AAUP Officials: Censure is likely

By Abigale Svoboda

While Steven Salaita’s controversial tweets sparked questions about his professionalism within the University administration, their response provoked even more questions about academic freedom at the University.

Salaita’s offer of employment was rescinded in August when he sent seemingly anti-Semitic tweets regarding the conflict in Gaza. Chancellor Phyllis Wise emailed Salaita stating his hiring recommendation would not be forwarded to the Board of Trustees for approval.

Salaita was set to begin teaching weeks later, and the Board had never previously disapproved of a new faculty member recommendationmp.

The American Association of University Professors released an official report about Salaita’s case, titled, “Academic Freedom and Tenure: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign” on April 23 after months of investigation and new proceedings.

The report was crafted by members of the AAUP’s Committee A, who stated in the report the climate of academic freedom at the University is “at best uncertain.”

The report found the University’s handling of Salaita’s rescinded appointment to be in violation of the association’s 1940 “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure,” and therefore concluded that Salaita’s rights had been violated, toomp.

According to the report, investigators sought to answer five questions about Salaita’s case: the sequence of events leading up to Salaita’s dismissal; Salaita’s status with the University at the time his appointment was rejected; the relevance of extramural expression; the role of “civility” in assessing faculty qualifications; and the overall climate of academic freedom at the University.

The committee determined Salaita’s tweets were extramural — albeit related to his field of study — because they were addressed to the larger public and had “social, political, economic or other interest,” the report stated.

Additionally, the report stated Salaita should have been treated as a University employee and was therefore entitled to a trial before being dismissed, per University statutes.

Roy Campbell, Academic Senate chair, said it became clear the AAUP’s view of Salaita’s employment differed from the University’s in March after Committee A members met with University members to discuss Salaita.

AAUP President Rudy Fichtenbaum, LAS Dean Barbara Wilson, and Cary Nelson, former AAUP president and University professor, have all said they believe censure is likely.

Fichtenbaum said if the University administration is censured, it would need to complete several steps to be taken off the list, including a desire not to be censured. He said there would need to be “clear redress for the individual who was harmed.”

Additionally, University policies would need to change. However, Fichtenbaum said it does not seem the University administration is concerned with avoiding censure.

In the conclusion of its report, the committee noted Salaita’s case is similar to the 1963 University case involving Professor Leo Koch. Koch, professor of biology, was suspended and later dismissed after writing a letter published in The Daily Illini defending trial marriages and premarital sex.

After evaluating Koch’s dismissal — which led to the University being censured from 1963 to 1967 — the association stated it hoped the University would take a broader view of its function in the world and the value of academic freedommp.

It stated the University must act in the community in which it is located but consider the national and global implications of its actions, as well. The 1963 censure led to serious revisions of University policies and procedures on academic freedom and speech.

The report states, “More than half a century later, the undersigned subcommittee expresses its similar hope that the current controversy will ultimately yield a similar result.”

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