Academic Freedom and Tenure: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The following is excerpted from the main AAUP website.  Please go there to see the report in its entirety:

I. Introduction

In the middle of summer 2014, Dr. Steven Salaita, associate professor of English at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, having resigned his tenured position, was preparing to relocate to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he had more than nine months earlier accepted a tenured appointment as associate professor in the Program of American Indian Studies (AIS). Both the administration and his prospective colleagues had made arrangements for him to assume his position in the fall term. The appointment still needed final approval by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, but Professor Salaita and the AIS faculty had reason to believe that this was a formality. The fall term was set to begin on August 25, more than two weeks before the board was to meet and confirm new appointments on September 11.

At the same time, on the other side of the world, fighting was raging between Israeli troops and Palestinians in Gaza, culminating months of rising tension. Professor Salaita, who is of Jordanian and Palestinian descent, was outraged by these events and expressed his views in a series of impassioned “tweets” on Twitter, a popular social-media forum. Many supporters of Israel and others found his statements deeply offensive, with some branding them as “hate speech” and as “violent” and “threatening.” The tweets also came to the attention of UIUC chancellor Phyllis Wise, UI system president Robert Easter, and members of the board when it met on July 24.

On August 1, Chancellor Wise wrote to Professor Salaita to inform him that his appointment would “not be recommended for submission to the board of trustees” and that a board vote to confirm the appointment was unlikely. In a statement issued on August 22, Chancellor Wise explained that the University of Illinois could not and would not “tolerate. . . disrespectful words or actions.” On the same date, the board of trustees and President Easter issued a joint statement supporting the decision not to forward Professor Salaita’s appointment. The statement declared UIUC “a community that values civility as much as scholarship.” Some weeks later, however, Chancellor Wise did submit the appointment to the board with a negative recommendation, and on September 11 the board voted to reject it.

These actions by the chancellor, the president, and the board sparked a firestorm of controversy on the UIUC campus and throughout higher education, attracting extensive media coverage. The decisions raised a number of critical questions that this report will seek to answer:

  1. What sequence of events led to the chancellor’s letter of August 1 and the board’s decision of September 11, and did the UIUC board and administration conform to the institution’s own policies and to AAUP-supported principles in their decision not to confirm Professor Salaita’s appointment?
  2. What was Professor Salaita’s faculty status at the time that his appointment was rejected by the chancellor and the board, and to what extent was he entitled to the academic freedom and due-process rights accorded to tenured faculty members?
  3. What is the relevance of extramural expression, including expression on social-media forums like Twitter, in determining the fitness of a faculty member for a university position?
  4. What role should standards of “civility” play in assessing the qualifications of a prospective or current faculty member?
  5. What is the overall climate for academic freedom and shared academic governance at UIUC in the wake of these events?

II. The Involvement of the Association

Responding to initial media reports about the Salaita matter, AAUP president Rudy Fichtenbaum and first vice president and chair of Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure Henry Reichman issued a statement on August 7, 2014, expressing concern that if media reports were accurate, there was “good reason to fear that Professor Salaita’s academic freedom and possibly that of the Illinois faculty members who recommended hiring him have been violated.” The statement did not reach any conclusions about the controversy, but it affirmed that

while opinions differ among AAUP members on a wide range of issues, the AAUP is united in its commitment to defend academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas more broadly. On the basis of this commitment, we have opposed efforts by some pro-Palestinian groups to endorse an “academic boycott” of Israel. This commitment has also led us to defend the rights of critics of Israel, including the right of faculty members such as Professor Salaita, to express their views without fear of retaliation, even where such views are expressed in a manner that others might find offensive or repugnant.

Following a request from the director of the Program of American Indian Studies for national AAUP assistance, the Committee A staff wrote to Chancellor Wise on August 29 to convey the Association’s concerns. On the core issue of Professor Salaita’s having a UIUC faculty appointment, the staff wrote as follows:

Only this August, after Professor Salaita had resigned his tenured appointment at Virginia Tech and prepared for his assignments, and shortly before the semester was to begin, did he receive notification that, because the board of trustees would not be acting on the matter, he did not have an appointment at the University of Illinois. Aborting an appointment in this manner without having demonstrated cause has consistently been seen by the AAUP as tantamount to summary dismissal, an action categorically inimical to academic freedom and due process and one aggravated in his case by the apparent failure to provide him with any written or even oral explanation.

