AAUP Censures the University of Illinois and Three Other Institutions

Today, members of the AAUP at its annual meeting voted overwhelmingly to censure the administration at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign because of the dismissal of Steven Salaita.

Harry Hilton, president of the UIUC AAUP chapter (and who was also president of the chapter in 1963 when UIUC was censured for the firing of Leo Koch) declared: “We firmly believe that if censure is voted, it will be instrumental in improving the statutes so that this does not happen again.” He noted that a poll of the AAUP chapter members found that a majority of those voting supported censure.

Past president Cary Nelson was the only speaker out of about a dozen at the meeting to oppose censure, and only a handful of members opposed censure in the voice vote. Nelson argued about Salaita that “the appointment was based more on political than on scholarly criteria.” He said that “the rush to censure has been compromised by anti-Israel sentiment,” a claim that AAUP Vice President Henry Reichman sharply rejected.

A statement by Steven Salaita was read at the meeting. UIUC professor Bruce Levine noted, “You can’t miss the fact that this was a political firing.”

The AAUP also voted to censure the administrations of the University of Southern Maine, Felician College, and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and to remove Yeshiva University from the censure list.

15 thoughts on “AAUP Censures the University of Illinois and Three Other Institutions

  1. There is a lengthy motion summarizing the case, but the only relevant part is the end: “Committee A therefore recommends to the One Hundred and First Annual Meeting that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign be placed on the Association’s list of censured administrations.”

  2. I put up on samizdat-startups.org the likely information UIUC will ultimately disclose when it eventually responds to the court decision yesterday that it has to provide the c. 10,000 documents it claimed 6 months ago would have to be produced in response to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) FOIA request.

    You’ll note that everything is redacted, Well except for Barb Wilson’s name. Harbinger of non-revelatory revelations to come.

    Andrew Scheinman

  3. UIUC defenders, responding to the accusation “This was a political firing” say “This was a political censure” because despite all the smoke blown up various orifices what transpired was clear. IOW UIUC acted to defend “civility” (or if you like “inclusivity”), and everybody knows that academic speech is just as free at UIUC as anywhere. For example, when a religion instructor said (about 6 years ago) that gay sex was “a sin” to the Catholic Church, the resulting brouhaha led to the demise of the Newman Center-run religion program, and the institution of a Department of Religion that is if anything anti-religion.

    However, while undergraduates are considered an incorrigible source of un-civil behavior, graduate students are regularly excluded from seminars or prevented from speaking in seminars for reasons like these:

    Religion: student forced to stop speaking because she was “about to hurt the feelings of some other students” by criticizing Southern independent preachers like Jerry Falwell

    Education: student barred from seminar for contesting tenured professor’s view of the importance of Marxist thought in improving higher education

    Comparative Literature: student barred from a seminar for having said in a class “the Jews run Hollywood” although it was made clear that this was not the familiar moral argument made by conservatives, but was stated supportively and even approvingly, i.e., the Jewish influence in Hollywood was being characterized as morally beneficial and an old Republican chestnut was trotted out as a joke

    American Indian Studies: student was barred from a seminar for having disagreed with the professor (not Warrior) about the possible benefits of Indian tribes engaging in commerce (including gaming) and the possible benefit of a pan-Indian outlook

    French Studies: student barred from a seminar for having attempted to argue about the meaning of two passages in a book. In this case, the professor did not initiate the movement to exclude the student, and no accusation of discomforting speech was made. Rather, the student in this case disputed things that other students said, and those students protested the student’s continuing presence. The professor – non-tenured and teaching out of his field (he did not speak French or allow books to be discussed in French) acquiesced in this student initiative.

    Religion/Philosophy: the director of undergraduate studies barred a student from registering for a seminar (which was necessary for graduation) on the grounds that the student already knew too much about the material (post-structuralism, deconstruction, French philosophy).

