On October 2, 2014, the TTU chapter of AAUP passed this resolution in support of Steven Salaita, who was fired by the University of Illinois after being offered and accepting a tenured position. The following June, the University of Illinois was censured by AAUP at the national conference. It seems relevant again in light of the recent actions of Mount St. Mary’s University. Here is the text of our chapter’s resolution:
On August 1, 2014, University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise informed Dr. Steven Salaita that the American Indian Studies faculty position he had been offered and had accepted the previous October would not be sent to the board of trustees for approval, stating, “we believe that an affirmative Board vote approving your appointment is unlikely.” No further explanation was initially given to Salaita, to the AIS department chair, or the dean. This action was taken despite the facts that Salaita had returned the signed acceptance letter, quit his tenured job at Virginia Tech, initiated the purchase of a new home in Urbana-Champaign, received his teaching assignments and submitted his book orders, received an invitation to the new faculty welcoming reception on August 19, and had attended a welcoming reception in his honor hosted by American Indian Studies.
On August 22, Chancellor Wise released an open letter explaining her decision, referencing the alleged incivility of his recent tweets about the Israeli bombing of Gaza, speculating that some students might feel unsafe and unvalued in his classroom. The Board of Trustees released a supporting letter affirming the chancellor’s views, stating that the University of Illinois “is a university community that values civility as much as scholarship.” The board met on September 11 and voted 8 – 1 not to reinstate Dr. Salaita. Documents obtained by the Champaign News-Gazette under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act indicate that a large number of donors had contacted Wise and the board beginning in July, demanding that Salaita not be hired; Dr. Wise has stated this was not a factor in her decision.
Many academic professionals view the University of Illinois administration’s unilateral decision, which did not involve faculty at any level, as a violation of the principles of academic freedom and shared governance. Sixteen academic departments at the university have passed resolutions of no confidence in the administration; two conferences scheduled at the campus have been canceled by their organizers; over six thousand professors have signed a petition for an academic boycott of the university; AAUP, MLA, the American Historical Association, and other professional organizations have issued statements condemning the actions of the University of Illinois and demanding the reinstatement of Dr. Salaita with pay.
The letter from Dr. Anita Levy, Associate Secretary of AAUP, which was sent to Chancellor Wise on August 29, makes the following points:
“…Aborting an appointment in this manner without having demonstrated cause has consistently been seen by the AAUP as tantamount to summary dismissal, an action categorically inimical to academic freedom and due process and one aggravated in his case by the apparent failure to provide him with any written or even oral explanation… We see that a very serious issue of academic freedom has been raised by the actions against him, an issue that will not be resolved as long as the actions remain in effect and their soundness has not been demonstrated by the University of Illinois administration under requisite safeguards of academic due process.”
Levy points out that the University of South Florida received AAUP censure under very similar circumstances in 1964, and acknowledges that a University of Illinois Committee on Academic Freedom of Tenure has been charged with determining Salaita’s tenure status.
In a follow-up letter on Sept. 9, Levy added: “The issues raised in this case are so critically important, and seen as such nationally, that an investigation by the Association would have commenced by now were it not for the role being assumed by the university’s committee.
We are informed that the subcommittee expects to produce a report promptly. We will continue to monitor developments closely and respond accordingly.”
The Tennessee Technological University chapter of AAUP has resolved to follow the example of several university chapters and state conferences nationwide in issuing a statement in support of the national AAUP’s position on this issue.
Academic freedom is the bedrock of the university system, which cannot effectively function in its mission without the free exchange of ideas, even –and perhaps especially –on controversial subjects. Tenure, with its emphasis on due process, and shared governance are not ends in themselves, but tools to protect academic freedom and ultimately the integrity of the university. Administrations and governing bodies making unilateral decisions about faculty and education issues without due process and procedural rigor, and without due participation from faculty representatives, sets a dangerous precedent which must not be countenanced. We urge the University of Illinois to reverse this disastrous course, and urge the academic community to continue expressing their disapproval if the university does not do so. We resolve to firmly oppose the efforts of any university to disregard the principles of academic freedom and shared governance, and invite both faculties and administrations of other institutions, and of our own, to stand with us in declaring unqualified support for those principles.
Tennessee Technological University chapter of AAUP
October 2, 2014