Salaita Attorneys Respond to AAUP Censure of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dr Steven Salaita, denied academic freedom for his tweets on the Israeli operation in Gaza last year, has been the subject of a national conversation on free speech, academic freedom and academic due process. I was present during the vote and spoke on behalf of Illinois Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure that responded within hours of the Inside Higher Ed  article on August 6, 2014. We defended Dr Salaita’s right to engage in extramural utterances, even if controversial, and declared his summary dismissal was a violation of AAUP standards and principles. Shortly after the courageous vote to censure today, his attorneys released the following statement:

In response to the vote today by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to censure the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) for its termination of tenured professor Steven Salaita for his personal tweets criticizing Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) issued the following statement:

The AAUP’s censure is a serious blemish on the university’s record. According to the nationally respected 100-year-old professional association, censure is reserved for a situation involving “a major departure” from AAUP standards of sound academic practice that “remains unresolved.” The association censured UIUC not only for its summary dismissal of Professor Salaita in violation of academic freedom, due process, and shared governance, but also for its continued refusal to rectify its actions. The university’s stubbornness continues in spite of academic boycotts, department votes of no confidence in the UIUC administration, student walk-outs, tens of thousands of petition signatures, a federal lawsuit, and the AAUP’s reprimand, suggesting that the UIUC administration is more beholden to donors than it is to due process, academic freedom, and the First Amendment.

In April, the AAUP released a scathing report in which it found that Salaita’s firing violated principles of academic freedom, due process, and shared governance.

Yesterday, Professor Salaita won a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit that urged a federal court to order the university to release emails related to his firing.  Documents obtained through previous FOIA requests revealed pressure from donors, who threatened to withhold financial support from UIUC because they did not like Salaita’s tweets that were critical of Israel.  The court rejected the university’s claims that providing the emails would be “unduly burdensome” and found for Professor Salaita that the release of the emails was in the public interest.

In January, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Loevy & Loevy filed a civil rights case on Professor Salaita’s behalf against UIUC, top officials, and unnamed donors. The suit seeks Salaita’s reinstatement and monetary relief, including compensation for economic and reputational damage he suffered as a result of the university’s actions.

6 thoughts on “Salaita Attorneys Respond to AAUP Censure of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

  1. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, while it may be that “donors” were involved, the amount of $ at stake in the emails that Salaita’s lawyers refer to represents perhaps 2% of the annual yearly donation to UIUC — $148M in 2013.

    So while I wouldn’t discount the possibility of donors contributing to the Salaita decision-making, I don’t think these kinds of statements should be taken at face value. Especially because, whether explicitly stated or not, “donors” here means *Jewish* donors — those emails Salaita’s lawyers refer to weren’t from the WASPy heads of Fortune 500 companies.

    The other fact is that, as I detailed in considerable depth in my letter to the CAFT, the biggest donor to UIUC in the last few years is the local hospital, Carle, which is putting up $100M for the currently-named “Carle Illinois Medical Center.” How ’bout investigating those donors?

    What UIUC did in terms of Salaita was flat out wrong. But unfortunately Salaita’s lawyers and CCR have an agenda of their own. And that shouldn’t be forgotten.

    Andrew Scheinman

    • Peter:

      Respectfully, there’s some elision in that statement of yours. A month or so ago when I emailed you about the Salaita case, you wrote back that Salaita had been “persecuted” by UIUC.

      That’s not a word that accords with a neutral position on the donors, perhaps you don’t want to call them “Jews,” but on the other hand at what point do you think that other terms like “pro-Israel,” “zionists,” “fellow travellor” to Jews, etc. becomes virtually identical?

      You may argue that ethnicity isn’t important, but the Israel component is, but within the “pro-Israel” ambit ambit you sweep a GIGANTIC number of Jews who, while sympathetic to “Israel” in its large sense, aren’t necessarily happy with some of its specific policies. I fall in that category, and I *don’t* believe your claim to neutrality is anything but facile.

      But there’s a better test for this: I’ve presented lots of evidence that the “donors” in this case may have been related to Carle Hospital, which is the elephant in the room.

      Are you able to parse that possibility? Or does it always come back to a question of the nefarious covert secret tribe of … not “Jews” but rather “pro-Israel zionists?”

      AOS

      • I believe he was persecuted. AAUP censured UIUC, so I stand by that.. An issue, a big one, is donour influence. I stand by my belief that it was a major factor in his summary dismissal. What the religious provenance is of those folks is secondary: the caving in to donours of any persuasion is primary.

  2. 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!”

  3. So, Peter, you still didn’t answer my question: do you accept the possibility that “donor influence” might have been by way of Carle and the $100M it’s putting into what’s now apparently going to be called the “Carle Illinois Medical Center?”

    I don’t disagree with what the AAUP did at all in terms of censure, what I object to is that concerns which are claimed as agnostic with respect to “Jewishness” are still focused on the TWO (count them, I did) donors who appeared in the FOIA trail as being of any big-$ sort, and those big-$ amounted to ONLY 2% of one year’s donations to UIUC (which in 2013 was 143M). Both of whom are Jewish.

    So again, if this isn’t about Jewish donors, why is it that it’s only the two relatively insignificant donors that you want to talk about?

    Why not explicitly address the big-business donor, Carle. Which has a long history of bad acts, including being cited by the NIH for failures in clinical trials?

    Or maybe it is JUST ABOUT THE JEWS.

    And again, just to be clear: I’m for the censure, I am against the Salaita un-hiring, I don’t like Salaita but I don’t think his tweets were antisemitic, although his “more should go missing” tweet one week after the three kids were abducted and murdered is horrible, and his refusal to admit he was talking about murder, rather than what he claimed was a call to reverse colonialism (“go missing” in the sense of LEAVE) is a detestable statement from anyone claiming to be a scholar.

    AOS

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