Why Salaita Was “Un-Hired”: The Missing Facts in the AAUP and CAFT Reports

By Andrew Scheinman

A few weeks ago, the AAUP released its Report on the Steven Salaita affair at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), in which it concluded that UIUC and its Chancellor Phyllis Wise violated Salaita’s academic freedom and committed serious breaches of governance when they “un-hired” Salaita by Wise’s not forwarding his hire letter to the UIUC Board of Trustees (BOT).

The AAUP reached these conclusions based partially on its own interviews on February 26-27, 2015, with Wise and other UIUC campus members. The AAUP also relied extensively on the investigation conducted at UIUC by the UIUC’s academic senate’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure (CAFT), which itself relied on documents obtained by various media outlets via Freedom-of-Information-Act (FOIA) requests, and not on the cooperation of UIUC, which from the CAFT Report appears to have been noticeably absent apart from Wise agreeing to a single interview with the CAFT. This raises the real question of how much evidence UIUC disclosed to the CAFT and ultimately the AAUP, and whether the CAFT conclusions and those of the AAUP itself would have been more definitive in certain areas or, possibly, different, had UIUC been more forthcoming.

In this regard, my website – samizdat-startups.org  – has over the past year filed several hundred strategically-worded and directed FOIAs relating to Wise’s activities at UIUC that bear directly on the Salaita affair, and obtained several thousand pages of results from UIUC from these FOIA-filings. This raft of new materials covers not only 1) the critical period of that affair of July 21 (when the story of Salaita’s tweets broke) to July 24 (when Wise met with the UIUC BOT and decided not to forward Salaita’s hire letter to them for approval), but also 2) a good portion of 2014, particularly July, when Wise was heavily engaged in pushing for a new College of Medicine (COM) with a tight-knit group of local rich businesspeople and Carle hospital, which intends to donate an enormous sum of money ($100M) to the COM in exchange for Carle and UIUC partnering on this enterprise.

What has samizdat-startups.org found in the several thousand pages of documents these FOIAs produced that the CAFT/AAUP never saw? First, a large number of emails that show Wise’s decision-making was not done in the isolation from senior faculty that’s been claimed by UIUC and by Wise herself, a claim the CAFT Report and AAUP reproduce.

Specifically, from July 21 Wise was herself touting Salaita’s free-speech rights, and during the subsequent two days leading up to the BOT meeting she consulted multiple times with UIUC Provost Ilesanmi Adesida and UIUC Assistant Provost and Associate Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access Menah Pratt-Clarke on Salaita’s hire letter. These exchanges are notable because they show Wise consulting regularly with these faculty members, and not just in the administrative vacuum that UIUC’s earlier FOIA productions to the public had suggested. And of course it’s also interesting to note that from very early on Wise’s thoughts and those of Provost Adesida and Assistant Provost Pratt-Clarke had turned from Salaita’s free-speech rights to the question of whether or not he could be un-hired based simply on a decision not to forward his hiring to the BOT. Would this have affected what the CAFT/AAUP wrote about Salaita’s un-hiring? Well, at the very least it certainly seems like information they’d have wanted to have.

Consider also the email exchange of July 22 in which Adesida tells the UIUC Vice President for Academic Affair Christophe Pierre that, regarding the Salaita hiring, “He [Salaita] accepted the offer; this has been done since September last year! It is final,” which I discuss in detail in the Open Letter I sent to the CAFT on their investigation. This email was seemingly never provided by UIUC to the CAFT. Why? It’s unfortunately quite possible UIUC didn’t provide it because it supports the argument made by Salaita’s lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) of what’s termed “promissory estoppel,” that is, a legal doctrine that, if applicable, would bind UIUC to its hire offer because that offer was unambiguous and Salaita relied on it to his detriment. According to CCR, UIUC’s lawyers claim estoppel is not applicable because “Defendants [UIUC, Wise, etc.] contend (a) that no unambiguous promise was made to Salaita, and (b) that Plaintiff’s reliance on any promise was unreasonable.” But that email of Adesida’s on July 22 sure suggests Adesida himself believed the offer was unambiguous and “final,” which certainly seems strong evidence against UIUC’s claims.

