A.A.U.P. Letter to Chancellor Wise and Salaita Academic Freedom

This letter is a dramatic escalation of  the American Association of University Professors engagement in this tenure travesty. While I will not predict future courses of action, I will share the fact, that Illinois A.A.U.P. Committee A was a major player in the censure of Northeastern Illinois University. The initial firestorm was lit by the Illinois Conference, national A.A.U.P. came to the rescue, wrote letters to the president, Sharon Hahs and eventually censured the institution. This process could be replicated here; hopefully it will not be.

The letter that was written by Associate Secretary Anita Levy from the Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance hopefully will resolve the controversy with an appropriate response from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This means no suspension without pay and the fulfillment of their SIGNED job offer to Professor Steven G. Salaita. It should be lauded for its careful preparation and use of historical examples such as the University of South Florida 1964 case. A.A.U.P. lives by its iconic history, celebrates its centennial, advocates in the present, yet uses the past to remedy and repair broken practices of academic due process, governance and academic freedom so future transgressions will be minimised.

The Levy letter and again, I am NOT predicting but merely elucidating, could lead to an A.A.U.P. investigation of the University of Illinois for this arbitrary and odious  summary dismissal with a total absence of a due process hearing or even an explanation of putative academic cause to Professor Salaita. This A.A.U.P. letter of inquiry may ultimately lead to censure of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign if an investigating committee  of usually three persons reports violations of A.A.U.P. standards and principles. I testified before the committee at N.E.I.U. which, as indicated, was censured.

This is followed by the national A.A.U.P. Committee A voting whether to recommend a censure to the council which is basically the governing board of A.A.U.P. If the council agrees that censure is appropriate, the chair of Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure presents the rationale at the national meeting of the association held in Washington each June. At the 2014 meeting, I spoke in favour of censure for N.E.I.U. since Illinois Committee A initiated its own state-level report. I am again speculating on possible scenarios. Let us hope that none of this will occur with the University of Illinois and that Professor Salaita is allowed to teach his courses, resume his career and tweet to his heart’s content. I urge the U.I.U.C. to consider carefully the consequences of failing to respond positively to an A.A.U.P. inquiry, and to remember its problematic past. It should not assume that fund raising is the only objective or satisfying invested groups in viewpoint cleansing serves the interest of an American university.

The University of Illinois succumbed to external legislative pressure when President David Dodds Henry fired biology Professor Leo Koch in 1960 after he wrote a letter to the Daily Illini that advocated premarital sex and free love. President Henry was hung in effigy outside a Y.M.C.A. in protest this abusive firing of Professor Koch. This dismissal landed the University of Illinois on the A.A.U.P.s censure list for a number of years and the university eventually altered its processes and was later removed from the censure list.

History is worth learning, so it won’t be repeated! Is anyone listening?

August 29, 2014


Dr. Phyllis Wise

Chancellor, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Swanlund Administration Building

601 East John Street

Champaign, Illinois 61820

Dear Chancellor Wise:

Dr. Steven Salaita has sought the assistance of the American Association of University Professors pursuant to your letter of August 1, 2014, informing him that you would not be recommending the tenured faculty appointment offered to him on October 3, 2013, to the board of trustees for its approval and stating, “We believe that an affirmative Board vote approving your appointment is unlikely.”

The Association’s interest in Professor Salaita’s case stems from its longstanding commitment to academic freedom and tenure. The basic tenets, as you know, are set forth in the attached joint 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, to which the University of Illinois subscribes. Also attached are the complementary joint 1958 Statement on Procedural Standards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings and the AAUP’s derivative Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

* * * * *

From the information provided to us by Professor Salaita, others at the University of Illinois, and media sources, we understand that he was offered an appointment as an associate professor with tenure at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, initially to begin January 1, 2014. The offer was made in a letter dated October 3, 2013, from Dr. Brian H. Ross, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences upon the recommendation of Professor Jodi Byrd, then the acting-director of the American Indian Studies Program (AIS) for which Professor Salaita was recruited. In this letter, Interim Dean Ross stated that the recommendation for appointment was “subject to approval by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.” He nonetheless asked for Professor Salaita’s decision by October 14 and directed him to return “a photocopy of this letter with the form at the bottom completed and signed,” should he accept the appointment. He then wrote:

At the University of Illinois, like at most universities in this country, we

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subscribe to the principles of academic freedom and tenure laid down by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure has been since 1940 the foundation document in this country covering the freedoms and obligations of tenure. The AAUP Statement on Professional Ethics is a document of similarly broad application to those in academia. I am enclosing copies of these documents for your information, and commend them to your attention.

On October 9, Professor Salaita wrote to Interim Dean Ross accepting the appointment and returning a copy of the signed offer letter. With the interim dean’s concurrence, he states, he amended the effective date to August 16, 2014, in order to enable him to complete the academic year at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, where he was then serving on the faculty as a tenured associate professor. After accepting the appointment, Professor Salaita resigned his tenured position. Shortly thereafter, and throughout the spring and early summer, he engaged in e-mail correspondence with incoming AIS program director Professor Robert Warrior and the program assistant regarding matters related to his fall

2014 course assignments, schedule preferences, and book orders. Toward the end of January, Professor Salaita wrote to Professor Byrd about scheduling a visit to Urbana-Champaign in order to make arrangements for a place to live for him and his family. He states that they visited the area in March and subsequently initiated the purchase of an apartment, including payment of “earnest” money, which was subsequently forfeited when the agreement was voided following the abrupt notification regarding his appointment. During this visit, the AIS faculty hosted a dinner for him and his family to welcome him to the faculty. In early April he was notified of his fall teaching assignment, and he finalized his course book orders in mid-summer.

