UPDATED: AAUP votes down move to lift UI censure

 

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Story updated at 5:20 p.m. Saturday

URBANA — Almost two years after Steven Salaita lost his University of Illinois job offer over a series of controversial tweets, the school continues to struggle with the fallout.

In a surprising turn, the American Association of University Professors decided Saturday against lifting its academic censure of the UI, imposed a year ago.

Meeting in Washington, D.C., members voted down a recommendation to delegate authority to an AAUP committee to remove censure once it could verify that the campus climate for academic freedom is sound.

At the urging of a UI faculty delegate, members agreed to delay the decision for a year so that UI trustees can consider a statutory change to hiring procedures approved by the campus Academic Senate last month.

"We are certainly hopeful that subsequent developments at the university warrant taking that action next year," said Hans-Joerg Tiede, associate AAUP secretary for academic freedom, tenure and governance.

Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson, who has worked since last fall to get the censure lifted, said afterward she was disappointed in the decision.

"We believe we have addressed the AAUP’s concerns. We’ll need to have further conversations with the organization to understand today’s vote," Wilson said in a an email statement.

Top AAUP officials had expressed optimism in recent weeks that the censure would be removed. 

In its recommendation before the vote, Committee A said the university had met the criteria needed for a conditional removal of censure. The campus settled a lawsuit with Salaita last November for $875,000, and changed its hiring procedures to ensure appropriate faculty consultation and timely Board of Trustees’ approval of new appointments. 

Wilson and UI President Tim Killeen also made public statements last month emphasizing that academic freedom is integral to the university’s mission and specifically protected in its statutes, in accordance with AAUP principles.

While the statements didn’t come from trustees — a "key omission" according to Committee A — Board Chairman Edward McMillan then drafted a letter on June 1 endorsing the president’s comments, which satisfied the AAUP.

The McMillan letter came too late to arrange for an AAUP representative to visit campus before Committee A prepared its recommendations for this weekend’s annual AAUP conference, officials said.

The committee was reluctant to delay the UI censure decision until the next annual meeting in June 2017, so it recommended conditional removal. If the committee could not attest to a positive campus environment for academic freedom by the AAUP fall meeting in November, censure could then be continued until next June, the panel said.

But the committee was unaware of an amendment to the UI Statutes approved by the campus senate last month that would "answer the problem that was raised by the Salaita affair," said UI Professor Bruce Rosenstock, who represented the UI’s AAUP chapter at Saturday’s meeting.

Under the amendment, the board would no longer vote on individual academic hires below the level of dean, but rather delegate that authority to the president, Rosenstock said. The amendment still must go through the Springfield and Chicago campus senates and the University Senates Conference before it’s sent to trustees.

"It’s a piece of information that needs to be brought to bear" in the committee’s deliberations, he told The News-Gazette.

Rosenstock said he tried to amend Saturday’s resolution to add that as a condition of the censure removal but was told the motion could not be amended.

Tiede said Committee A was aware of other steps taken by administrators to address what will happen if trustees question another faculty appointment in the future, but the senate resolution is a different approach.

If censure were removed now pending an AAUP visit, trustees would have no incentive to accept the proposed changes, Professor Harry Hilton said in a statement to delegates. He was unable to attend the meeting.

Rosenstock and Hilton commended Wilson and Killeen for improvements in the campus climate and hiring procedures and denied that they were "moving the goal posts." 

"We are not saying that the Board of Trustees must adopt the statutory amendment in order for censure to be lifted. We are saying that the shared governance response to the censure should be allowed to run its course," Rosenstock said.

He said he would vote to lift the censure next year if Committee A recommends it, even if trustees don’t adopt the change to the statutes.

Some AAUP members worried that delaying action could backfire, given Wilson’s cooperation with the AAUP. A new chancellor is expected to be named this summer. Rosenstock told delegates he has confidence that the new chancellor will be committed to ending censure as well.

Salaita, a former English professor at Virginia Tech, was hired for a tenured position in the American Indian Studies program in October 2013, subject to trustees’ approval, but didn’t plan to start teaching until the following August.

Then-Chancellor Phyllis Wise revoked the offer on Aug. 1, 2014, after consulting privately with UI trustees about Salaita’s angry tweets about Israel during its bombing of Gaza, which some considered anti-Semitic. Her action came before trustees formally approved the hire but after Salaita had been given course assignments and resigned from his tenured position at Virginia Tech.

