University of Illinois Administration Again Rejects Faculty Panel in Wake of Salaita Firing

The Hiring Policies and Processes Review Committee is a faculty committee impaneled last October by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign faculty senate and Provost Phyllis M. Wise. It has recommended the University of Illinois System Board of Trustees no longer approve new faculty hires and cease all personnel decision-making below the position of an academic dean.

In the Steven Salaita summary dismissal case, the Board of Trustees rejected the contract offer of a tenured position in the American Indian Studies Program some ten months after it had been proffered and signed. Fifteen days before he was to start teaching in August, Dr. Salaita received notification that his contract would not be sent to the board for approval. Now this latest faculty senate committee has determined that the current system in which the BOT may actually fire a faculty member, after he or she begins teaching at the beginning of their academic appointment, is not sustainable.

The News-Gazette reported that the faculty panel recommends that the board delegate its ultimate authority to the president, chancellor and provost. We have seen that the Board of Trustees is not amenable to faculty committee suggestions that could attenuate their lawless approach to shared governance and academic freedom. They announced in a terse press release, on January 15, 2015, their refusal to adhere to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure recommendation that Steven Salaita’s case be remanded to an ad hoc College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Committee.

It was not surprising that Inside Higher Ed reported that the administration has not endorsed the Hiring Policies and Processes Review Committee report even while conceding some “streamlining” is necessary. The issue is not merely about sequence, in which post-hiring reversals wreck careers and eviscerate common decency. It is essential to strip the U of I Board of the power to engage in the determination of the “fitness” of an academician who has been offered, signed, returned and in many instances already started teaching. Once hired, a post-hiring review is unacceptable nonsense and incompetence of administration!

The hiring practices at the University of Illinois are broken. Faculty committees endeavoring to address these concerns are ignored by the Board of Trustees and other administrators seeking to perpetuate their power. There must be continued resistance against the illegitimate authority of the Board of Trustees when it persecuted and immiserated Steven Salaita because of differing points of view on Israeli military devastation of the Gaza Strip last summer.

4 thoughts on “University of Illinois Administration Again Rejects Faculty Panel in Wake of Salaita Firing

  1. I find this deeply deeply ironic. Here was the faculty committee trying to play nice with the administration and their colleagues who apparently have never taken a political science US govt course and do not understand basic principles of a democracy. They acted with “discernment” to the point, where they were willing to throw their colleagues from Indigenous Studies under the bus, but, hey. And yet, even that was not enough for the imperious board of trustees-who else is making the Chancellor fall on their sword (even if it’s also her sword too, she’s still accountable to them)? If the Faculty Senate at U of I takes this as a chapter of “oh well, we tried, there’s nothing to be done,” then the campus deserves whatever national backlash it gets.

    And if the national AAUP doesn’t step up to the plate on this one, albeit after going through the long and winding road to ensuring that the administration is treated “fairly,” as one of the national officers noted in a recent blog here, then the AAUP will be self-defeating. It will be very hard for younger academics to take it seriously.

    I am withholding judgement until I see what the U of I Faculty Senate actually does, not just says, in response to this latest throwing down the gauntlet from their Chancellor’s office. It does seem to me that she’s inviting them to vote “no confidence” in her, except for those faculty who decided that it was wise to go against their colleagues in CAFT, perhaps in the hope of receiving resources/favors/a pat on the head from the higher ups.

  2. A couple of points. Unless I am mistaken, the report referred to in the News Gazette has been public knowledge since December 12 (the NG story was eventuated by the Senate Executive Committee’s discussion of it, but the report is old news). It is available on the Senate’s website:

    http://www.senate.illinois.edu/sc1508.pdf

    I would recommend reading the report. I think it’s wrong to characterize the report as recommending “that the board delegate its ultimate authority to the president, chancellor and provost.” Rather the report notes that the Statutes already so delegate the authority. In essence, the report is a ringing affirmation of both historic norms (since that is how it has been practiced) and what seems to be the legal force of current statutes.

  3. Thank you for your comment whomever your are! Sometimes we do not know of reports on other campuses until we read about them in the press. I had read the report prior to my post once I became aware of its provenance. I am pretty thorough in such matters. I think, while not advocating a major change in the process, the following recommendation is certainly influenced by the Salaita summary dismissal and is directly critical of the BOT for undermining the possibility of recruiting outstanding colleagues to our flagship university in Illinois:

    Recommendation 2: The board of trustees should formally delegate its responsibility for tenured and tenure-track academic appointments that do not involve administrative positions at the level of deans and above to the president, who in turn should continue the existing policy of delegating to the chancellor and provost…

    Moreover, if the board actually were to exercise its existing authority over appointments—by occasionally rejecting an appointment months after the candidate had accepted the campus’s offer of employment—the consequences for the campus’s ability to compete with other universities for strong faculty candidates would be severe. Accordingly, the committee recommends that the board align the hiring policies and actual practice by delegating to the president, who in turn delegates to the chancellor and the provost, the authority to approve tenure system faculty appointments that do not involve administrative positions at the level of dean and above. (pp. 17-18)

    • I’m a little confused by the almost Biblical “so and so begets so and so” type language of recommendation #2-does this mean that board of trustees should delegate to the Chancellor? If so, does this not run the obvious risk of the Chancellor serving as de facto trustee, since the Chancellor is accountable to the trustees, and thus, would be committing career suicide by not recommending whatever they would recommend?

      I hate to say this, but think this demonstrates, yet again, that there seems to be some difficulties that the U of I Faculty Senate has regarding figuring out how to respond to the Salaita case with due diligence to academic freedom and governance.

      I do think it’s a good idea to move the exercise of authority from board of trustees to some campus administrator-I get that. What I still find problematic is that the Chancellor or President serves at the discretion of the board of trustees. It seems to me that this kind of strictly bureaucratic response doesn’t get anyone very far, although maybe there’s a point to it rhetorically. A Chancellor is going to do whatever the board of trustees wants, unless she or he wants to lose her or his job. All this does is to push Steve Miller’s (or any other donor who wishes to for any other reason) phone call in which he interferes with a hiring from Phyllis Wise to Chris Kennedy. I’m not sure that does much, practically.

      The only way to respond to Steve Salaita’s case at this point in time is to vote no confidence in the Chancellor and Board of Trustees. What could they do then? The problem, however, isn’t bureaucratic but political, namely that some in the Faculty Senate want to undermine the academic freedom and governance of the Indigenous Studies faculty. Some want to undermine the system in which departments do all of the work and take all of the responsibility for hiring, with essentially rubber stamping from administrators, because everyone understands that it’s the department that must work with the hire, offer her or his courses, approve of her or his scholarship if tenured or encourage it if untenured.

      I think stronger, quicker action is required in this case due to the grave nature of what occurred. The fact that this isn’t what’s going on suggests that the problem is not solely with external donors, trustees, or administrators but unfortunately is also internal to the faculty itself.

      That’s why the AAUP at the state and national level will have to step into this mess somehow and clean it up. That may well mean censor, only because the Faculty Senate does not appear to have the wherewithal to handle it, whether due to ignorance, lack of concern, or more maliciously, political prejudice and ethnic discrimination against Salaita.

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