On the issue of academic freedom, the staff’s August 29 letter referred to the general presumption that the refusal to approve the Salaita appointment was triggered by his tweets condemning recent Israeli military activities. Stating that the online tweets were extramural utterances by a citizen rather than pedagogical or scholarly discourse, the letter observed that both AAUP policy and UIUC policy permit an administration to bring charges if it believes that extramural activity has been “such as to raise grave doubts concerning the teacher’s fitness for his or her position” but that the administration “should remember that teachers are citizens and should be accorded the freedom of citizens.” Finally, noting that the UIUC academic senate’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure (CAFT) had decided to initiate an examination of the issues raised by the case, the letter stated that Committee A saw the case as that of a faculty member suspended from his academic responsibilities pending a hearing on his fitness to continue. Under both AAUP and UIUC policy, any such suspension is to be with pay. With Professor Salaita’s having incurred major expenses since accepting the UIUC offer and receiving no salary, the staff’s letter urged that he be paid the salary offered in his appointment letter pending the result of the CAFT inquiry….

IV. Chronology of Events

On May 23, 2012, Professor Robert Warrior, then AIS director, submitted a hiring request for a faculty position that would facilitate the program’s planned expansion into the broader field of indigenous studies. The request was approved on July 10 by then dean of liberal arts and sciences Ruth Watkins. The advertisement for the position sought a scholar at the assistant or associate professor level whose work provided “evidence of innovative transnational, comparative, creative, or interdisciplinary approaches to American Indian or Indigenous Studies.” The program received more than eighty applications, and six applicants were invited for campus visits. Dr. Steven Salaita visited the campus in February 2013 and was the unanimous choice of the faculty for the position.

Professor Salaita, who was born in West Virginia, earned an undergraduate degree in political science and a master’s degree in English at Virginia’s Radford University and a doctorate in Native American Studies with a literature emphasis at the University of Oklahoma. His teaching experience began with three years at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, where he taught American and ethnic American literature. In 2006, he moved to Virginia Tech, recruited by the English department as an assistant professor, teaching English while writing not only about literature but also about Arab Americans, indigenous peoples, and race and ethnicity. In 2009, he was granted tenure and promoted to associate professor.

In a September 6, 2013, letter to the acting dean of LAS, Professor Warrior provided evaluations of both Professor Salaita’s scholarship and his teaching and offered a rationale for the appointment. The letter emphasized Professor Salaita’s “fresh and compelling contributions to the intellectual project of a critique of the concept of indigeneity, which is . . . the core of what has made us an international leader in our field.” The appointment, Warrior argued, would expand the purview of AIS and “engage with the broader implications of comparative indigeneity within and beyond the scope of US imperialism and militarism in North America and the Pacific to include the Middle East.” In addition, Warrior noted, Professor Salaita’s expertise in Arab American studies would contribute to the university’s Middle East curriculum.

On September 23, the Promotion and Tenure Committee recommended that Professor Salaita be appointed with tenure. Two days later, Dr. Reginald Alston, associate chancellor and dean of the graduate college, concurred. He wrote:

After closely reviewing Dr. Steven Salaita’s dossier, I support the Department of American Indian Studies’ request to grant him the rank of Associate Professor with indefinite tenure at the University of Illinois. The uniqueness of his scholarship on the intersection of American Indian, Palestinian, and American Palestinian experiences presents a rare opportunity to add an esoteric perspective on indigeneity to our cultural studies programs on campus. . . . I support offering Dr. Salaita a tenured position because of the obvious intellectual value that his scholarship and background would bring to our campus. His presence would elevate AIS internationally and convey Illinois’ commitment to maintaining a leading academic program on the historical and sociopolitical intricacies of American Indian culture.

