Academic freedom panel: University must move fast to prevent censure

By Faraz Mirza

The Campus Faculty Association held an academic freedom and shared governance panel Wednesday night to highlight where Steven Salaita’s case stands after controversial tweets resulted in his rejected appointment on Sept. 11. 

The panel, held at the University YMCA, was led by John Wilson, co-editor of the American Association of University Professors’ Academe Blog.

Wilson discussed the importance of shared governance, explaining it is vital in protecting academic freedom.

“There’s no real doubt that there was violation of shared governance in the Salaita case,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the national AAUP is likely to vote on censuring the University at its annual meeting on June 14, and the University needs to move fast to stay off the AAUP’s list. 

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He believes the AAUP will only remove the University from censure after the policies and principles surrounding hiring processes are corrected, and a settlement, compensation or reinstatement is given to Salaita. 

Additionally, he suggested when new information is revealed regarding a hire, it should be sent to the candidate’s search committee for review. He also suggested the Board of Trustees should be removed from voting on hiring processes. He said academic decisions should be made by academic experts and not a politically-appointed board.

“What I would propose is U of I create a set of ethical standards for the hiring process,” Wilson said.

He also expressed censure by the AAUP is very probable, and will have a negative effect on competitive hiring. He said professors receiving offers from different universities would likely select an uncensured university and might feel distrust with the University’s Board of Trustees. 

Cary Nelson, former president of the national AAUP and emeritus professor of Jewish Culture and Society, said the AAUP is visiting campus near the end of February and is likely issuing their own report at the end of March. He said there is time between the campus visit and the report for the campus to take action. 

Several attendees agreed the campus needs to act quickly. On Monday, the Academic Senate voted to urge administration to consider the committee on academic freedom and tenure’s report. The report urged the College of LAS to form a committee to reconsider Salaita. 

Attendees believe an additional committee on hiring policies and procedure’s report should also be moved forward.  

Faraz can be reached at [email protected]