Barbara J. Wilson became interim chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, when Phyllis Wise resigned under pressure in the wake of revelations of a private e-mail account to avoid Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. She continues to also serve as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. In the wake of the settlement between the U. of I. and fired professor Steven Salaita, she is preoccupied with ending the AAUP censure of UIUC, that has been in effect for almost six months.
She issued the following statement as reported in the News-Gazette:
“The settlement allows Dr. Salaita to move on with his career and allows our campus to focus on ensuring excellence in teaching, research and public engagement.
“Today’s an important step in our efforts to see the AAUP censure lifted and I will continue to work with the local and national chapters about further actions that we can take to achieve that goal.
“I hope the settlement brings some closure to a challenging period for our entire community. I truly believe it marks a point in time when we can collectively shift our conversations from what has happened in the past to where we want to go in the future.
“Some of the discussions, debates and disagreements of this past year have been difficult ones. But I will also say we’ve learned a great deal from them. I’m hopeful that the knowledge and experience that we’ve gained can be used to improve our processes and policies and to further the national dialogue about issues of scholarship and academic freedom in the 21st century.”
The paper also reported that the interim chancellor has already spoken to the AAUP about the settlement, and that additional steps would be necessary to obtain removal from the AAUP list of shamed, censured administrations of institutions of higher education.
It should be noted that any censure or removal of censure requires the approval of the Association’s membership that is in attendance at its annual meeting. I suspect that the settlement alone, which included neither the restoration of Dr Salaita to his rightful position nor any statement of regret or apology, would not satisfy the membership’s keen interest that the University of Illinois satisfy AAUP’s specific concerns as articulated in their report that led to the recommendation and approval of censure.
In the absence of additional measures to reestablish academic freedom, effectuate non-discriminatory hiring practices and attenuate severely the board of trustees’ engagement with hiring decisions, a Committee A proposal to end censure would likely elicit robust and significant debate on an inevitably humid and sultry Saturday in June, 2016.