Panel: UI trustees should stay out of hiring below level of dean

Panel: UI trustees should stay out of hiring below level of dean

URBANA — A campus committee appointed in response to the Steven Salaita saga recommends that University of Illinois trustees stay out of faculty hiring decisions below the level of dean.

The board would retain its ultimate authority over appointments but delegate it in those cases to the president, chancellor and provost, under the recommendations from a Hiring Policies and Processes Review Committee appointed by the Academic Senate and provost's office last October.

The report does not address Salaita's case directly but rather the peculiarities in the university's hiring process, in which trustee approval of a new professor might come months after the individual receives an offer letter. The committee chairman Monday referred to it as an unwieldy "post-acceptance review" that puts the candidate in an awkward position and could hurt UI recruiting efforts.

"A system in which a candidate's qualifications are reviewed months after that candidate has accepted an offer from the university is not a workable system, unless that review is purely formal," said committee Chairman Eric Johnson, a UI law professor, who presented the report at Monday's Senate Executive committee meeting.

A former English professor at Virginia Tech, Salaita was offered a tenured job at the UI in October 2013 in American Indian Studies and was planning to join the Urbana faculty this past fall. But the university withdrew his offer during the first week of August, after he had resigned his previous post, following a series of inflammatory tweets by Salaita blasting Israel and its supporters on Twitter. Trustees ultimately rejected Salaita's appointment in September 2014.

"This isn't about the Salaita case," Johnson said Monday, adding that he wasn't sure how various committee members felt about the decision. "The recommendation was driven exclusively by purely practical considerations."

Trustees have already announced they plan to move up the timeline for approval of newly hired faculty to address the problem. The campus is working out procedures to speed up the process, said Provost Ilesanmi Adesida.

"That suggests to me they aren't interested in giving up that authority but are willing to work in a more realistic time frame," said education Professor Nicholas Burbules. "It was never a good idea, Salaita aside, for the board to be approving people weeks after they had already started work."

Johnson conceded there's no indication trustees are willing to cede that responsibility, "other than the fact that the logic of this argument to my mind ... is completely inescapable."

Several faculty members said they'd like to pursue the issue with trustees, possibly in the form of a senate resolution later this semester.

Johnson said the committee considered other possibilities, such as moving trustee approval closer to the actual hiring process. But that wasn't practical given that the board meets every two or three months, he said. By statute, he said, trustees aren't supposed to be involved in the day-to-day workings of the university but rather setting policy implemented by administrators.

Simply retaining the current system and telling candidates that board approval is merely a formality won't work because trustees have already rejected an appointment, rightly or wrongly, he said.

The UI will also be at a disadvantage competing for faculty candidates against other universities that don't have that level of review, he said. The University of California system and Penn State both empower presidents and chancellors to make appointments, the report said.

The committee recommended that trustees continue to review and approve all faculty administrative appointments for deans and higher-level administrators, as they do now, and exercise ongoing oversight of their performance through the president and through annual reappointments of those positions. The system — essentially codifying current and past practice — would allow an "appropriate and rigorous review" of candidates by faculty and department-level administrators with the necessary expertise, and provide a second level of review of hiring decisions by deans and the provost/chancellor, who have a "built-in accountability mechanism to the board."

The system "has proven to be a highly effective mechanism for the board and the university to ensure that the best faculty are recruited, as evidenced by the high stature and level of accomplishment of the faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign," the report said.

Meanwhile, the campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors issued its first public statement on the Salaita case, accusing the university of violating principles of shared governance and academic freedom in its decision to rescind his job offer.

The local AAUP urged trustees to adopt the campus committee's recommendations for changes to the hiring procedures, express their "unwavering and unconditional commitment to academic freedom and shared governance," and rescind Chancellor Phyllis Wise's remarks in the Aug. 22 mass email explaining the decision not to hire Salaita.

In a separate statement, the AAUP chapter urged the campus to follow the recommendations of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which found fault with the hiring process surrounding his case and recommended that the campus reconsider Salaita's candidacy for a faculty job,

While the latter "may no longer be feasible," the AAUP said, the other recommendations should be adopted. The UI's actions are hurting its ability to recruit and hire faculty, citing a national boycott movement and the risk of further sanctions.

"The administration's delay risks further damaging the University," the statement said.

The Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure concluded that Wise had raised legitimate questions about Salaita's "professional fitness" but said members did not believe Salaita's fiery tweets rendered him "unfit for office." It said the concerns should be addressed by a newly created panel of academic experts, with an opportunity for Salaita to respond.

However, the Board of Trustees released a statement after its Jan. 15 board meeting, saying their decision was final and they would not reconsider Salaita's appointment.

Salaita filed a lawsuit against the UI last week to force the campus to hire him and compensate him for lost income and damages to his reputation

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C in Champaign wrote on February 04, 2015 at 7:02 am

Yes, of course. This makes perfect sense. Let the BOT hire/approve the deans and administrators, you know, the ones who can be relieved of their positions, or fired. Then ask them to have no say over granting tenure, essentially a job for life, to a prospective professor. 

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