On September 26, Chancellor Wise approved the recommendation for tenure. The next day the provost authorized the appointment. On October 3, the interim dean of LAS sent a letter with an offer of appointment as associate professor with tenure to Professor Salaita, noting the presumably standard formality—that the appointment was contingent on approval by the board of trustees. Another letter followed from Professor Jodi Byrd, at that time acting director of AIS, with additional information, including possibilities of employment for his wife. On October 9, Professor Salaita accepted the offer, requesting a start date of August 2014. As August approached, he was given teaching assignments and asked to submit course syllabi, which he did. Arrangements were made to pay for his moving expenses and to see to his computer needs. He and his wife visited the campus in late spring and made a deposit on a condominium. All seemed to be in order as he prepared to move to his new position.

On July 21, 2014, the chancellor was alerted to tweets Professor Salaita had been posting about the war in Gaza. She told this subcommittee that she did not remember who first brought them to her attention, but there is evidence that she received many e-mail messages protesting the appointment over the course of the next ten days, as did President Easter. The chancellor was concerned enough about the tone of the tweets, she told the subcommittee, that she brought them to the board of trustees at its July 24 meeting. However, according to the CAFT report, President Easter on July 21 had already asked the chancellor to discuss the matter with him. Several board members were also aware of the content of the e-mail messages. Meeting in executive session, the board apparently indicated it would not approve the Salaita appointment.

On August 1, Chancellor Wise and Dr. Christophe Pierre, the UI system vice president for academic affairs, wrote to Professor Salaita informing him that the chancellor had decided not to submit the appointment to the board and that “an affirmative Board vote confirming [his] appointment” was “unlikely.” Time was of the essence, Chancellor Wise told the subcommittee; since Salaita was in the process of getting ready to move, she wanted to act before he did. She described her motive as “humanitarian.” Her decision, she told the subcommittee, was based solely on the tone of the tweets and not on their political content. The tweets, she said, raised the issue of Salaita’s “professional competence” and presented new evidence to question it. The university is a place where difficult debates happen, she said, “but it has to be a place where students feel safe.” In the subcommittee’s interview with her, the chancellor repeated what she had told the CAFT subcommittee: she saw no distinction between Salaita’s extramural utterances (contained in the tweets) and his probable classroom demeanor.

The CAFT report notes that in its interview with her on November 14, Chancellor Wise confirmed that she had not consulted with the Provost, the Dean of LAS, or other faculty representatives about her decisions not to forward Dr. Salaita’s offer of appointment to the Board of Trustees and to notify him in advance of this decision. She indicated that her initial understanding of the process was that it was her prerogative not to forward Dr. Salaita’s appointment to the Board and she only later discovered this understanding to be incorrect. She expressed much regret that she had not consulted more widely with the faculty and administration, and attributed her neglect of shared governance to the rapidity with which decisions had to be made.

On August 22, in response to a growing number of objections to her actions, the chancellor issued “The Principles on Which We Stand.” It came along with a mass mailing to the university community from the president and the trustees supporting her position. In this statement, she affirmed her commitment to academic freedom and insisted that “the decision regarding Professor Salaita was not influenced in any way by his positions on the conflict in the Middle East nor his criticism of Israel.” She continued, “What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them. . . . Most important, every student must know that every instructor recognizes and values that student as a human being. If we have lost that, we have lost much more than our standing as a world-class institution of higher education. . . .Tenure . . . brings with it a heavy responsibility to continue the traditions of scholarship and civility upon which our university is built.”

In their statement, the president and trustees emphasized the need to protect students: “Disrespectful and demeaning speech that promotes malice is not an acceptable form of civil argument if we wish to ensure that students, faculty, and staff are comfortable in a place of scholarship and education.” They concluded, “We look forward to working closely with Chancellor Wise and all of you to ensure that our university is recognized both for its commitment to academic freedom and as a national model of leading-edge scholarship framed in respect and courtesy.”

Early in September, the chancellor reconsidered one of the steps she had taken and forwarded the Salaita appointment to the trustees, recommending that they not approve it. On September 11, the board (voting eight to one) accepted her recommendation and rejected the Salaita appointment.

On September 5, CAFT, responding to a grievance filed by two AIS faculty members and citing the bylaws of the university senate, commenced an investigation of the Salaita case as an instance of “possible infringement of academic freedom.” In the same period, the provost’s office and the academic senate convened a committee to review hiring policies and procedures at the university.

