University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise fired Steven Salaita for extramural utterances on Twitter. She gave an interview for the influential The News-Gazette: no other paper has pipelines to the university administration as does the Champaign-Urbana paper. In her interview she rather cavalierly dismissed the impact of a possible American Association of University Professors censure.
She described that eventuality as a “bump in the road.” I would argue as the only Big Ten university facing such an action, and one of the few major research universities in the United States that would be on a censure list, that it might be more than a “bump.” I think, at a minimum, it would add to the boycotting of the UIUC by scholars unwilling to lend their expertise or services to an institution that so egregiously abused an individual who was expressing revulsion and outrage during the recent carnage in Gaza last summer:
The AAUP is talking about possible censure because of the Salaita case. What would that mean for the campus?
Censure is something that’s relatively new to me as well. Other universities, and our own, have been censured before. For us, I believe that it is a bump in the road, but that the majority of people — particularly if our faculty go forward and convince them that censure is inappropriate and in fact will hurt them and not actually the administration — (feel) that it is not the appropriate path to take. I believe we’re going to go forward with our mission and our vision.
Her evaluation of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Standing Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure report was self-serving and dismissive. It reflected her determination not to reconsider the summary dismissal and suspension of a tenured associate professor in the American Indian Studies Program. The emphasis on process such as possible changes requiring the BOT to receive faculty-hiring contracts before the start of a semester is tangential to the salient principle that academic due process must be respected.
The BOT fired Dr. Steven Salaita in a manner that egregiously violated academic freedom, shared governance and the university’s own statutes. While the timing of this viewpoint cleansing is significant, the primary issue with regard to “process” is not when the BOT meets, but rather it must not exceed its role and authority in eviscerating appropriate and approved unit decisions in faculty-hiring matters:
There was also a committee report on Steven Salaita’s case. The Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure asked for an additional review, and the trustees earlier this month said no. What was the thinking there?
The trustees made a decision in September. They stood by their decision at the most recent board meeting, so that part of the CAFT report will not be followed. Now the CAFT report did recommend other things, including looking at the process, and we will do that.
The News-Gazette asked the chancellor about donor influence on the decision not to submit Steven Salaita’s signed contract to the Board of Trustees. Not unexpectedly, she denied that big money led to the decision; she avoided, in my opinion, an adequate response to the issue of a missing e-mail from a major donor that received press scrutiny:
Critics remain suspicious, pointing to a missing email from one donor — how do you explain that to people? Is it hard to get past that?
I know what went on in the conversations that I had with different donors, whether it was over the phone or through face-to-face visits. I know what the truth is, so it really doesn’t bother me. It bothers me that others continue to believe otherwise.