    The UIUC Student Code states on its FIRST PAGE that students are allowed to disagree with professors in a reasoned way. A few pages later, what constitutes “disruptive behavior” in a class is defined, and as one would expect that definition is based on impolite interventions that make a discussion impossible, or on discomforting and rude expressions or animadversions that are meant to offend other interlocutors. Arguing a point is not mentioned.

    The readers of this blog probably remember a remark that was made by someone apropos of the UC-Irvine kerfuffle, when the display of a US flag was defined by some in a student organization as a provocation in itself. “If you’re trying to be completely inclusive, then free speech can sometimes look like hate speech”.

    UIUC considers that it does not have a real free speech problem because its professors are allowed to say very provocative things in class – although undoubtedly Marx is old hat even to undergrads by now. Salaita was fired because at least one UIUC trustee does not understand what Twitter is – the original “place to vent”. And the professors rose up to defend their job conditions in advance of the real bonfire of the humanities, otherwise known as attrition (or contraction).

    But while this is all true, the professors who rose up to defend their own jobs by wrapping themselves in the flag of free speech regularly stifle their own students and make it clear to them that disagreement will not be tolerated, especially in discussion where other people are watching. This is a disease, of course, of the humanities. Not one science department at UIUC voted no confidence in the UIUC trustees, while almost every humanities department did so.

    Decades ago, a graduate seminar was considered to be the pinnacle of free speech. Older professors no doubt remember when people in various departments used to go at each other hammer and tongs in a graduate seminar. Other professors would get invited in for just this purpose. After it was over, everybody would go drink pitchers and laugh about their disagreement. But most people believed that no-holds-barred discussion was invaluable in clarifying issues. That was the no-kidding dialectic that philosophers talked about. Without it, we were just having (and this expression was also common) “lovefests”.

    Today at UIUC in undergraduate courses in the humanities the mania about preventing plagiarism has led to assignments that are so precisely tailored that there really is only one answer, anyway. And this makes things easier on TA’s. Actually, in the old days, even TA’s were encouraged to get students arguing. Education professors used to get people to take sides, to provoke arguments, for reasons just described. Today, everybody is so terrified of making an “offensive” remark accidentally that the pathway TA’s are to travel is also marked out step by laborious step – as if excellence in teaching undergraduates was something no one would ever really have to worry about or even wonder about.

    As for graduate seminars,well, the majority of them can be described as “introductory” in some way, such that the professor’s superior grasp of the material being taught should be unquestioned. Scientists argue. Humanists go around the table and make unconnected statements, hoping to faithfully echo or even – dare one hope? – add a fillip to the professor’s exposition.

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  5. Sadly, the AAUP leadership is “celebrating” the 100th anniversary of the organization not with a record of successes but of failures, for it did not take “courage” to vote censure. The censure was so much a foregone conclusion that the leadership abandoned its traditional external review procedures to instead essentially adopt the vast majority of the findings of a local group, the CAFT — sacrificing a large part of its credibility in the process.

    The desired ends have justified the means for the AAUP leadership for several decades now — in very much the same fashion as the administration/s being criticized. Let us not forget that the AAUP leadership has itself silenced its critics from within: on the forerunner of this blog, the “AAUP-General” listserv, this commenter was banned for having posted the link to the US Department of Labor’s union financial reports where AAUP members could read of exactly where their membership dollars had gone — and in some cases the leadership’s reports to the DOL were not the same as the reports at the annual meeting. Yes, the leadership reinstated this member to the listserv — but not until weeks had passed. If speech has not always been protected within AAUP, is it really a surprise that the organization is ignored by institutions like UIUC?

    What would be a true centennial celebration would be a stellar and sterling record of having negotiated equitable settlements in cases such as those of this and other professors. Instead, some of the nation’s largest institutions have remained on the censure list for decades on end. In short, UIUC may very well takes its place alongside universities such as SUNY whose censure dates from the early seventies. In fact, the majority of the Ivies have been immune from censure despite well-known egregious practices which flaut the AAUP 1940 Statement, yet the AAUP leadership has not had the courage to take on the cases of aggrieved professors there.

