The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Campus Faculty Association (C.F.A.) has responded to the coordinated viewpoint cleansing and firing of Professor Steven G. Salaita, a tenured associate professor in the American Indian Studies Program. Yesterday, the chancellor and all the university’s top administrators issued coordinated statements to stop the hemorrhaging of the university’s reputation. Namely scholars in the United States and abroad are horrified at the cruel and arbitrary dismissal and firing of Professor Salaita. What I find particularly disturbing is that both Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise and the follow-up letter of President Robert A. Easter and Chairperson of the Board of Trustees Christopher G. Kennedy rhetorically present carefully crafted innuendos in explaining why they would engage in viewpoint cleansing of a tenured faculty member, two weeks before his appointment would begin and ten months after he returned his contract.
They do not state specifically, or it should be assumed, university counsel won’t state directly that Professor Salaita was fired for his humanistic but provocative response to the mass killings of civilians in Gaza. They merely suggest that his tweets were not civil and contained statements unsuitable for polite discourse. This is mere obfuscation of the real reason: the professor criticised a foreign country, a nuclear power that was blasting away at a trapped civilian population in Gaza. One does not have to concur with his analysis or hyperbolic language, but to destroy his career possibly and render him without income for his antiwar advocacy and compassion for innocent victims of war are reflective of a lack of ethical humanism. One would hope that Chancellor Wise and other officers of the university respect diversity of viewpoints even if it contravenes the ideology of the powerful. Such toleration of both rhetorical flourishes and substantive analysis must prevail in a democratic society and especially on a campus of the stature of the University of Illinois .
Again, it was probably those University of Illinois lawyers who urged that inferences not directness prevail in this assault on shared governance in determining the composition of the professoriate. Lawyers in all likelihood suggested they not charge directly that Salaita would fail students with whom he disagrees or might offend the delicate sensibilities of students who might not embrace every idea and opinion that is enunciated in class. Yet pusillanimous inferences and innuendos were clearly intended to damage the reputation of Professor Salaita and exculpate his viewpoint-cleansing oppressors. This egregious violation of academic freedom, due process, free speech, and professional treatment of an appointed colleague to the faculty cannot stand and should be construed as a salvo against free-thinking faculty.
This is the C.F.A. statement and I am honoured to be linked to a blog post. It is their courage, however, and their risk taking under this oppressive academic environment that should be lauded as they resist the illegitimate actions of the senior administrative officers of their university. They are not alone!
CHANCELLOR DECREES FACULTY AT ILLINOIS ARE SUBJECT TO CIVILITY TEST; TRUSTEES BACK HER TO THE HILT
Chancellor Wise broke her long silence on the Salaita case by launching a frontal assault on academic freedom and shared governance. Her campus massmail of August 22 seems perfectly reasonable at first reading – this campus is generally a friendly and cordial place, and who would want to change that? – but what she actually asserts is alarming:
“What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.”
Universities exist in order to investigate, challenge, and (when necessary) “demean and abuse” viewpoints. But the Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will not tolerate the utterance of words that demean “viewpoints” if, in her sole judgment, those words are “personal and disrespectful.” We are presumably now forbidden, for example, from bluntly disparaging the viewpoints of creationism or homophobia on this campus.
This newly-invented civility test has been applied so far only to Steven Salaita, yet we must assume the Chancellor intends for all faculty and staff to be bound by her decree. Further, her treatment of Salaita demonstrates that she sees no need for due process in such cases. Salaita was fired without the Chancellor even informing the director of the American Indian Studies Program in which he was to teach. The Chancellor seems to regard shared governance as an irritation to be discarded when convenient.
The Chancellor’s statement is troubling also for non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty, who have little enough job security as it is, what with the administration refusing so far even to recognize their new union (CFA Local 6546). On the Chicago campus, faculty are protected by their union contract from the whims of administrators. But here, NTT faculty in particular now have to look over their shoulders and worry about their social media posts – for the Chancellor might decide that some future student could be uncomfortable about comments made in the faculty member’s personal life.
The follow-up statement by the Board of Trustees and President Easter supporting the Chancellor (August 22) is just as bad. They say “we must constantly reinforce our expectation of a university community that values civility as much as scholarship.” Civility is pleasant enough, to be sure, but scholarship justifies the university’s existence. To rank the two as equally important betrays a sophomoric understanding of the institution that the Trustees and the President purport to lead.
For more extended analysis and skewering of the Chancellor and Trustees’ statements, we recommend the blog post by Peter Kirstein here, and here (second link added) the Academe Blog posts by John K. Wilson here and here.
Contact us now at <email@example.com> to join the movement for a tenure-stream faculty union – and restore power to the faculty.
– Campus Faculty Association Executive Committee
contact: firstname.lastname@example.org I chair the American Association of University Professors Illinois Conference Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure that issued the first comprehensive statement on this matter.