In the intervening months between his October 2013 acceptance of the appointment and early August 2014, when you notified him of its termination, Professor Salaita received information from various offices of the university, indicating that they had been informed of his appointment, including an invitation from your office to attend your August 19 reception “welcoming faculty and academic professionals who joined the Illinois community in 2014,” as the invitation stated. Nothing was said to Professor Salaita about board action still to come, and we are informed that it is not uncommon for board action on new appointments to take place only after the appointment has begun and the appointee is already at work.

* * * * *

We are deeply concerned about the action taken against Professor Salaita. Long after he was offered and accepted a tenured position, specific arrangements were made regarding courses, schedules, and salary. The exchange of letters between Interim Dean Ross and Professor Salaita appears to have been in accordance with generally established procedures by which academic appointments are tendered and accepted. Ten months elapsed during which time no one in the university administration gave any indication that the appointment as agreed upon might not be brought before the board. Only this August, after Professor Salaita had resigned his tenured position at Virginia Tech, prepared for his assignments, and shortly before the semester was to begin did he receive notification asserting that, because the board of trustees would not be acting on the matter, he did not have an appointment at the University of Illinois. Aborting an appointment in this manner without having demonstrated cause has

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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. As an AAUP 1964 investigating committee report on a similar faculty dismissal at the University of South Florida concluded, the academic community cannot condone an appointment procedure which enables a university to offer a professor a position during normal appointment “season” and then, after he has accepted the position, to cut him adrift without warning or hearings. . . . This committee sees no way in which the academic marketplace could operate in a rational and just way if the practices followed . . . were accepted as normal procedure.

The University of South Florida, the investigating committee further concluded, had a “moral and professional obligation” to support the faculty member’s appointment by its board of trustees in formal action, and its failure to do so constituted for all practical purposes a dismissal. The AAUP’s 1964 annual meeting imposed censure on this basis, which the 1968 annual meeting removed after the university provided redress to the professor and adopted procedures consistent with Association-supported standards.

While the administration has not provided an explanation for the actions against Professor Salaita, it seems evident from media and other accounts that the actions have been publicly seen as having been triggered by his posting on social-media websites which were condemnatory of Israeli government practices in recent months. We are not privy to the circumstances under which information regarding his statements was discovered and distributed, we do not know what motives were involved, nor is it for us to render a judgment on the substantive merits of those statements, but we sharply question whether they meet the standard, set forth in Regulation 5a of the AAUP’s Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure, that cause for such actions “be related, directly and substantially, to the fitness of faculty members in their professional capacities as teachers or researchers.”

We see Professor Salaita’s online statements as extramural activity as a citizen rather than as faculty performance, and the 1940 Statement of Principles cautions that when faculty members “speak or write as citizens they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline. . . .” The document goes on to explain that faculty members should nonetheless act responsibly as citizens and (in its 1940

Interpretation No. 3) states that an administration may bring charges if it believes that these admonitions have not been observed “such as to raise grave doubts concerning the teacher’s fitness for his or her position,” but that in doing so it “should remember that teachers are citizens and should be accorded the freedom of citizens.” 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.

We understand that an issue has arisen regarding the legitimacy of Professor Salaita’s tenure absent board of trustees’ approval. We have been informed that the university’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure (CAFT), acting under its statutory authority, has decided to initiate an examination of the issues posed by the Salaita case.

Chancellor Phyllis Wise

August 29, 2014

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We appreciate that the information on which this letter is based has come to us largely from Professor Salaita and that you may well yourself have information that would add to our understanding of what has occurred. We shall accordingly welcome your comments. Until these issues have been resolved, we look upon Professor Salaita’s situation as that of a faculty member suspended from his academic responsibilities pending a hearing on his fitness to continue. Under the joint 1958 Statement on Procedural Standards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings, any such suspension is to be with pay. As detailed earlier in this letter, Professor Salaita has incurred major financial expenses since he accepted the University of Illinois offer. We urge – indeed insist – that he be paid salary as set in the terms of the appointment pending the result of the CAFT proceeding.

We would welcome a prompt response.


Anita Levy, Ph.D.

Associate Secretary

Enclosures via E-mail

cc: Mr. Christopher Kennedy, Chair, Board of Trustees

Interim Dean Brian H. Ross

Professor Robert Warrior, Director, American Indian Studies Program

Professor Jodi Byrd

Professor David J. O’Brien, Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure

Professor Roy Campbell, Chair, Senate Executive Committee

Professor Bruce Rosenstock, Chair, Campus Faculty Association Professor Steven Salaita

Professor Michael Harkins, President, Illinois AAUP Conference

Professor Peter Kirstein, Chair, Illinois AAUP Conference Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure

Professor John Prussing, President, UIUC AAUP Chapter

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