Two weeks ago I wrote a short post for academeblog.org discussing the facts I’d learned by filing Freedom-of-Information-Act (FOIA) with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) on the Steven Salaita Affair, a post in which I also considered the follow-up investigations into that Affair by the UIUC Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure (CAFT) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).
I titled this post “Why Salaita Was ‘Un-Hired’: The Missing Facts in the AAUP and CAFT Reports” for a simple reason – the FOIA results I’d obtained at the point of writing my blog post revealed facts that UIUC had never previously made public, nor did they seem to have been reviewed by either the CAFT or the AAUP, since neither group reported them in their analyses of the causes of the Salaita Affair and the appropriate consequences/remedies for UIUC’s actions.
The post drew good comments, some wholly supportive, some politely condemnatory of my view that neither the CAFT nor AAUP seized the power they could have obtained in their reviews, and thereby insufficiently advanced the claim to “shared governance” that both groups espoused. Regarding these comments, while I am never against polite condemnation – what UIUC’s Chancellor Wise would I think label “civil discourse” – I was left arguing that the hundreds of FOIAs I’d filed to that point (as single question FOIAs) could after all only provide what they could provide, rather than what readers might have wished for. Which is to say, those documents would only reveal what the university decided to disclose. And that, even from that set of documents I got the picture of incomplete data-gathering by the CAFT/AAUP.
A week after my posting I got a FOIA set that provided emails that far advanced the issues I’d raised in the posting – perhaps the Gods were smiling on me, perhaps (on a conspiracy theory) UIUC decided the emails they provided would come out eventually, so why not disclose them a year after the Salaita Affair, right after spring semester had ended, and right before Memorial Day and summer. Which is to say, at a time when the most people wouldn’t be paying attention.
I’ve provided discussions of some of these emails on samizdat-startups.org; what I’d like to do here is to provide a quick summary of what these emails (the ones on samizdat-startups.org and also the others in the FOIA result) reveal:
FIRST, the absence of these emails from the 1,600 pages of FOIAed materials produced by UIUC in 2014 stinks of malfeasance by UIUC. There were 27 FOIA requests to UIUC in 2014 for information on the Salaita Affair; UIUC responded to the 12 it said were not unduly burdensome, for a total production of about 1,600 pages of emails. None of the most recent emails I obtained were present in these earlier FOIAs, and most of them are clearly related to the Salaita Affair. So why didn’t UIUC produce them until now? This certainly has every appearance of malfeasance on UIUC’s part.
SECOND, the CAFT Report asserted Chancellor Wise made her decisions in a vacuum of faculty involvement; the new emails strongly contradict this theory. One recurrent theme in the Salaita Affair is that Chancellor Wise did her decision-making without consulting faculty, actions that indicate a lack of shared governance between UIUC administration and faculty that both the CAFT and the AAUP rightly deplore.
The new emails provide strong evidence against this theory – specifically, there are emails even on the day of the un-hiring (July 24, 2014) between Wise and the UIUC Provost (Ilesanmi Adesida) and two senior UIUC faculty members (Nick Burbules and Joyce Tolliver) regarding the Salaita Affair. While none of these emails reveal that Wise was consulting with any of these individuals on specific hiring decisions about Salaita, they clearly contradict the idea that Wise was acting in a vacuum of faculty involvement.
THIRD, these emails again raise the question of exactly what documents the CAFT subcommittee reviewed in reaching its conclusions. Academics are usually the first to provide copious footnotes, including footnotes to sources reviewed. The CAFT Report provides only two indications of documents they saw – 1) an interview with Chancellor Wise; and, 2) documents they provided in the appendix to their report that UIUC provided.
The most recent FOIA results contain documents that it would seem the CAFT subcommittee never saw, at least judging by their conclusion of Wise’s non-consultation with faculty. How did this happen? What’s the reasonable standard of care that CAFT should be held to in terms of actual “investigation?” While some comments to my previous post on academeblog.org suggested that I was overly harsh regarding the CAFT Report, I query whether “good intentions” is a sufficient standard of care for an investigation.
I will conclude by saying that the most recent FOIA results are hardly the end of what remains to be learned. There are probably 30 to 40 more FOIAs that should be filed to obtain additional clarity – e.g., all emails sent by Adesida, Burbules, Tolliver during Salaita Week (July 21 to July 25). Or, for that matter, emails sent by those and other involved individuals from July 21 to at least August 1.
Given this opportunity, I wonder who would like to step up to the plate and do these filings. At present samizdat-startups.org has now been twice denied “news-media” status by the Illinois Attorney General’s office (see 2015 PAC 33323 and 2015 PAC 35187/35393), for reasons that have become so incoherent that I continue to be amazed that even the senior personnel of the AG’s office haven’t yet sat up and taken notice.
But the result of that lack of “news-media” status is that samizdat-startups.org faces a 2-3 month delay in production on any and all FOIA filings it makes.
So would anyone like to step up to the plate?