Trustees eventually voted to uphold Wise’s decision in September 2014.

The AAUP said the university rejected his appointment without demonstrating cause, violating his due-process rights and academic freedom. The UI argued that Salaita was never an official employee because the board hadn’t approved his appointment.

Wise resigned and returned to the faculty last August.

 

Story update from 12:30 p.m. Saturday

The American Association of University Professors has opted against lifting its academic censure of the University of Illinois in the Steven Salaita case.

Meeting in Washington, D.C. today, members voted down a move to delegate authority to the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure to remove censure once it could ensure that the climate for academic freedom on the UI campus is sound.

The vote means the UI will remain under censure for another year.

Members cited the interim status of campus leaders and the need to allow UI trustees to consider a statutory hiring reform approved by the campus Academic Senate last month, a process that could take up to a year.

Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson said afterward she was "disappointed in the decision."

"We believe we have addressed the AAUP’s concerns. We’ll need to have further conversations with the organization to understand today’s vote," Wilson said in a an email statement.

In its recommendation for a conditional removal of censure earlier Saturday, Committee A said the university had met one of the last remaining conditions on June 1 when UI Board of Trustees Chairman Edward McMillan wrote a letter endorsing the UI’s commitment to academic freedom. The campus had earlier changed its hiring procedures to ensure appropriate faculty consultation and timely Board of Trustees' approval of new appointments.

But the McMillan letter came too late to arrange for an AAUP representative to visit campus and prepare a report for the committee’s June 3-4 meeting, where it drew up its censure recommendations for this weekend’s annual AAUP conference, officials said.

"With the progress that the UIUC administration and board have made, however, the committee is equally reluctant to have the action on potential censure removal held over until the 2017 annual meeting," the committee said in its recommendation.

It had suggested that the censure be continued until the next annual meeting in June if the committee could not attest to a positive campus environment for academic freedom by the AAUP's fall meeting in November.

But the committee was unaware of an amendment to the UI Statutes approved by the campus senate last month that would "answer the problem that was raised by the Salaita affair," said UI Professor Bruce Rosenstock, who is represented the UI's AAUP chapter at Saturday's meeting.

Under the amendment, the board would no longer vote on individual academic hires below the level of dean, but rather delegate that authority to the president, Rosenstock said. The amendment still must be approved by the Springfield and Chicago campus senates and the University Senates Conference before it's sent to trustees.

Rosentstock said Committee A was unaware of the amendment when it decided to recommend conditional removal of the UI's censure.

"It's a piece of information that needs to be brought to bear" in the committee's deliberations, he said.

"We are not saying that the Board of Trustees must adopt the statutory amendment in order for censure to be lifted. We are saying that the shared governance response to the censure should be allowed to run its course," he said.

Rosenstock said he tried to amend Saturday's resolution to add that as another condition of the censure removal but was told the motion could not be amended, and it was defeated by the AAUP delegates.

He also said he would vote to lift the censure next year if Committee A recommends it even if trustees don't adopt the change to the statutes.

 

Original story from 7 a.m. Saturday:

URBANA — A year-long censure of the University of Illinois over the Steven Salaita case could be all but resolved today.

The American Association of University Professors will review the university's censure during its annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Members will be asked to delegate authority to the organization's Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure to remove the UI's censure "once it can attest that the climate for academic freedom is sound," AAUP senior program officer Anita Levy said Friday.

"We are hopeful that they may take action and recognize our progress," said UI spokesman Chris Harris.

The AAUP placed the UI administration on its censure list last June for revoking Salaita's job offer after his controversial tweets about Israel. The organization concluded that the school violated his due-process rights and academic freedom.

Levy had said in March that the UI's $875,000 legal settlement with Salaita was a crucial first step to removing the censure and that the two sides were making good progress on the remaining conditions. Those have since been met, according to top UI administrators.

Toward that end, UI President Tim Killeen publicly reiterated the UI's commitment to the AAUP principles of academic freedom at the May 19 Board of Trustees' meeting.

In a recent post to the AAUP website, Committee A outlined significant steps in the last 12 months to resolve the case and ensure the same situation doesn't arise at the UI in the future.

"Certainly, a lot of steps have been taken in a direction that would suggest interest in getting this done," AAUP spokeswoman Laura Markwardt said Friday.

Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson has been in regular contact with both the national AAUP and the local chapter about the Salaita case since she was appointed last fall.

"This is one of the priorities she set out to address, the concerns of the AAUP and censure," Harris said. "She and the provost have been very serious throughout the year about addressing all of the issues that came up.

"I think the chancellor has made it clear that we have made progress," he added.

Salaita, a former English professor at Virginia Tech, was hired for a tenured position in the American Indian Studies program in October 2013, subject to trustees' approval, but didn't plan to start teaching until the following August.

Then-Chancellor Phyllis Wise revoked the offer on Aug. 1, 2014, after consulting privately with UI trustees about Salaita's angry and sometimes-profane tweets about Israel during its bombing of Gaza. Her action came before trustees formally approved the hire but after Salaita had been given course assignments and resigned from his tenured position at Virginia Tech.

Trustees eventually voted to uphold Wise's decision in September 2014. Salaita later sued the university to get his job back.

The AAUP said the university rejected his appointment without demonstrating cause, in violation of the AAUP's 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

The UI argued that Salaita was never an official employee because the board hadn't approved his appointment.

Wise resigned and returned to the faculty last August following an ethics investigation about administrators' use of personal email accounts and public records disclosures in the Salaita case and others.

Once the UI settled Salaita's lawsuit in November, the AAUP set up a conference call with Wilson last December to "discuss what remained to be done to bring the censure to closure," according to Committee A.

That included:

— Policy changes to ensure that faculty hires are approved before their jobs take effect.

— A new rule requiring that, if any objections arise at the trustee level about a tenure-track faculty appointment, the board sends the recommendation back to a faculty committee for an opportunity to respond.

— An endorsement by trustees of the AAUP's statements on freedom of expression and campus "speech codes."

In a May 23 mass email to campus, Wilson said the UI has adjusted its procedures on faculty hires so that board approval comes long before a professor starts working on campus.

And it revised hiring policies to ensure there's an "explicit consultation process with the relevant dean and academic unit" if any questions arise about a candidate at the campus or trustee level, she said.

Wilson said the campus worked closely with a special faculty committee, the Academic Senate, deans and other faculty leaders — as well as the AAUP — to review those policies and "underscore our shared understanding of the critical role that academic freedom plays in supporting the mission of a world-class university."

Killeen also referred to those new procedures during his public remarks on May 19.

He and Wilson said the UI's commitment to academic freedom is "central to our university," embedded into the university's new strategic plan and protected by the University Statutes.

Killeen quoted from a section of the statutes supporting faculty rights to "full freedom within the law of inquiry, discourse, teaching, research and publication and to protect any member of the academic staff against influences, from within or without the University, which would restrict the member's exercise of these freedoms."

Editor's note: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the AAUP was meeting in Philadelphia.

 

The email from Barbara Wilson from May 23:

Dear Faculty, Staff and Students:

At last week’s University of Illinois Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting, President Tim Killeen reiterated the foundational importance of academic freedom to our institution. He noted that academic freedom is embedded in the new University of Illinois system strategic framework and protected by the UniversityStatutes. Importantly, our institutional commitment to and protections of academic freedom are consistent with the AAUP’s 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. We share President Killeen’s commitment to academic freedom and appreciate his reiteration of these core principles.

Over the past 18 months, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has taken several steps to strengthen our hiring practices. We created a faculty committee to review our policies and procedures and have worked with the Academic Senate, additional faculty leaders and the Council of Deans to revise our processes and underscore our shared understanding of the critical role that academic freedom plays in supporting the mission of a world-class university. We also consulted with the local and national AAUP on the steps we were taking.

Today we have hiring procedures that facilitate final approval well in advance of the beginning of the academic year. Our hiring policies contain an explicit consultation process with the relevant dean and academic unit to address any questions that arise at the campus or BOT level. The off-cycle tenure review process itself has been revised and strengthened to be more faculty driven. Additionally, in a collaborative effort with the Academic Senate, the Provost’s Office memorialized the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s long-held dedication to shared governance by issuing Provost’s Communication No. 27, Shared Governance for Academic Units.

We appreciate President Killeen’s support over the past year as we have jointly acted to ensure protection of our university-wide commitment to academic freedom.

Sincerely,

Barbara Wilson

Interim Chancellor

Edward Feser

Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost

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).