Academic senate asked to review Salaita's case

By Abigale Svoboda

At the time, the Board of Trustees’ January decision not to reconsider Steven Salaita’s appointment to the University seemed like the end of the controversy. However, the Illinois Faculty for Academic Freedom and Justice will present a new resolution during the academic senate meeting Monday, asking members to re-evaluate the University’s decision.

The resolution will be submitted by 13 faculty senators from a variety of departments and will address the report given by the University’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure and the Board’s decision that followed.

Ultimately the resolution, written by history professor Bruce Levine, calls on the administration to follow all of CAFT’s recommendations, including to allow the College of LAS to review Salaita’s case and reconsider his employment.

“The (Board’s) refusal to reconsider its initial decision after the release of the CAFT report was a slap at the faculty and a blow to oft-made claims that the faculty now participates in ‘shared governance’ of the University,” Levine said in an email. “If the Board compounds that effect by ignoring the stated opinion of the Senate as a whole, both the insult to and the disillusionment among the faculty would grow exponentially, I believe.”

The resolution cites that CAFT found the handling of Salaita’s case as unusual and unprecedented, furthering why the Board should follow the recommendations.

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    “The process by which Dr. Salaita’s proposed appointment was withdrawn and eventually rejected did not follow existing policies and procedures in several substantial respects, raising questions about the institution’s commitment to shared governance,” CAFT’s report stated.

    The appended resolution concludes by calling on Chancellor Phyllis Wise, President Robert Easter and the Board of Trustees to “implement these recommendations promptly.”

    If the majority of the academic senate votes in favor of the resolution on Monday, it will be forwarded to University administration. Levine said he can’t predict the future, but he is hopeful the senate will do what he said he thinks is right. Otherwise, he believes the senate’s credibility will suffer immensely.

    “I would hope that the senate’s majority would now rise to the occasion, accept its responsibility, and do the right thing ­— endorse the finding of its own committee,” Levine said.

    As the University deals with Salaita’s case, many questions have arisen about the institution’s hiring procedures. The Hiring Policies and Procedures Review Committee Final Report, made in December, will be presented to the full academic senate in March, but it was already discussed at the Senate Executive Committee’s Feb. 2 meeting.

    The review committee was appointed by the academic senate and the provost to evaluate the current University hiring process. Although the review committee was created following the Salaita case, it was not charged with looking into any specific case, Salaita’s included.

    The committee recommended the Board of Trustees continue to oversee the appointment of faculty higher than the position of dean and delegate tenure appointment approval to campus administrators.

    Co-author Eric Johnson, professor of law, clarified that the committee’s conclusions about University hiring practices were not in any way related to Salaita or intended to make a point about the controversy.

    “The recommendation was driven by purely practical considerations,” Johnson said.

    The Board of Trustees announced that it is going to move Board approval closer to the time an employment offer is made, instead of several months (or even a year) later, as was the case with Salaita. Johnson argued this still doesn’t fix the problem, given the Board doesn’t meet regularly enough to ensure earlier approvals.

    “As a practical matter it doesn’t make sense to tell the board, ‘just do it faster,’?” Johnson said.

    Additionally, Johnson said the current procedure puts the University at a disadvantage when it comes to hiring highly sought after faculty. Many other universities’ Boards of Trustees currently delegate hiring approval to campus administrators, making an offer of employment a guarantee, Johnson said.

    Johnson said the undesirable waiting period will drive new employees to accept other offers, especially since the waiting period could result in no job at all. Now that the Board has rejected Salaita’s appointment, Board approval is no longer considered as just a formality, as it once was, Johnson said.

    The Hiring Policies and Procedures Review Committee’s report will not be discussed in the full academic senate until March, but it has already gained the praise of some Senate Executive Committee members, such as Abbas Aminmansour, professor of architecture.

    Abigale can be reached at [email protected].