In the interim, sixteen academic departments at UIUC voted no confidence in the administration (some other departments, however, voted to support the chancellor); petitions protesting and supporting the chancellor’s decision were circulated online; letters and e-mails objecting to her actions poured in to her office from on and off campus; the Modern Language Association, the American Historical Association, and the Society of American Law Teachers, among other groups, condemned the chancellor’s actions; and a boycott of the university, endorsed by more than five thousand scholars, many of whom canceled planned conferences and lectures, gained momentum.

On December 12, the Hiring Policies and Procedures Review Committee issued its report. It found that, for the most part, general procedures were in conformity with standards of shared governance. It noted, however, the danger of the board’s attempting to “conduct substantive reviews of candidates’ qualifications,” which “would be fundamentally incompatible with the board’s deliberative, policyformulating role,” warning that “the competitiveness of the campus would be seriously damaged.” To avoid such a practice, the committee recommended that “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.”

The CAFT report was issued on December 23. It concluded that the process of reviewing the proposed appointment “did not follow existing policies and procedures in several substantial respects, raising questions about the institution’s commitment to shared governance.” Although the report noted that Professor Salaita’s status was complex, “more than an applicant and less than an employee,” it maintained that “the academic freedom and liberty of political speech afforded to members of the faculty . . . should reasonably apply.” CAFT rejected the reason the chancellorhad given for her actions—that the tweets lacked “civility”—arguing that this was “not consistent with the university’s guarantee of freedom of political speech.” The report called upon the chancellor to renounce the idea that “the incivility of a candidate’s utterance may constitute sufficient grounds for rejecting his appointment.” One additional recommendation granted the possibility that new information about Salaita’s professional competence may have been revealed by the controversy. To determine if this were the case, the report proposed that the candidacy “be remanded to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for reconsideration by a committee of qualified academic experts” and that Professor Salaita “be provided the opportunity to respond to any proposed findings of professional unfitness before the body concludes its proceedings.”

On January 15, 2015, the board effectively rejected the CAFT report, announcing that its decision not to appoint Professor Salaita was final. On January 29, Professor Salaita filed a lawsuit against the university, alleging violations in his case of the constitutional right to free speech and of principles of academic freedom. On February 9, the UIUC academic senate endorsed all the recommendations of the CAFT report.

On February 26, the day the AAUP subcommittee arrived in Urbana, the chancellor sent a mass mailing to the university community that was meant to be the final word on the Salaita affair. In it she announced a series of steps taken after “productive discussions with faculty, staff, and students.” The first was to ask the trustees to schedule final approval of faculty appointments well before the proposed arrival date of new appointees. She did not address the recommendation of the hiring policies committee that would remove the board from substantive review of faculty appointments. The second was to include “faculty fellows” in the chancellor’s office to “enhance the shared governance system that guides our campus.” These fellows would be chosen by her office, not elected by the faculty. The third step she announced was a refusal to remand the Salaita case to LAS for further consideration. And the fourth was an attempt to clarify what she had meant by civility in her August 22 statement. On the one hand, she insisted (citing the AAUP’s 1994 statement On Freedom of Expression and Campus Speech Codes) that she was not establishing a speech code for the campus. On the other hand, she reiterated the need for “respectful discourse” and tolerance as a guarantee for positive “educational experiences of . . . students.”…

V. Professor Salaita’s Appointment Status

At the heart of this case is the question of Professor Salaita’s employment status at the University of Illinois when Chancellor Wise informed him that she would not forward his appointment to the board of trustees. Was he merely an applicant, since his appointment had not received final board approval? Had he already been appointed and was he thus entitled to the full complement of academic due-process protections for tenured faculty members? Or was he in some kind of “in-between” status, which CAFT has posited?

The AAUP has taken the view from the beginning that Professor Salaita had already been appointed when he was informed of the chancellor’s decision not to forward his appointment to the board of trustees for approval. A letter to Chancellor Wise sent by AAUP staff shortly after her announcement noted that “[t]he exchange of letters between Interim Dean Ross and Professor Salaita appears to have been in accordance with generally established procedures by which academic appointments are tendered and accepted,” adding that “we look upon Professor Salaita’s situation as that of a faculty member suspended from his academic responsibilities pending a hearing on his fitness to continue.” This subcommittee thus views the decision not to forward Professor Salaita’s appointment to the trustees, as well as the subsequent vote by the trustees to reject his appointment, as tantamount to summary dismissal….

