U. of Illinois President on Censure: “No need to get out of jail.”

President Timothy Killeen is completing his first month as leader of the University of Illinois system. In remarks before the Urbana-Champaign faculty Senate Executive Committee, he was rather cavalier about the AAUP censure vote last Saturday. Unlike Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise, who stated in a conciliatory tone that removal of censure was important, President Killeen, according to the The News-Gazette of Champaign, Illinois, was rather dismissive of its impact.

He stated the UIUC campus does not need a “get-out-of-jail card” and that the university should not be concerned about “what people say about us outside.” Many believe Dr Salaita was fired due to external donour pressure and well-orchestrated e-mail campaigns to revoke his tenure. Aside from that, I wonder if the president is aware of significant “inside” resistance to the Salaita tenure travesty. President Killeen did not reference the departments and programs that voted no confidence in the administration after the firing and summary dismissal of Dr Salaita. He apparently was unaware of significant student protest and rallies in defence of having professors that are not anodyne reflections of elite opinion.        

While the new president stated he was not “dismissing” the censure, as a CEO of a corporate university, he spoke in vague generalities about shared governance and moving forward. I wonder if anyone in the upper-administrative stratosphere on the UIUC campus has reflected on the impact of this on Dr. Salaita? Where is the empathy? A professor resigned his position at Virginia Tech to accept a tenured position at Urbana-Champaign and is fired shortly before fall semester. He is reduced to financial crisis and moves his family to live with relatives. Such brutal treatment was apparently a calculated business decision to satisfy donour rage and satisfy mass e-mail-censorship efforts.

This display of cool detachment is not cool. It is reflective of a growing chasm between the administrative class and the professoriate. The latter is construed as chattel labour that must behave in a civil manner or face career termination. That is what happened with Dr Salaita, and a “get-out-of-jail card” requires his restoration to the American Indian Studies program. This would end the unwarranted abuse of a professor who was deeply moved and upset during the military operations in Gaza last summer.

7 thoughts on “U. of Illinois President on Censure: “No need to get out of jail.”

  1. Peter — I would add that there seems to be no concern for the effect of the Salaita firing and ensuing uproar on the American Indian Studies department. It’s become a sacrifice zone for the University. The administration appears not to care whether it exists or not.

  2. Peter, I was at that meeting and let me clarify what was said. Pres Killeen’s point was that we need to address issues in our hiring policies and practices, and other policies, because WE want to avoid the kind of problems that led to the Salaita situation in the future.

    We want to fix them because WE care about strengthening shared governance and fairness in the hiring process — not primarily because we are trying to satisfy AAUP. If we do the right things, including reaching a fair settlement with Salaita, the AAUP issues will take care of themselves, But we shouldn’t be doing them ONLY to satisfy AAUP.

    I think that is exactly the right stance to take. It isn’t minimizing AAUP censure in any way. But our policies (and our problems) are ours to deal with and fix. And we started fixing them well before the AAUP even came in to investigate us, let alone the censure decision.

    Strengthening shared governance is an ongoing, unfinished process. Many of us are deeply committed to that — and President Killeen and Chancellor Wise have repeatedly expressed their desire to see these issues remedied, and have worked constructively with the faculty to address them.

  3. Prof. Burbules:

    Steven Salaita was fired due to tweets that violated his academic freedom. His career was brutally interrupted with viewpoint cleansing.on a flagship campus in Illinois. Settlements do not restore a position; settlements do not provide one with the opportunity to engage students and satisfy the love of teaching. Settlements do not provide one with the dynamism of campus life with a career and purpose.

    Of course, it is not for me to judge whether parties wish to settle. It is not my life and career. However, to merely indicate a settlement is the only option strikes me as lacking empathy and the capacity to admit that a terrible violation of basic academic standards and principles was unleashed last August.

      • Good catch, Nick!

        I have seen comments from senior leadership on this blog that a settlement does not preclude investigatory action that might precede a censure. In the Finkelstein case, we were told the opposite. So that change is positive.

        Yet if a settlement alone is a way to end censure, then that should be an established written policy approved by the membership. I believe restitution, in most cases, plus on-campus verifiable reforms are required to exit from a censure. Some institutions have been on the AAUP-censure list for decades, and so restitution is not always possible. Every censured institution should have a pathway for removal.

        I am aware that the restoration of Salaita to his rightful position is not a prerequisite for ending censure. Yet it would be the most dramatic expression of authentic change on the Urbana-Champaign campus, and perhaps the quickest exit from the list.

        I aver that allowing Salaita to teach at UIUC is the most honourable and humane path to academic justice and decency.

  4. “Solving” a problem isn’t simply a matter of getting it to go away. Real change at UIUC requires something more than yet another star-chamber of decision-making, for example the sort of conversations that you, Professor Burbules, had with Phyllis Wise and Adesida and Tolliver the morning of the Trustees meeting last year, the day Salaita was “un-hired.”

    You may argue you had no need to disclose that; frankly I would have expected more from an ethicist. Chancellor Wise argued no disclosure was necessary because “it wasn’t ‘consultation’ to the high degree she holds herself,” a statement that’s every bit as noxious as Salaita’s arguing his tweet “more settlers should go missing” just one week after the three Israeli kids were killed was a statement about “go missing” in the sense of de-colonize the region as opposed to “go missing” as in “killed.”


    Real change at UIUC requires real openness, not the exercise of “move along nothing to see” by the same people over and over again. I say this from having been blackballed by high level personnel at the Research Park merely because I tried to volunteer my time there and, in doing so, ran afoul of the nepotism they maintain to their own benefit. Nepotism and sycophancy that’s rampant at UIUC to judge by my experiences, by the whole Carle buy-your-way-to-power $100M influence-peddling, by the lack of openness in the Salaita Affair, and, I’m sure, by more scandals yet to come.


    Maybe nepotism and pipik-contemplation are par for the course when the course is a huge university far-removed from any competition or any oversight from the rest of the state. But it’s no credit to UIUC that that’s the situation there, and whether it was always that way or only now with the decrease in funding from the state and the rise of administrators perhaps unfamiliar with the core concepts of academics as they’ve existed since they came to serve a useful purpose in the 60s, it’s a sad sad sad situation.


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