“Restoring Salaita’s Position Would be Right Move”

The News-Gazette of Champaign, Illinois published yesterday in its Sunday edition an op-ed I wrote on my interpretation of the American Association of University Professors censure of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The censure resulted from the summary dismissal of Associate Professor Steven Salaita for his tweets on the war in Gaza last summer. The paper supplied the title which I replicated above:

The American Association of University Professors censured the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It might be illuminating to clarify what a censure means:

The censure applied to the administration of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The precise language of the motion that was adopted on Saturday, June 13, in Washington, D.C., was: “recommends … that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign be placed on the Association’s list of censured administrations.” AAUP censure excluded the faculty and is neutral whether an academician should seek employment at a censured institution. AAUP does recommend prospective candidates familiarize themselves with a university’s current practices and reputation in protecting academic freedom, tenure and shared governance.

The censure does not apply to the administrations of the University of Illinois at Chicago or the University of Illinois at Springfield. However, in a practical sense, the censure clearly affects those that oversee the three-campus system. Their flagship campus has been identified as violating the guidelines and practices of the AAUP. Presumably, any exit from the censure list will entail actions of administrators, such as President Timothy L. Killeen, whose responsibility is not confined to the Urbana-Champaign campus.

The AAUP is not a policing organization and does not have explicit powers of sanction. It cannot order a post-secondary institution to adopt a specific measure. It respects institutional sovereignty, up to a point. The AAUP is effective due to moral suasion, and its 100-year history of establishing the common law of the academy, that is periodically updated in AAUP Policy Documents and Reports, also known as The Redbook.

In particular, the AAUP is proud of its historic role in establishing tenure and the parameters attendant to the probationary period. It is the leader in pursuing shared governance, which is a core principle of any democratic society, and of particular importance in establishing appropriate faculty powers in shaping the mission of an institution. Academic freedom, the bedrock of the pursuit of the truth with students, research and extramural utterances, is of special concern to the AAUP.

The summary dismissal of Steven G. Salaita from a tenured position at the rank of associate professor was so inimical to the basic standards of the academy, that the AAUP appropriately censured one of the nation’s leading universities. Usually smaller institutions are censured. Research institutions and flagship campuses are usually more amenable to protecting academic freedom, and resisting the winds of oppression when controversy surfaces. The UIUC is the only Big Ten university on the censure list and is, perhaps, the most prominent institution that has currently earned such a dubious distinction.

If Steven Salaita were restored to his position, in my opinion, it would be an act of courage on the part of the UIUC administration, and would precipitate a quick exit from the censure list. Changing the statutes alone would be an insufficient step to end censure. Requiring the Board of Trustees, for example, to approve appointments prior to the beginning of a semester could lead to more instances of viewpoint cleansing and academic-freedom disruptions. A settlement and statute reform might end the censure.

I am concerned about the future of Dr. Salaita, and urge the UIUC to reflect on the unseemly and cruel treatment of this professor as he was about to assume his duties last year. A humane ending to this trauma would be to honour the contract that UIUC offered and that Salaita returned with his signature.

3 thoughts on ““Restoring Salaita’s Position Would be Right Move”

  1. Noble sentiments, but if UIUC was willing to stonewall the CAFT and AAUP investigating committees, willing to seemingly withhold documents in their FOIA productions, and willing to claim in the court case over FOIA filings that the public had only “curiosity” about the Salaita case like that towards Kim Kardashian, then why would you think that they’d care about censure or their inadequate moral position?

    Short of truly damning documents or massive student unrest or something else that impacts UIUC’s bottom line, nothing is going to happen.

    The question really becomes whether AAUP needs to be more aggressive than its been, and how it can/ought become so.

    Andrew Scheinman

    • @Andrew

      Thanks for stating clearly the obvious. The administration did stonewall CAFT and AAUP thus there isn’t clarity about who did what or why.

      I don’t see how the AAUP can be much more aggressive in a reasonable way. There have been public demonstrations, demonstrations on campus, boycotts by academics, a no confidence motion, and a lawsuit… Short of something like mass resignation, what more can be done? Salaita while not a good professor is a good political activist and was able to bring a lot of public pressure to bear, more than the AAUP can. The administration had to fold or dig in, they dug in. The Board of Trustees is never going to agree that the AAUP has right to appoint whomever they want for UIUC at Illinois taxpayer expense, which is what the AAUP demand amounts to. If the AAUP stands behind this censure in a decade or two I can imagine a different board and a different AAUP coming to terms. By then, the underlying policy issue has been resolved the Salaita affair itself is going to be moot. But more than that I suspect the facts will have proven the AAUP report so much in error that this case will be a tremendous embarrassment. A case that schools genuinely engaging in misconduct will be able to bring up to prove the AAUP lies in their investigations. So they will want this chapter close.