VI. Extramural Speech

Since its founding in 1915, the AAUP has posited that freedom of extramural speech is an element of academic freedom. Dismissal cases of outspoken social scientists during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries fueled public debate over academic freedom and influenced the early development of the AAUP, including the formulation of the Association’s seminal 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure, which defined “academic freedom” as comprising three elements: “freedom of inquiry and research; freedom of teaching within the university or college; and freedom of extramural utterance and action.” The 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, jointly formulated by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges, contains the following provision on extramural speech in paragraph 3 of the section on academic freedom: “College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations.”

Determining whether speech is “extramural” can be challenging when, as has been alleged in this case, such speech relates to a faculty member’s disciplinary expertise: is the faculty member speaking as a citizen or as a member of a learned profession? The definition of extramural speech offered in the Association’s Protecting an Independent Faculty Voice: Academic Freedom after Garcetti v. Ceballos provides clarification. It states that “[p]rofessors should . . . have the freedom to address the larger community with regard to any matter of social, political, economic, or other interest, without institutional discipline or restraint, save in response to fundamental violations of professional ethics or statements that suggest disciplinary incompetence.” According to this definition, the primary characteristics of extramural speech are that such speech is addressed to “the larger community” and that it is concerned with “social, political, economic, or other interest”; the status of an utterance as extramural does not depend on its relationship to a faculty member’s disciplinary expertise. Professor Salaita’s tweets were clearly addressed to the larger community and were concerned with matters of public interest and intense political debate. Thus, his tweets were extramural, regardless of whether they were related to his area of expertise.

The AAUP has stated that disciplinary competence cannot be judged by a faculty member’s extramural utterances. The 1940 Statement contains the following provisos regarding extramural utterances: “As scholars and educational officers, [college and university teachers] should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.” The status of these provisos has changed over time. Immediately following the endorsement of the 1940 Statement, the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges agreed to the following interpretive comment:

If the administration of a college or university feels that a teacher has not observed the admonitions of paragraph 3 of the section on Academic Freedom and believes that the extramural utterances of the teacher have been such as to raise grave doubts concerning the teacher’s fitness for his or her position, it may proceed to file charges under paragraph 4 of the section on Academic Tenure. In pressing such charges, the administration should remember that teachers are citizens and should be accorded the freedom of citizens. In such cases the administration must assume full responsibility, and the American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Colleges are free to make an investigation.

This interpretation raised the status of the provisos closer to that of enforceable standards. In Committee A’s discussions of the Koch case, the unambiguous nature of this interpretation was cited as a reason why Professor Koch could be disciplined for his extramural speech by university authorities and why Committee A had to reject a portion of the investigating committee’s report disclaiming this possibility. In 1964, following the Koch case, Committee A adopted a Statement on Extramural Utterances, which asserts as follows: “The controlling principle is that a faculty member’s expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness for his or her position. Extramural utterances rarely bear upon the faculty member’s fitness for the position. Moreover, a final decision should take into account the faculty member’s entire record as a teacher and scholar.” This provision reduced the scope of the earlier joint interpretation and was subsequently enshrined in the 1940 Statement by an interpretive comment that the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges jointly agreed upon in 1970. Since that time, the provisos on extramural utterances of the 1940 Statement have generally been seen as hortatory statements rather than as enforceable standards. Even so, extramural speech, as the Committee A statement notes, can be grounds for dismissal if it clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness. Relevant examples of such extramural utterances, according to Protecting an Independent Faculty Voice, are “fundamental violations of professional ethics or statements that suggest disciplinary incompetence.”…

VII. Civility

Statements by Chancellor Wise and the trustees insisted that “civility” was a standard by which the fitness of a scholar and teacher could be judged. They used synonyms such as courtesy and respect, and they maintained that incivility threatened the comfort and security of students. The trustees claimed that disrespectful speech “is not an acceptable form of civil argument” and “has no place . . . in our democracy.”