The thousands of pages of FOIA results samizdat-startups.org obtained from UIUC regarding the Salaita affair go beyond Salaita himself, and into the whole “wealthy donor” question that’s the standard narrative to explain why Wise un-hired Salaita. In this regard, the FOIAed documents originally disclosed by UIUC were most notable for showing a large letter-writing campaign against Salaita’s appointment by alums of UIUC, including some rich Jewish alums who stated they’d withhold donations unless Salaita was fired. However, the FOIA results obtained by samizdat-startups.org provide for an altogether different narrative: if Wise engaged in any quid-pro-quo over donor dollars, it was more likely with the rich businesspeople in town and the local hospital chain Carle, which has promised $100 million for a partnership with UIUC over a College of Medicine (COM).

In this regard, consider that the Jewish donors in the FOIAed emails were likely giving a total of, say, $4 million to UIUC, which represents about 2% of a single year’s donations to the UIUC campus (donations to UIUC in 2013-2014 alone totaled $185 million). On the other hand, Carle hospital has plans to give $100 million over 10 years to push through its partnership with UIUC to build the COM, and the FOIAed documents obtained by samizdat-startups.org show very clearly how Wise spent a year meeting Carle executives and rich local business people in all sorts of non-public venues, including her own house, and many times rearranging her regular schedule of duties in order to have these conversations.

These FOIAed documents also show how caught up in getting the COM approved Wise was during July, including the July 21-24 timeframe of Salaita’s un-hiring. In early July, Wise and other senior UIUC officials were up against a visit from a consulting firm apparently hired by UI-Chicago to find problems with the COM proposal. Then, in mid-July, Wise was advocating for a $17 million bed-expansion that Carle was trying to get Illinois to approve over the objections of: the State’s own reviewers who said the new beds were unnecessary; the other local hospital, Presence, which said the bed-expansion would put them out of business; and, the City of Urbana, which is fighting a decade-long legal battle with Carle over its tax-exempt status. Finally, during the four-day period between July 21 and July 24 when Wise went from trumpeting Salaita’s free-speech to un-hiring him, Wise was busy in yet more meetings with Carle, including a phone call presumably on the COM immediately after getting out of the UIUC Board of Trustees meeting on the 24th. All of which together suggests that, if Wise un-hired Salaita under the influence of donor dollars, it was much more likely a donor of the usual kind – a rich corporate donor, i.e., Carle hospital – and that Wise may have un-hired Salaita simply because of the bad press she was afraid he was bringing to UIUC at a time when she, Carle and the wealthy businesspeople in the area were all skittish of the effects of that bad press on pushing the COM through.

In summary, the AAUP/CAFT reports are based on evidence that’s incomplete, due in large part to UIUC’s unwillingness to provide sufficient information. The remedy is simple: the evidence uncovered by samizdat-startups.org must be used as the basis of an additional investigation. And, when that investigation is done, it must consider the most likely narrative for possible donor influence: Carle hospital and local rich businesspeople.

19 thoughts on “Why Salaita Was “Un-Hired”: The Missing Facts in the AAUP and CAFT Reports

  1. I agree that Wise’s desperate desire to launch a College of Medicine (COM) probably influenced her firing of Salaita much more than a few donors, although we don’t have definitely proof of that, and the same motive did not apply to the Board, who hated Salaita but was initially unsure about COM. I do think these documents uncovered are important, especially Wise’s initial defense of Salaita’s academic freedom, and the revelation that a top administrator considered Salaita’s hiring “final.”

    I disagree with the final paragraph, suggesting the AAUP needs to re-open its investigation to assess Wise’s motive. Ultimately, the motive is unimportant because the Salaita firing was a violation of procedural due process, and because the substantive violation of academic freedom was confessed by Wise and the Board in announcing that they fired Salaita for reasons of civility, which is itself wholly illegitimate. The fact that Wise may have an ulterior motive matters to history, but not really to the AAUP report. It does matter to the CAFT Report, which misguidedly announced that they had found no evidence of donor influence, a claim which was obviously based on a lack of evidence.

  2. There was no true AAUP Committee A investigation — only a few campus interviews for window-dressing, no attempt to even contact the UIUC Board of Trustees — and then almost total reliance on the CAFT report.

