UI reaffirms Salaita’s rejected appointment, AAUP prepares new report

By Abigale Svoboda

After the release of a report made by the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, stating that Steven Salaita’s appointment should be reconsidered, the Board of Trustees echoed its firm stance that he will not teach at the University.

In August, Salaita’s employment was rescinded, causing major uproar within the University as well as across the country, and sparking conversations on academic freedom. The committee began an investigation, and the results, supporting a reconsideration, were released Dec. 23.

The committee was comprised of seven University faculty members from different colleges. David O’Brien, chair of the Art History program, currently chairs the committee. The report stated that Chancellor Phyllis Wise raised legitimate questions about Salaita’s “professional fitness.” The report concluded Salaita’s candidacy should be reconsidered by a committee of academic experts in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Less than two weeks later, five past chairs and vice chairs of the Senate Executive Committee wrote a letter in response to the report. While members agreed with some points, they ultimately argued that the decision not to employ Salaita should stand.

The next Thursday, the Board of Trustees issued a press release informing the public that the University will not hire Salaita.

“On Sept. 11, 2014, consistent with the recommendations of the Urbana chancellor and the president, and after careful consideration and discussion, the board voted 8-1 not to approve that appointment,” the press release said. “That decision is final.”

The press release went on to say that despite media reports about the committee’s recommendation, Salaita’s employment will not be reconsidered and reiterated that the decision was made independently by the board after much deliberation.

In the meantime, the Association of American University Professors is preparing its own report on Salaita’s case.

Jordan Kurland, Associate General Secretary for the Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance of the AAUP, said a draft of the report will be sent to concerned parties on Friday.

Concerned parties include University officials, such as Wise and board members, along with Salaita and his legal counsel. The concerned parties are asked to respond with corrections and comments by Feb. 2.

The AAUP will then finalize and publish its report on the Salaita case.

Kurland added that until the report is finalized, he cannot comment on whether legal action will be taken against the University. The AAUP is also in contact with Salaita, who could take action independently; however, the organization was not at liberty to speak about Salaita’s future plans.

Salaita could not be immediately reached for comment.

As for the University’s future plans, it seems academics will be working to move past the controversy and reunite the campus.

“I certainly hope we don’t see any similar cases in the near future, but the sooner we can agree on such policies, the better,” Joyce Tolliver, University professor and co-author of the CAFT response letter, said in an email. “What is urgent is that the campus community move forward to heal the wounds that have been opened by the responses to this case, and formulating such policies may help us to do that.”

Nick Burbules, SEC member and co-author, echoed Tolliver, adding that he and others hope to have some new policy ideas to present at the next Academic Senate meeting. Regardless, Burbules said there needs to be an official conversation about the controversy.

“My own view is that we need a University-wide discussion about our policies on academic freedom and free speech, to make sure that we have the right rules in place,” Burbules said in an email. “I assume the topic of social media and ‘public utterances’ would come up in that context.”

Robin Kaler, campus spokeswoman, said the Chancellor does not have any further comment on the Board’s decision.

Abigale can be reached at [email protected]