There are three objections to these claims. The first is that “civility” is vague and ill-defined. It is not a transparent or self-evident concept, and it does not provide an objective standard for judgment. Historians have shown that over the centuries (whether used by aristocrats to distinguish themselves from the bourgeoisie, by the bourgeoisie to elevate themselves above the lower classes, or by Christians to establish their superiority to Jews and Muslims) the notion of civility consistently operates to constitute relations of power. Moreover, it is always the powerful who determine its meaning—a meaning that serves to delegitimize the words and actions of those to whom it is applied. So, to take one example, students engaged in peaceful sit-ins in the 1960s in Greensboro, North Carolina, were deemed by local police to be behaving in an uncivil manner. Or to take another from the nineteenth century, Western European imperial powers often justified their conquests as efforts to “civilize” native populations.

The second objection is that, inevitably, the standard of civility conflates the tone of an enunciation with its content. In many cases that the AAUP has investigated over the years, unacceptable emotive qualities have been ascribed to the ideas a teacher has endorsed. In the 1915 Scott Nearing case, for example, the alumni who called for his dismissal from the Wharton School referred to “his intemperate, persistent, and astonishing expressions of untested theories and . . . [his] unrestrained condemnations of institutions and rules which form the basis of civilized society.” Among other things, Professor Nearing had criticized the practice of child labor. In the previously mentioned Koch case at UIUC, the president, succumbing to protests from parents about Koch’s advocacy of free love, said that “the views expressed are offensive and repugnant, contrary to commonly accepted standards of morality.” Challenges to normative beliefs, in other words, are deemed uncivil, whatever the tonality of their delivery.

The third objection is that, even if the tone of one’s expression is highly charged, it does not constitute grounds for punishment. Whether it is a matter of First Amendment rights or of the principles of academic freedom, there is concurrence on the dangers to democracy of attempting to outlaw emotionally provocative speech. The CAFT report cites a 1971 Supreme Court case that struck down punishment because of a speaker’s use of an offensive expletive—“an expletive Dr. Salaita’s tweets are much given to.” The Court ruled, “We cannot sanction the view that the Constitution, while solicitous of the cognitive content of individual speech, has little or no regard for that emotive function which practically speaking may often be the more important element of the overall message sought to be communicated.” In the Davis case at UCLA, one of the dissenting regents put it similarly: “In this day and age when the decibel level of political debate . . . has reached the heights it has, it is unrealistic and disingenuous to demand as a condition of employment that the professor address political rallies in the muted cadences of scholarly exchanges. Professors are products of their times even as the rest of us.”…

VIII. Academic Freedom at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Faculty opinion at UIUC concerning the actions of Chancellor Wise and the board of trustees with respect to Professor Salaita’s appointment is clearly divided. In the wake of the chancellor’s initial announcement and the board’s subsequent statements and actions, petitions supporting and opposing Professor Salaita’s appointment were widely circulated, and both sides could claim significant support. Some sixteen departments voted “no confidence” in the chancellor’s leadership, but other departments rallied to her support. The subcommittee heard reports of faculty members who felt intimidated and were fearful to speak out against the administration, but there were also reports of individuals who were fearful of voicing support for the administration. It was impossible for the subcommittee to verify the truth of such charges on either side or to gauge the extent of the problem they would appear to represent. That the divisions are genuine and deep, however, is undeniable. Indeed, one faculty member told the subcommittee that “friendships have been destroyed” over the issue.

In her meeting with the subcommittee, Chancellor Wise characterized faculty opinion as divided into three groups: those who support her actions, those who oppose her actions and believe she should resign, and those who oppose her actions but do not believe she should resign. No doubt a fourth group of faculty members exists: the indifferent. Which group represents the majority is not only difficult, if not impossible, to determine; it is fundamentally irrelevant. After all, academic freedom, like all liberties, will be meaningful only insofar as it can protect minority viewpoints. Therefore, as long as a significant minority of the faculty believes its academic freedom is imperiled, there is cause for serious concern.

And it would appear that at least a sizeable minority of faculty members do fear that academic freedom at UIUC is endangered. Such concerns are most widespread in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, but the subcommittee also heard of concern about a “chilling effect” of the Salaita decision among faculty members in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. In addition, there were reports that nontenured faculty members in particular feel threatened and that many, especially in the humanities, are seeking positions elsewhere because they fear the university will not support them if there is outside criticism of their work. One prominent professor called the Salaita decision “tremendously devastating” to faculty morale. The subcommittee was also troubled by the following comment about Professor Salaita made to the subcommittee by a prominent leader of the academic senate, who supported the chancellor’s action: “People say, yes, academic freedom, but they are very uncomfortable with this gentleman.”

