee should either be sustained or the proceeding be returned to the committee with objections specified.

The Board of Trustees rules by fiat. Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise rules by fiat. Her letter of August 1, 2014, co-signed by Vice President for Academic Affairs Chrstophe Pierre, informed Dr. Salaita that his contract would not be forwarded to the board for final rubber-stamping approval: a mere technicality for those who don’t condemn civilian carnage in war. No reason was given.

While I do not know if the BOT has communicated directly its rejection of the report to the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, it is inappropriate to use the media as their public conduit to engage a standing committee recommendation for resolving one of the most significant academic freedom cases of our time.

2 thoughts on “University of Illinois Board Inappropriate Rejection of Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure Report

  1. The situation with AAUP and CAFT is dripping with irony: the CAFT report itself calls for a faculty committee investigation, and the AAUP Committee A procedures mandate an external ad hoc faculty committee investigation — yet AAUP’s Committee A is instead using the CAFT report (which states it does not consider itself to be the final word on any such investigation) _instead of_ appointing its own external ad hoc committee. Sometimes internal faculty governance can break down or be seriously flawed (as many feel the CAFT report is flawed), and thus there is the absolute need for an AAUP external ad hoc committee.

    This is how the current AAUP leadership is “celebrating” the centennial of the Association: by doing things once again “its” way rather than following the legacy of the founders. And National Council appears to have no will of its own, rubber-stamping whatever the AAUP leadership places before it.

    Indeed, AAUP leaders spend the treasury on themselves (for meetings, travel, etc.) and for collective bargaining organizing with other national unions as their priority — even robbing the treasury of the Assembly of State Conferences to do so, sending the clear message to the advocacy chapters of their second-class status in the Association. Academic freedom is farther down on the list than collective bargaining organizing and, indeed, is held hostage to it with the AAUP leadership’s “noli me tangere” policy protecting affiliated unions and their universities from any and all unwanted Committee A scrutiny.

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

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