      As far as pressure, ultimately no amount of pressure comparable to what’s been applied will accomplish the hiring. The AAUP wants to blackmail the Board of UIUC into hiring someone whom they decided against hiring. That’s a huge ask. I can’t see how the AAUP generates much more pressure than they have. There have been student demonstrations but there isn’t going to be massive student unrest to support a guy who built his reputation on hating a whole class within the student body. Remember he’s divisive that’s why this whole thing happened in the first place. For example this poster (http://www.boycottisraeliapartheid.org/biac/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/salaita.jpg ) . A unified student position in a school with a substantial Jewish minority is going to require an organized campaign of intimidation against the Jewish students. That’s precisely the sort of thing the Board was worried about him bringing to UIUC.

      What else can AAUP do? It is going to be a tightrope since they are dug in. Apply too much pressure and I can’t see how the Governor or the Legislature could stand by while their officials are being intimidated and threatened into doing something they believe is not in the interests of the people of Illinois by an outside agency.

      10-15 years from now this gets solved. But in 2015. Forget it. This case goes to trial, the AAUP (unless they reverse course soon) gets proven to have been dups or lying in their report. Salaita loses the case badly both on the law and the facts. Once the lights are out potentially the Board kicks the crap of of the Indian Studies department for having aggressively sided with Salaita against their bosses in public. 5-10 years after the blood letting, everyone kisses and makes up because the AAUP is not going to want the flagship of the University of Illinois system permanently outside the AAUP and there is no point anymore what’s done is done.

  2. — A humane ending to this trauma would be to honour the contract that UIUC offered and that Salaita returned with his signature.

    If by contract you mean the letter of intent saying his candidacy was to be presented to the board, that was honored. There was no contract, which is why Salaita’s legal case is not simply breach of contract. Salaita is being forced to argue that an employment contract exists when none was stated and the documents he had stated the opposite that they were not employment agreements precisely because of what these documents say. The AAUP calling this a “contract” without qualifying it is lying pure and simple.

    What happened in UIUC is a professor applied for a job, got far into the hiring process and ultimately didn’t get it. The professor has asserted he wasn’t hired because of a donor conspiracy and because of Twitter. The AAUP has indicated they believe, it was because of Twitter based on almost 0 testimony from the people who actually voted against him and didn’t give him the job.

    The donor evidence we have indicates knowledge of his behavior prior to the Tweeting and that their concerns about Salaita were not motivated exclusively by Twitter.
    For example donors cite:
    — upset over the “Apartheid Wall” on the quad
    — his history of “spewing hatred and bigotry” likely to exacerbate a “negative environment”
    — his involvement in organizations promoting anti-semitism in Paris, Berlin, Zurich, Calgary, Chicago, Istanbul, Antwerp, Boston, and Miami Beach
    — his calls for the death of all Jews (which as an aside is something I don’t think he’s done)
    — concerns about “the safety of students in Steven Salaitas classroom”


    So here we stand with the AAUP having to assert that a contract was violated when none existed. The AAUP has asserted this contracted was violated because of Twitter when the evidence is likely going to show the people who were opposed to his being hired had a range of concerns about him being a long term active leader of a variety of anti-Jewish hate groups. The AAUP is simply going to proven wrong on the facts of this case as it goes to trial and we hear the sworn testimony of the board.

    a) The court is going to rule that there was no employment contract
    b) The people who actually didn’t hire Salaita are going to assert under oath they weren’t motivated exclusively by Twitter.

    Whether the AAUP choose to take UIUC off the censure list once it has been proven they are dupes or drag this on for years is going to be a moral question for the AAUP. But this incident is going to prove to be indefensible for the AAUP. Chancellor Wise is a bad politician.

    The fact is Salaita’s academic writings (not just social writings) about Jews are harsher, less balanced and less nuanced than Dylann Roof’s writings in his manifesto were about blacks. Not to mention that Dylann Roof’s comparatively minor criticism of Jews being involved in secret conspiracies to undermine white rule is more or less what Salaita is asserting with respect to the donor conspiracy in his lawsuit. Salaita unlike Roof is not a recent convert to the pro-hate group cause but rather a long term leader of the cause. I don’t understand why the AAUP is going this far out on a limb as to repeatedly publicly lie about what transpired at UIUC for the purpose of trying to intimidate a University into giving a hate group leader an academic job. Certainly the procedure that UIUC used to hire Salaita was terrible, but the administration has admitted that and AFAIK that’s already been fixed. Salaita’s lack of academic production alone made him unfit for UIUC. I don’t see any reason that UIUC should offer have to offer a lifetime job to someone who is both academic and morally unfit for it because the first two levels in the hiring process (faculty and dean) did a bad job of vetting him. Multiple levels in a hiring process exist because sometimes committees make huge mistakes.

    This is going to be a very hard case for the AAUP to support over the long term.

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