Faculty members in AIS and other ethnic studies programs, the subcommittee was told, consider themselves especially vulnerable. They reported feeling pressure to avoid challenging the assumptions of students, including the kinds of prejudicial assumptions that their very disciplines seek to overturn, a direct product of the chancellor’s and the board’s claims that the decision not to approve Professor Salaita’s appointment was designed to “protect” students from “disrespectful and demeaning speech.” One professor told the subcommittee, “I don’t know of one faculty member [in these programs] not looking for another job,” an observation reiterated by an administrator. These faculty members believe they are vulnerable to attack by the local conservative newspaper for their teaching, their scholarship, and their extramural comments, and some report incidents of harassment. They lack confidence that the university will defend them….

IX. Conclusions

On the basis of the above findings, the subcommittee concludes

  1. The administration of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, in rejecting Professor Steven Salaita’s appointment without demonstrating cause, and in doing so only after the appointment had been approved and courses had been assigned to him, acted in violation of the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure and the university’s own stated policies on the subject.
  2. The stated reasons for the rejection of the Salaita appointment by the chancellor and the board of trustees violated Professor Salaita’s academic freedom and have cast a pall of uncertainty over the degree to which academic freedom is understood and respected.
  3. The chancellor’s decision to oppose the appointment—announced without first having revealed her intention to those at several previous levels of evaluation, all of whom had recommended making the appointment—contravened widely accepted standards for the conduct of academic governance.
  4. This investigation has confirmed the Association’s position that aborting an appointment in this manner without having demonstrated cause is tantamount to summary dismissal, an action categorically inimical to academic due process.


7 thoughts on “Academic Freedom and Tenure: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

  1. The objection was and still remains that AAUP Committee A has deviated from its longstanding practice of appointing an _external_ review committee — simply adopting/adapting the findings of an on-campus group.

    Process is the most important product of the Association. The current AAUP leadership is “celebrating” the centennial of the organization by doing things _its_ way: choosing the path of expediency to its own pre-determined conclusions.

    Dewey and Lovejoy are turning in their graves.

    • You are incorrect. As the report explains, initially the subcommittee was going to rely on the CAFT report, and then they changed their mind and had a traditional external review that went to the campus and interviewed those involved, including Phyllis Wise. So the normal process was followed. But the AAUP’s priority should be what the facts are, not the process used to acquire them.

      As for Dewey and Lovejoy, the first AAUP investigation came about when Lovejoy saw a brief newspaper item about professors in Utah being fired. Since they had no internet access to get information, Dewey gave Lovejoy money for a train ticket to Utah, and Lovejoy wrote an extensive report. They really had no authority from the rest of the AAUP to do this, and they simply invented this now-glorified “process” out of expediency. So I think they’re probably pretty secure in those graves.

      • AAUP VP Henry Reichman, in an email entitled “Our findings in the Salaita case” released to all members of the AAUP in the early hours of the morning today, wrote:

        “AAUP investigating committees, which are authorized in a few selected cases when significant violations of academic freedom, tenure, or governance have been alleged and persist despite AAUP efforts to resolve them, are generally composed of AAUP members from other institutions with no previous involvement in the matter. In this case, the Association built upon the work of the UIUC senate’s own Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure.
        “On February 26 and 27, the undersigned members of the subcommittee visited the UIUC campus, where they met with Chancellor Wise, university counsel Rice, and other principal and concerned parties. The staff had previously interviewed Professor Salaita. All persons interviewed were helpful, cooperative, and courteous. During its investigation, CAFT invited members of the board of trustees to comment on their role, but they declined. They also did not respond to the initial draft that had been sent to them with an invitation for comment. The subcommittee did not, therefore, make efforts to interview members of the board.