    The guest blogger’s contribution serves to highlight how incomplete and essentially perfunctory the AAUP “investigation” was — and how, in the age of the Internet and of FOIA, much more could and should have been done by the AAUP Committee A to research and ground its so-called “report.” That Committee A did not do even the basic research which the guest blogger performed undermines the credibility of the committee and its so-called “report — and endangers the reputation of the Association in these and related matters.

    Lastly, motive is indeed of interest in the Federal court case filed by Prof. Salaita, where the documents unearthed by the guest blogger may prove invaluable — especially if they are not congruent with the documents received by the plaintiff’s attorneys in response to discovery. This could all get even more “interesting” as the court case proceeds….

  3. Hmm. Since neither the blogger nor the comment disagrees with the findings of the AAUP report, it seems to me that we are falling into a regular undergraduate mistake – Not liking a book because it is not the one you would have written, rather than judging it on its own evidence and argument. The AAUP report was focused on the issue at hand and it is certainly a good thing that it did not get into peripheral issues.

    • Actually that’s not really true, I suggest you go look at the 26 page letter I wrote to the CAFT as well as all the other materials on samizdat-startups.org, you’ll see that I hardly have nothing to say about the AAUP report or the CAFT report it draws from so heavily …

      As far as “undergraduate mistakes,” it strikes me that picking and choosing based on one’s own delights rather than on one’s dispassionate review is something that’s much more likely to be found in — dare I say it — professors more than students.

  4. The AAUP Committee A violated its own usual terms and conditions for investigating committees and, in matters such as these, process is as important a product as the report. A faulty process — as in the Salaita case handled by Committee A — yields a report which has limited value because it cannot be respected as the outcome of due process for both the faculty member and the administration and board.

    Whether or not one agrees with all of the “findings” of the report is almost immaterial because the process by which it was composed was fatally flawed. Indeed, the analogy with a “book” is perhaps the most damning — for Committee A essentially borrowed the flawed work of others, added its own paltry contribution and misnamed the confluence an “investigative report.”

    The guest blogger is to be commended for having done far more work than AAUP’s Committee A in the search for truth in this matter..

  5. It’s interesting to know about the hospital situation, but why would Carle care about the Salaita hire? And is there any evidence that they weighed in on the topic at all?

  6. Despite repeated references to the import of thousands of e-mails, there actually doesn’t sound to be much there there. Certainly no one in CU would be surprised that the Chancellor was worried about how the Salaita affair might affect the aggressive fundraising needed to launch the new College of Medicine, as well as other priorities. The CAFT report’s statement was simply that it found no smoking gun — not documentary evidence of quid pro quo — and it sounds like you haven’t either. In the absence of that, sure, the College is important; no doubt the influence of fundraising in general is important, but I think the Chancellor herself implicitly concedes that. But saying that she acted within this context, and saying that she had a specific meeting or contact that resulted in her decision, are two different things.

    I guess what I take from your report is that CAFT — while missing certain details, and also the conversation with Adesida — was right on the fundraiser issue. It wasn’t so much one point of contact or person calling the shot, but the Chancellor’s willingness to throw LAS and its programs under the bus to preserve her ability to fund raise her priorities, which she worried might be jeopardized. I guess that’s what we’ve all assumed.

    • Again, referring to the 26 page letter I wrote to the CAFT, which you might want to look at since I do go to greater lengths there than in this short piece, UIUC never disclosed to the CAFT an email from Wise touting Salaita’s free speech rights, or the back and forth between Adesida and Pierre where Adesida seemed to say Salaita’s hire was final, or Wise’s emails to Pratt-Clarke the night before the Trustees meeting where she wanted to talk about not forwarding the hire letter. Certainly there was no excuse for these not being provided (did Wise forget that she touted Salaita’s speech?) — also, the Adesida and Pratt-Clarke emails seem to contradict the CAFT’s conclusion that Wise didn’t consult with faculty which I believe the AAUP recapitulated.

      All in all, I’d say that’s a lot, and that the absence of those facts from the CAFT report speaks to an unfortunate lack of adequate fact-finding in that report, again largely because of UIUC. I suppose you can argue that the arguments made by CAFT and AAUP ultimately don’t need facts for their conclusions — your statement is that these points are, after all … obvious? That anyone would have thought Carle was on Wise’s mind? That the emails don’t change the final conclusions?