    What does it mean for an organization a century old to have been unsuccessful in removing its censure from some of the nation’s major universities for fully half a century? What does it mean for that organization to exempt the richest and most powerful universities from censure no matter what they do?

    What, indeed….

    Dewey and Lovejoy are turning in their graves. “The AAUP is dead; long live the AAUP!”

    • You are incorrect. An AAUP investigating committee did go to UIUC and did a typical investigation. There is no basis to question its credibility and no one challenges the facts in its report. The AAUP staff does an enormous amount of work behind the scenes to help institutions get off the Censure List, but ultimately those colleges have to do the work of changing their policies to meet AAUP standards. This blog has nothing to do with the old AAUP listserv, and the current AAUP leadership had no involvement in the decisions you complain about from long ago.

      Readers of your comments might worry that Dewey and Lovejoy are in danger of becoming very dizzy zombies. Fear not: as I noted during my presentation at the AAUP conference, Dewey and Lovejoy presided over the worst moment for civil liberties in American history, WWI. The AAUP never investigated or censured any colleges for their wartime repression, and produced a report, written by Lovejoy, that endorsed firing professors for criticizing the government, the only time the AAUP has ever done so. Dewey and Lovejoy might be shocked by today’s AAUP, but only in seeing how far academic freedom has advanced and how effective the AAUP has been in defending it.

      • I don’t agree with your statement, John. As you know, I’ve seen more of the source documents than anyone else in this case — probably more than Wise herself (unless she reads the emails of her minions), almost certainly more than Salaita’s lawyers, even thought they’re apparently in discovery now.

        CAFT didn’t even provide citations to what they saw — a bit unusual for an academic group. As for AAUP, their “investigation” relied on the CAFT report plus what I recall them (AAUP) as describing as the “warm beneficence” of Chancellor Wise and UIUC officials in bothering to talk to them, although maybe their own words were more along the lines of “caring and cooperative UIUC officials.” That’s still NOT an investigation.

        Now we have the court ruling that requires UIUC to disclose the 10,000 pages of FOIA documents, why didn’t CAFT or AAUP use the courts to push for information?

        Why is it that I bet that the 20 FOIAs I filed a few days ago for Wise’s emails during the week of July 26-Aug 1 and similar emails for Adesida, Burbules, Travis Smith and Barb Wilson (who as I pointed out on my last post on my website is also involved) will produce results sooner than the court-ordered production?

        The CAFT didn’t do its job. The AAUP didn’t either. If the academy wants to be more than a paper tiger, it can/should/must use the tools that are out there waiting to be picked up. The courts, some real activity, some real investigating.


      • One need only read the AAUP investigating committee’s report to learn that it conducted only a few perfunctory interviews during the site visit which it only agreed to conduct after its critics’ outcry of condemnation. Not only did the investigating Committee and Committee A adopt the vast majority of the CAFT report starting out at the gate, but they declined to even _attempt_ to interview anyone on the UIUC Board of Trustees simply because CAFT had not been successful in obtaining an interview. That is _not_ the way AAUP Committee A investigating committees of the past few decades have proceeded. All the white-washing in the world doesn’t change those facts.

        Not only does the AAUP national staff and leadership not spend a great deal of time and energy trying to remove censures by negotiating compliance, they instead pick and choose the cases Committee A will take to avoid such confrontations and to get on the books censures at the home institutions and/or alma maters of its leadership. Note that the blog host does not address the stark fact that the majority of the Ivies blatantly ignore the seven-year tenure tracking, etc. principles of the 1940 statement, and that faculty from those institutions who complain to AAUP and seek assistance in academic freedom there are simply told, “Oh well, those are the Ivies.”

        Several of the people on AAUP Committee A and the expanded national leadership are indeed a part of the very same leadership that censored the AAUP-General listserv. Again, all the attempts at white-washing cannot change verifiable facts. Yes, these blogs are a step forward – but the President and Vice-President of the AAUP have issued formal statements condemning the exercise of free speech here when the contents haven’t fit their agendas. In short, the “noli me tangere” agreements that the AAUP has with AFT, etc. forces the leadership to defend the indefensible in partner unions just because AAUP has accepted their thirty pieces of silver.

