Listen to this article

URBANA — A national organization that defends academic freedom is looking into the case of a University of Illinois professor accused of videotaping members of a pro-Chief Illiniwek group in a State Farm Center bathroom.

The American Association of University Professors, which placed the UI on its "censure" list for two years because of the Steven Salaita case, wrote to Chancellor Robert Jones on Thursday about his decision to place Professor Jay Rosenstein on paid administrative leave while the campus reviews the Jan. 22 incident.

The letter from the AAUP's Anita Levy suggests that the campus may have violated Rosenstein's right to academic due process under AAUP standards for disciplinary action against a faculty member and raised the prospect of future censure.

"When we last wrote in June 2017, it was our happy duty to report that the University of Illinois at Urbana had been removed from the American Association of University Professor’s list of censured administrations," Levy's letter says. "We write now less happily because members of the UIUC faculty have advised us of the January 22, 2018, placement of Professor Jay Rosenstein on paid administrative leave and thus removal from his teaching and other academic duties.

"We understand that Professor Rosenstein was not afforded an opportunity to respond to the action, the basis for which was his arrest for using his cellphone to videotape without permission a student dressed as controversial UIUC mascot Chief Illiniwek in a public restroom. We understand further that Illinois county officials have declined to prosecute Professor Rosenstein on the charges, and that the university is conducting its own investigation under its code of conduct," the letter said.

Rosenstein was arrested for unauthorized videotaping but later released without charge. He has said he was trying to determine whether State Farm Center employees were helping the student who dresses up like the Chief at Illini games. Rosenstein, a professor of media and cinema studies, is working on an update of his award-winning documentary about the Chief controversy.

Jones and other UI officials have argued that paid administrative leave is allowed under state personnel rules while the campus decides whether to sanction Rosenstein, though UI faculty members have challenged that interpretation.

In her letter, Levy said under generally accepted AAUP guidelines, any action to separate a faculty member from teaching or other academic responsibilities "prior to demonstration of stated cause in an appropriate proceeding is considered to be a suspension," which is justified only if the faculty member poses "immediate harm" to colleagues or others.

Any suspension that is not followed by immediate reinstatement or the opportunity for a hearing represents "a summary dismissal in violation of academic due process," she wrote.

"No threat of immediate harm has been suggested in Professor Rosenstein’s case. It seems clear that he has thus not been afforded the safeguards of academic due process called for under these generally accepted standards," she wrote.

Jones has pointed to the privacy concerns related to taping in a public bathroom, saying they don’t comply with the UI’s Code of Conduct.

Levy referred to the AAUP’s 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, jointly drafted by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities and endorsed by other education associations.

Levy said relevant portions of the UI’s own statutes on "Severe Sanctions Other Than Dismissal" generally follow those guidelines, requiring campus senate involvement and hearings before any disciplinary action is taken.

"If the facts as we have recounted them are essentially accurate, we urge Professor Rosenstein’s reinstatement to his normal faculty duties. As to any further action in his case, we urge that it be consistent with the procedural standards we have set forth," Levy wrote.

Respoding to the letter Thursday, Jones said, "As I’ve said before, this is a non-disciplinary administrative leave with pay. I feel comfortable with the process we’re using."

Levy told Jones the AAUP’s concerns were based on information from UI faculty members and media accounts, and "we recognize that you may have other information that might enhance our understanding of what has occurred. We would accordingly welcome your response."

"I am incredibly grateful that so many of my faculty colleagues are looking out for me. The faculty have always been the very best part of this university," Rosenstein said Thursday.

The AAUP placed the UI under censure in 2015 following the university’s decision the previous summer to withdraw a tenured job offer to Salaita, then a Virginia Tech professor, following his inflammatory tweets about Israel. Salaita sued the university to get his job back but later reached an out-of-court settlement.

Reporter/Columnist

Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is jwurth@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).