      Not to be impolite or misinterpret what you’re saying, but frankly to me the idea of proof by asserted obviousness is an untenable position … and that’s why I went to the year’s worth of efforts to accumulate a large number of facts which are, frankly, important. On the other hand, the CAFT ran what they called an “Investigation,” and in my book that means an obligation to investigate. Again I recognize that UIUC was uncooperative, and I know there’s apparently a large back-story to the CAFT investigation, but even so I doubt I’m the only one to express warm gentle concern about what the CAFT gathered …

      [Also note that as I say in the 26 page letter, I was sending this information to the CAFT starting in early January, and they chose to do nothing with it. I realize they were done investigating, but I still think that the absence of follow-up on their part, while probably understandable in terms of politicking, was not appropriate.]

      To bring it on home, those commenting seem to be stuck on a “so-what-who-cares” about this. I’d say that given the major conclusion of both the CAFT and AAUP reports was the lack of shared governance in un-hiring Salaita, and the anger that lack of shared governance provoked, it’s significant that neither the CAFT nor AAUP worked harder to *demand* more information, which would have given UIUC an object lesson about how power is granted … partially by largesse on UIUC’s part, but mostly by the UIUC faculty and the AAUP demanding it. What some might puckishly phrase it as “by way of doing more than showing up on UIUC’s doorstep with hats in hand to wait for UIUC to provide information and Wise to grant a couple of interviews.”

      Sorry to be blunt … I am an evidence-based kind of guy, and to me any argument that anyone makes that elides over a notable absence of evidence is a suspect argument. In that regard, note that the CAFT didn’t even cite what documents they reviewed — not even the *public* documents that they presumably saw. Nor did they say whether Wise was lawyered-up when she talked to them, or if the questions were impromptu or scripted.

      To me that’s an inadequate investigation, and a notable lack of the forcefulness that UIUC deserved to see both from the CAFT and the AAUP. For UIUC’s own edification, and for the good of UIUC’s faculty and academics at large.

      Andrew Scheinman

      • I suppose what I find off putting is your constant degradation of CAFT–like that ‘hat in hands’ crack–when it should be obvious that they as a committee were operating under time and other constraints that you are not, while nonetheless getting the basics right. While I suppose being an “evidence guy” is laudable, isn’t it also true that your argument that the Chancellor’s concern over the College does not actually rest on direct evidence, but contextual inference. You write ‘it was much more likely a donor of the usual kind’: but an argument that begins ‘it was much more likely’ is not an empirical argument. In the end, you connect the final dot by reasoned conjecture (‘obviousness’ / likeliness), just like CAFT did and indeed most other reasoned observers (whom for some reason you choose to mock). If I were the Chancellor, I would be somewhat reassured that your FOIA discovered nothing more incriminating.

        Your discovery of e-mails to Adesida and Pratt-Clarke, not disclosed to CAFT, will likely be much more useful to Salaita, though they speak to a different issue. Though these e-mails do not have to do with donor influence per se, they are quite important, indeed, because they show a presumption the hire was final.

        That said, I don’t think they contradict the CAFT report’s conclusion that the decision to then violate this agreement was taken in isolation from faculty, in that both Adesida and Pratt-Clarke are at the highest levels of the administration, and neither represent either the faculty in general or American Indian Studies disciplinary expertise (or Jewish Studies disciplinary expertise, also relevant in a case turning around accusations of anti-semitism) in particular. This was not a decision taken in consultation outside of a small administrative coterie. I think CAFT’s picture holds in that regard, as well. A sign of a good first history is that exhaustive evidence produced later bears its main lines of interpretation out. I regret that instead of noting where CAFT, in essence, was right, you choose to present your work as showing how theirs was deficient.

  7. Whoops, sorry, typo: I meant to write in paragraph above:

    “While I suppose being an “evidence guy” is laudable, isn’t it also true that your argument that the Chancellor’s concern over the College drove her decision does not actually rest on direct evidence, but contextual inference?”