        “The report that follows is based on the subcommittee’s campus visit and on the CAFT report. The subcommittee wishes to emphasize its appreciation for CAFT’s efforts and to reaffirm its previously expressed agreement with CAFT’s most important findings. These include continuing agreement with the CAFT report on the seriousness of the disregard by the chancellor, president, and trustees for stated principles of shared governance; shared criticism of the stance taken by the chancellor in initially declining to forward Professor Salaita’s appointment to the trustees; agreement that “[r]egardless of the tweets’ tone and content, they are political speech—part of the robust free play of ideas in the political realm”; and, lastly, agreement with CAFT that “holding civility up as a standard of conduct conflicts with academic freedom.””

        Please note that the CAFT report so thoroughly pre-determined the agenda for the so-called “investigating sub-committee” that no one from Committee A made any effort to interview any member of the UIUC Board! And this in a case where the role of the board is primoridial.

        Thus, Committee A’s self-subordination to a local committee contrasts starkly with the origins of such AAUP investigations in the criss-crossings of the nation by Prof. Arthur Lovejoy — further underscoring the reasons for our objection to this case. In the past, as the AAUP VP himself admits, full external reviews were conducted; interviews and reports were not directed by or cribbed from reports by on-campus bodies with potential conflicts of interest.

        As for Dewey and Lovejoy, there are many reasons for them to be turning in their graves this centennial year — this case (and AAUP’s mishandling of the review process) is merely one of them.

      • It’s nonsense to say that the CAFT report “pre-determined the agenda” of the AAUP in this case. The AAUP did its own investigation, and as with any investigation, used the information from any faculty body that looked at the case. Yes, the AAUP initially made a mistake in thinking that it could piggyback on the CAFT Report, but that error was quickly reversed, and the AAUP Report is much broader and far-reaching than the CAFT Report. The AAUP also sharply disagreed on two key issues with the CAFT report: The AAUP says that Salaita was hired, whereas CAFT regarded him as having “in between” status. The AAUP says that there was no justification in Salaita’s tweets for a faculty committee to investigate his scholarship, whereas CAFT argued (tactically, I believe) for such a committee, which the administration refused to allow. I think the AAUP is correct on both of these issues, and I find it odd that you have no substantive critiques of this report, but simply attack it on irrelevant issues of “process.”

        • Fascinating — AAUP members are asked to do a reverse analysis of a case, abandoning the standards of process and simply examining whether or not one “likes” or “agrees with” the conclusions.

          Does the AAUP leadership approach all personnel matters in such an ad hoc manner? Now, sadly, yes — just as the leadership has a track record of not caring whether the Association’s elections conform to the LMRDA or not (or even to the AAUP Constitution itself), provided that they achieve their desired outcome. It would appear that the AAUP leadership fears democratic and due processes, less their personal goals and hegemony be threatened.

          Bad processes inevitably lead to bad results — or, as in this case, discredited results. It is unthinkable that a Committee A report was composed without anyone’s even attempting to speak with members of the UIUC Board. Oh, and perhaps readers did not notice that the subcommittee never spoke to Prof. Salaita, either, simply relying upon “staff” interviews with him. Truly amazing admissions here.

          As for the clearly determinative role of the CAFT report, what the subcommittee has written it has written — and, as quoted above, it has openly admitted its reliance upon the CAFT report and processes for its primary direction. The subcommittee even eschewed interviewing the Board simply because the Board had not responded to CAFT — thereby assuming without knowing that the Board would respond to an external body in the same manner as an internal one.

          It is not possible to say enough about how naïve, incompetent and, yea verily, corrupted Committee A appears as a result of this abandonment of due process — in this case, of the due process for all involved parties formerly characteristic of AAUP Committee A investigations.

          Dewey and Lovejoy are turning in their graves.

    • In 1919, the Association did not have the resources it has today, travel across this sprawling country was burdensome and costly, the Internet did not exist, the case law of SCOTUS on academic freedom was essentially non-existent, etc.

      “Whatever,” eh?

      Let’s get serious. The “only” thing at stake here is the long-and-hard-earned gravitas of the organization, tossed away by the AAUP leadership repeatedly in recent years — via such disdain for the very procedures which evolved to ensure the respect and consideration of faculty and administrators, and governing boards alike. At one time not so long ago, administrations feared the formal censure of the AAUP — no more. Yes, as a result of a confluence of many mitigating factors, but one cannot discount the erosion resulting from just such reckless missteps as these.

      Dewey and Lovejoy are turning in their graves.

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