[The following announcement and referenced investigative report on the case of Steven Salaita was issued by the American Association of University Proffessors (AAUP) in April 2015]
Today, we are releasing the report of a committee that investigated the case of Steven Salaita (http://www.aaup.org/report/UIUC). The report finds that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) administration and the board of trustees of the University of Illinois violated principles of academic freedom when they withdrew a tenured faculty appointment that had been offered to Salaita. The job offer was withdrawn after Professor Salaita made a series of impassioned tweets expressing outrage about the war in Gaza.
The report addresses a number of critical issues in this case. Among its findings:
- Professor Salaita`s appointment should have entitled him to the due process rights of a tenured faculty member. Salaita had received a letter in October 2013 offering him the tenured position, subject to board approval. He accepted the offer, received course assignments, resigned from his existing tenured position, sold his house, and put down a deposit on a condo in Illinois before being informed in late summer 2014 that the job offer would not be submitted to the board for approval. The next board meeting with approvals on the agenda was scheduled to occur after Salaita was to start teaching. It has been regular practice at the University of Illinois for the board to formally approve new tenured faculty appointments only after the faculty members have already begun work, a violation of recommendations made by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).
- The rejection of appointment amounted to a summary dismissal, in violation of both AAUP and university policies. The UIUC administration and the board of trustees of the University of Illinois violated the university’s own policies by rejecting Professor Salaita’s appointment without demonstrating cause, and by doing so only after the appointment had been offered and courses had been assigned to him. They also violated the AAUP/AAC&U 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which has been endorsed by more than two hundred academic organizations. Aborting an appointment in this manner without demonstrated cause and without due process amounts to a summary dismissal.
- The decision by the chief administrative officer, the chancellor, and the board to reject the appointment contravened widely accepted standards for the conduct of academic governance. The decision was announced without consultation with relevant faculty and administrative bodies. The chancellor announced the decision without even having informed those involved in several previous levels of evaluation, all of whom had recommended making the appointment.
- The climate for academic freedom at UIUC is uncertain. The stated reasons for the rejection of the appointment by the chancellor and the board of trustees have cast a pall of uncertainty over the degree to which academic freedom is understood and respected at UIUC. The report finds that Professor Salaita`s tweets were examples of "extramural expression," speech as a citizen and hence protected by academic freedom. Claims that his dismissal was intended to protect students were unsupported by any evidence calling into question Professor Salaita`s previous conduct in the classroom. The chancellor and the board claimed on multiple occasions that "civility" is an appropriate standard by which the fitness of a scholar and teacher may be judged, a claim which is inimical to academic freedom.
AAUP investigating committees, which are authorized in a few selected cases when significant violations of academic freedom, tenure, or governance have been alleged and persist despite AAUP efforts to resolve them, are generally composed of AAUP members from other institutions with no previous involvement in the matter. In this case, the Association built upon the work of the UIUC senate`s own Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure.
The dismissal of Professor Salaita is one of the more significant violations of academic freedom this decade. One may consider the contents of his tweets to be juvenile, irresponsible, and even repulsive and still defend Salaita’s right to produce them. I’m proud to be part of an association that is doing just that. I hope you are too.
-- Henry Reichman
Chair, AAUP Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure
Academic Freedom and Tenure: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
In the middle of summer 2014, Dr. Steven Salaita, associate professor of English at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, having resigned his tenured position, was preparing to relocate to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he had more than nine months earlier accepted a tenured appointment as associate professor in the Program of American Indian Studies (AIS). Both the administration and his prospective colleagues had made arrangements for him to assume his position in the fall term. The appointment still needed final approval by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, but Professor Salaita and the AIS faculty had reason to believe that this was a formality. The fall term was set to begin on August 25, more than two weeks before the board was to meet and confirm new appointments on September 11.
At the same time, on the other side of the world, fighting was raging between Israeli troops and Palestinians in Gaza, culminating months of rising tension. Professor Salaita, who is of Jordanian and Palestinian descent, was outraged by these events and expressed his views in a series of impassioned “tweets” on Twitter, a popular social-media forum. Many supporters of Israel and others found his statements deeply offensive, with some branding them as “hate speech” and as “violent” and “threatening.”2 The tweets also came to the attention of UIUC chancellor Phyllis Wise, UI system president Robert Easter, and members of the board when it met on July 24.
On August 1, Chancellor Wise wrote to Professor Salaita to inform him that his appointment would “not be recommended for submission to the board of trustees” and that a board vote to confirm the appointment was unlikely. In a statement issued on August 22, Chancellor Wise explained that the University of Illinois could not and would not “tolerate. . . disrespectful words or actions.” On the same date, the board of trustees and President Easter issued a joint statement supporting the decision not to forward Professor Salaita’s appointment. The statement declared UIUC “a community that values civility as much as scholarship.” Some weeks later, however, Chancellor Wise did submit the appointment to the board with a negative recommendation, and on September 11 the board voted to reject it.
These actions by the chancellor, the president, and the board sparked a firestorm of controversy on the UIUC campus and throughout higher education, attracting extensive media coverage. The decisions raised a number of critical questions that this report will seek to answer:
- What sequence of events led to the chancellor’s letter of August 1 and the board’s decision of September 11, and did the UIUC board and administration conform to the institution’s own policies and to AAUP-supported principles in their decision not to confirm Professor Salaita’s appointment?
- What was Professor Salaita’s faculty status at the time that his appointment was rejected by the chancellor and the board, and to what extent was he entitled to the academic freedom and due-process rights accorded to tenured faculty members?
- What is the relevance of extramural expression, including expression on social-media forums like Twitter, in determining the fitness of a faculty member for a university position?
- What role should standards of “civility” play in assessing the qualifications of a prospective or current faculty member?
- What is the overall climate for academic freedom and shared academic governance at UIUC in the wake of these events?
[Click here to download the full report]