Salaita and AAUP Statement on Government

Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities is one of the seminal, classic documents of the American Association of University Professor. It was written in 1966 during the tumult of the Vietnam War when professors and students were demanding greater autonomy from the centralised, authoritarian structure of administrative control. This was the period of revisionism, of gender and ethnic studies emergence, of breaking away from the canon. One wonders since this statement was written some forty-eight years ago, whether progress has been stymied by the rise of the corporate university that is more concerned about image and public relations than the education of students.

The Statement on Government is a comprehensive exposition of shared governance which is the concept that a university, unlike a business or an autocracy ruled by a supreme leader, has various sources of authority that share the governance or decision making of the institution: the president, governing boards and faculty. Students are also part of this equation but frankly AAUP and other critical thinking groups are somewhat behind the curve in terms of student rights. The first three sources of authority have some overlapping powers where concentric circles intertwine but also a separation of powers that are uniquely dominant among a particular component. Campus rule is not contained within an entire domain of one of the major units but is shared. The sharing maybe autonomous authority equally dispersed or a shared power in which more than one of the units of authority-president, faculty, governing board-are engaged.

An area of great significance in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Steven Salaita case is faculty status. The Statement on Government is quite clear in stating that while administrations make the final appointment, the procedures in assessment and determining the qualifications of the professoriate rest with the faculty. While technically an overlapping power, the professoriate’s determination of faculty status such as an appointment of new professors should be accepted by the administration. This is the specific paragraph that I predict will continue to expand in importance if the AAUP embarks upon, as seems likely, a comprehensive investigation of the University of Illinois that could lead to censure:

5. The Academic Institution: The Faculty

The faculty has primary responsibility for such fundamental areas as curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, faculty status, and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process.4 On these matters the power of review or final decision lodged in the governing board or delegated by it to the president should be exercised adversely only in exceptional circumstances, and for reasons communicated to the faculty. It is desirable that the faculty should, following such communication, have opportunity for further consideration and further transmittal of its views to the president or board. [emphasis added].

What is particularly significant about this passage is the admonition that when an administration reverses lower unit review of an appointment, it must be for “extraordinary circumstances” that could justify such an intrusion into this realm of faculty predominance in shared governance. An “extraordinary circumstance” would not justify firing a tenured faculty member for tweets that were deemed divisive by vested interest groups seeking viewpoint cleansing that challenged the indiscriminate tactics that were used by the Israel Defence Forces during the Gaza conflict.

While the university has communicated its reasons to the faculty, at least through widely disseminated e-mail, it has not in the minds of many justified that decision. It has not, however, communicated the reasons for violating a contract offer directly to Professor Steven Salaita. The August 1 letter contained no specifics and the August 22 roll out of statements was not addressed directly to the professor. It is my understanding the UIUC Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure is investigating. Their report presumably would be sent to the administration. This would constitute, of course, an example of faculty response as envisioned in the Statement on Government: “[F]aculty should, following such communication, have opportunity for further consideration and further transmittal of its views to the president or board.”

However, even if Chancellor Wise and the board of trustees allow a faculty response to the summary dismissal of Professor Salaita, the burden of demonstrating why “extraordinary circumstances” led to this decision will not be satisfied. Apparently the administration, without faculty input in determining the rubrics for faculty appointments, tenure and promotion, simply ordered that “civility” become a litmus test to determine fitness prior to board of trustees’ approval. It is obvious that the University of Illinois faculty was not consulted in this arbitrary new category beyond the classic triad of teaching, scholarship and service. It was simply proclaimed ex cathedra by Chancellor Wise and Board Chair Christopher G. Kennedy. That cannot stand and for these reasons, the very existence of shared governance is in peril at the University of Illinois.

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