AAUP places UI administration on censure list

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  • Members of the American Association of University Professors discuss whether to censure the University at the associations annual conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C. Saturday June 13.

By Abigale Svoboda

The University administration officially lost the approval of the American Association of University Professors Saturday. However many argue censure has been a long time coming.

Almost 100 members of the AAUP voted to censure the administration at its annual Conference on the State of Higher Education at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., after the University rescinded Steven Salaita’s offer of employment.

“Censure results from the Association’s findings that conditions for academic freedom and tenure are unsatisfactory at a college or university,” according to the association’s website.

The AAUP’s 1940 Statement of Principles asserts universities exist for the “common good,” which is dependent on the free search for — and the expression of — truth. On its site the AAUP states that a university that inhibits such expression cannot fulfill its basic purpose.

The University is now the only school of its size — and in the Big 10 conference — to be placed on the current censure list. The list is published to inform the public, universities and association members of the violations of academic freedom and tenure that have occurred at universities.

The AAUP stresses that censure is not placed on faculty members or the institution as a whole, but only on the administration, including the officers and governing board.

“Censure is the highest condemnation of the actions of an administration by the leading faculty organization, so it is a powerful statement that something is terribly wrong at UIUC,” said John Wilson, co-editor of the AAUP blog Academe.

Wilson said the main purpose of censure is to “put a spotlight” on issues of academic freedom and encourage universities to change course.

“If we do not censure the administration, not only will nothing change, it will get worse and worse and worse,” said Harriet Murav, University Slovic language and literature professor.

Peter Kirstein, St. Xavier University history professor, said a vote to censure would “finally send a message throughout the United States that it is okay to be controversial.”

Chancellor Phyllis Wise, President Emeritus Robert Easter and the Board of Trustees came under fire in August 2014 after Steven Salaita was dismissed from his tenure position in the American Indian Studies department weeks before he was set to begin teaching. Wise informed Salaita in an email that she would not be forwarding his appointment to the Board for approval because of tweets he sent regarding the conflict in Gaza.

On August 29, 2014, days after Salaita was dismissed, Rudy Fichtenbaum and Hank Reichman, AAUP president and co-president, respectively, released a letter stating that although many facts about the case were still missing, it appeared as if Salaita’s rights were violated.

On April 23, the AAUP’s Committee A released a report of the findings from its investigation into the case and declared Salaita’s rights were in fact violated. At the time, Fichtenbaum said he believed censure Nearly a month later on May 28, the committee voted to recommend censure at the annual conference.

During the meeting, Cary Nelson, former AAUP president and University english professor said “rushed censure has been compromised by anti-Israeli sentiments within Committee A” and argued censure would be premature.

Salaita said he does not have an opinion about censure as he has not been involved in the process. He said he believes the association will do what it believes is necessary.

“However, (censure) would definitely not be a good look for the University,” he said.

Robin Kaler, campus spokeswoman, said in a statement the University is disappointed to be the subject of censure but is making strides to reach a resolution with Salaita.

Nick Burbules, University general educational policy professor, said while he doesn’t believe any University member is happy about censure, the University has survived it before.

Additionally, he said State University of New York, where President Timothy Killeen was previously vice chancellor for research, has thrived despite being censured for decades.

Harry Hilton, AAUP Urbana-Champaign president and aerospace engineering professor emeritus, said that the Urbana-Champaign chapter polled its 66 members on whether the University should be placed on the censure list or not. Of the 66 members, 48.5 percent voted in the poll, with 27 percent for censure, 18 percent against censure and 3 percent in favor of delaying censure.

The University, however, began making strides to be removed from the list before censure was even certain. Katherine Galvin, associate provost for administrative affairs, provided a complete detail of which policies are being addressed.

Thus far, the academic senate has reviewed or revised nine policies and determined what further actions need to be taken.

David O’Brien, chair of the University’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, said he believes censure was inevitable because “the University did not adhere to the policies of the AAUP regarding academic freedom and shared governance.”

Burbules said the Committee A members who visited the University in February made it “quite clear” they had already decided to censure the administration.

“Frankly, their lack of objectivity and other aspects of their review process troubled me,” he said. “But they’ve made their decision and it is what it is.”

The University was last censured in 1964 for the dismissal of Professor Leo Koch. Koch, a biology professor, wrote a letter — which was published in The Daily Illini — defending premarital sex. In the midst of outrage from community members, President David Dobbs Henry fired Koch.

Koch was never reinstated, despite the University’s removal from the censure list. Instead he joined Jefferson Poland in New York where they formed the Sexual Freedom League. Poland later brought the league to the San Francisco area where it reached peak success, according to the Kinsey Institute.

Hilton was also chapter president during the Koch case. Having experienced it once before, Hilton said censure is ultimately a matter of perspective.

“There are some people that may not pay any attention to it, while others, particularly off campus, may want to not be hired here or may not come here for seminars,” he said. “It depends on their view, how they take it.”

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