Senate votes on administrative issues and academic freedom

By Andrew Nowak

The Urbana-Champaign Senate met Monday to discuss resolutions related to academic freedom and administrative issues, including procedure regarding hiring and pay raises.

A resolution emphasizing the existing guidelines regarding the University’s hiring process was struck down. Originally, the Senate Executive Committee proposed creating a task force to suggest new procedures for when a provost or chancellor finds a reason not to proceed with a hire that was already approved by a department head; however, the resolution sponsors did not believe new guidelines were needed and further emphasis on current statutes was necessary. 

This comes after the rejection of Steven Salaita’s appointment to the American Indian Studies program. D. Fairchild Ruggles, professor in landscape architecture, worried that the chancellor would receive more power if an ad hoc committee was created. 

“The reason why I don’t think we need a committee is because we already have committees and we have committees that are empowered to make precisely the kind of valuable judgments that were made in the Salaita case,” Ruggles said. “The fact that the Chancellor did not respect them is lamentable, but I do not think we need to invent a process to handle that. I think what we need to do is get back to business and start respecting the faculty and the decisions that they made at the department level in the college level.”

However, Nicholas Burbules, SEC chair of General University Policy, defended the need for an ad hoc committee.

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“The statutes do anticipate cases in which the chancellor could choose not to forward a recommendation,” Burbules said. “That is in the current statutes, these are not new powers. What motivated the task force is that the statutes, while giving the chancellor these powers, is silent as to what process she should actually follow in making that decision on whether to recommend or not recommend.”

Burbules said he hoped the ad hoc committee would recommend procedures for the chancellor for when new information is found after the search committee and college have already made recommendations, which is what happened with Salaita’s case.

Matthew Hill, junior in LAS and member of SEC, agreed with Burbules and spoke against concerns that the task force would operate in secrecy. Burbules said the task force would report its findings to the full senate for its consideration.

A resolution regarding academic freedom and civility was discussed during the meeting.

Dana Rabin, associate professor of history and author of the resolution, said she was concerned the content of certain Massmails sent by top University officials would restrict faculty members’ academic freedom of speech.

Chancellor Phyllis Wise said that Massmails are not supposed to be considered policy.

Mark Steinberg, a member of the academic senate’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, read a statement of support for the resolution by CAFT, however, the resolution was ultimately struck down by the academic senate. 

Before the meeting began, supporters of the Campus Faculty Association, a union for non-tenure track faculty, held a small protest outside the meeting to promote the union. 

The academic senate voted in favor of a resolution promoting an increased pay floor, and specific raises, promised in the spring. 

There was confusion surrounding the resolution on whether it was only about three cases of non-tenured faculty not receiving promised raises, an error that administration has since corrected. 

The academic senate also voted in favor of supporting the Council of Illinois University Senates’ “statement of concern,” which the SEC supported at its Sept. 15 meeting. The statement described “the reclassification of administrative and academic professional positions within universities” by State Universities Civil Service System and its lack of transparency, which the CIUS said it wouldn’t expect from a public body.

Andrew can be reached at [email protected]