        The AAUP leadership is so sensitive to challenges to its hegemony, so fearful of scrutiny of its elections (which, let us not forget were overturned at both the state and national level by the US DOL in the recent past), that the Council has unilaterally now imposed a certified-mail return-receipt requested notification to every name on the election ballot in order to challenge an election internally. In the age of the Internet where even the Federal government accepts the validity of email communications, the AAUP leadership has de facto imposed a “fine” of several hundred dollars postage on anyone who perceives problems with the AAUP leadership’s running of its re-election campaigns. If a university administration imposed such a procedure on its faculty, the same AAUP leadership might cry foul — but only if it were at a non-Ivy home institution of an “insider” member.

        WWI was not a proud time for academic freedom in the history of this nation’s universities, and there has indeed been evolution within the courts and the AAUP concerning those protections. The problem is that the current AAUP leadership believes that everything can and should be “bargained” — including the definition of financial exigency that used to be a hard and fast definition in the organization. The leadership hasn’t even noticed the hypocrisy of its criticism of the University of Wisconsin on that very same score. The position of General Secretary of the AAUP, which used to carry a great deal of “gravitas,” was reduced and replaced by the AAUP leadership by an Executive Director: an office staff manager selected for a background in collective bargaining organizing.

        The Assembly of State Conferences budget – which supports both the advocacy chapters and the state conferences – was raided a year or two ago by the current leadership to support joint organizing efforts with the AFT, provoking the resignation of its Chair – a fact whose cover-up was almost as complete as that of the resignation in disgust from Committee A, a decade or so earlier, of a famous Berkeley historian who went on to become president of the Organization of American Historians. This evolution of the AAUP leadership’s positions towards the “bargaining” of the AAUP principles has not been confronted by the blog host — but the rank-and-file AAUP membership has voted by its silence. The member participation rate in AAUP elections is so small as to be intentionally concealed in the articles touting the “landslide victories” within these paltry election results.

        These developments are not in the spirit of the founders, no matter how loudly the self-serving protests of the current leadership resound. The ends do not justify the means in an organization based on principles. The fact that the AAUP censure of the UIUC was effectuated with the investigating committee’s admitting on the record that it did not even attempt to interview any member of the Board condemns the AAUP leadership for their failure to ensure future respect for the due process mechanisms of the organization which earned that respect and have essentially been abandoned by the leadership today. The AAUP leadership has jeopardized that reputation in the centennial year of the organization.

        Dewey and Lovejoy are turning in their graves. “The AAUP is dead. Long live the AAUP!”

  6. Wow, the previous posts seem canned. This is so simple: a scholar with impeccable credentials “unhired” for words he tweeted. Fear of termination is so rampant in our society that it almost seems acceptable to defend the UIUC board and administration in exchange for a slight reassurance that you too will not also be questioned for any dissent you might muster forth. Protection of free speech seems almost foreign. This is what matters, nothing else. If critics of the AAUP decision want to defer to the powers that be, then soak in your complacency.

    • @DRD

      — a scholar with impeccable credentials

      Salaita might be argued to have so-so credentials, others might think he’s done little in his career besides political activism. But in what world does he possibly have impeccable credentials?
      Which theories that are well known and well regarded did he substantially contribute to?
      What major historical prizes has he won for his analysis of the birth of Zionism?
      What major sociological prizes?
      What major political science prizes?

      He is a two bit political activist who published a bunch of wildly inaccurate hate literature. The UIUC Indian Studies department wanted him for his name as a political activist. Since he was denied the job he’s done an excellent job rallying people to a political cause while contributing 0 intellectually to any discourse.

      One can argue about whether he was treated fairly or not without lying about who he is.

      As for your basic argument, he was never hired. He didn’t get the job. He got close and then got turned down. Academic freedom (if that was even the reason he wasn’t hired, we don’t actually know that despite his repeating it over and over and over) doesn’t apply to non employees.

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