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  9. Regarding ITW’s interesting remarks, in fact Adesida is the Provost of UIUC, which is at least on paper the most senior faculty position, so to say that “faculty” weren’t involved is not correct. Point of fact, if you’d read the 26 page letter you’d have seen that I also wrote thatI discovered that Wise had a telephone call with Robert Warrior, head of the American Indian Studies program, at 4.30 pm on the 23rd, that is, the evening before the Trustee’s meeting. What they discussed neither will say — and I asked Warrior, and in fact FOIAed his emails.

    So you’re also incorrect that faculty in the Indian Studies Program weren’t involved.

    As for the rest, I’ll ignore the ad hominem comments. As for my criticisms of the CAFT, let me ask you a question, ITW, do you think they did a thorough job when they couldn’t even provide a list of cited documents they reviewed? When they didn’t say the circumstances of the Wise interview, or provide a transcript — even a redacted transcript? If you were Salita, would you say “bully ho” to what they did?

    It’s not “denigration” to evaluate the CAFT committee against their own stated standards, which is what I did in the short piece, and extensively in the 26 page letter. They’re not children, they chose to serve on that committee, and they can be fairly criticized for not having done more — and that criticism isn’t an attack on them as human beings or earnest individuals.

    Which brings me back to my prior point, which I’ll now put differently. There’s no little irony in the fact that there may have been only two actual instances of “civility” in the Salaita Affair as would fit Wise’s criteria for that term: 1) the civility of the CAFT to UIUC, and 2) the similar civility of the AAUP investigating committee to UIUC. Certainly not a lot of that sentiment came from UIUC.

    My feeling is that Wise may have been groping for “servility” as the word she wanted, and I don’t think it’s “disparagement” to say that both the CAFT and AAUP were ultimately servile.

    Put it this way, if you were up on murder charges and your lawyer came back and said how “nice” the prosecution was … would that fill you with confidence, or would it make you want to make sure your hair was cut well back from your neck to give a clear path.

    Andrew Scheinman

    • I think the sides are fairly stated at this point, and I’ll leave it to readers to decide whether consulting with the Provost is “consulting with faculty” in a sense relevant to shared governance, or whether a telephone call with the Chair of AIS very early on in the process shows the AIS “faculty were involved.” I think most people will agree that this does not really change the picture offered by CAFT, that faculty expertise and processes of shared governance were not in any meaningful sense engaged in this process. For myself, I would say my criticisms are not ad hominem, but at every point have addressed your arguments.

  10. ITW, fair enough, I like to joke that I was born in New York city but grew up in Urbana, Illinois (home of UIUC) so I’ve the thick vanilla exterior of a midwesterner wrapped round the dark caustic heart of a New Yorker.

    So I’m a great believer in civility (not servility). And your response was tempered and civil and, point of fact, I completely agree with you that the general conclusions of the CAFT report are spot-on, and UIUC basically blew off its faculty, which is scary and horrible both.

    I do feel obliged to add that the Adesida involvement actually is significant, because the CAFT repeated Wise’s trope that faculty involvement was minimal … and Adesida *is* faculty, or is supposed to be. I think he’s gotten off the hook on this and that ought not be allowed. I note that I emailed both him and Pratt-Clarke (also faculty I believe) with a copy of the letter I wrote and asked for comments, and neither bothered to respond. I’d FOIA their emails, but the Illinois Attorney General’s office doesn’t believe what I’m writing is news-worthy, so it allows UIUC to impose multiple-month delays in any answers they might be inclined to provide.

    ***

    The Warrior involvement is fascinating to me, because as far as I know he never revealed talking to Wise on the 23rd. The 23rd turns out not to be “early” in the process, since it was on the 24th that Wise decided not to forward Salaita’s hire letter to the UIUC Board of Trustees, although the actually “go-away” letter didn’t go out to Salaita until Aug 1.

    What did Warrior hear from Wise? Did he heard about the non-forwarding to the BOT? Warrior was actually being cced by Wise from the 21st on on the angry letters from alums, which I also have never seen discussed …

    I’m not paranoid, but I do wonder what was going on. And I do continue to fault the CAFT for not putting UIUC on the spot, which is not to say I doubt their humanity or their competency or their good intent.

    BTW, I misspelled Dr. Salaita’s name in my previous comment, my apologies for that.

    AOS

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