Chancellor Wise Concedes Errors in Salaita Persecution

Phyllis M. Wise told the News-Gazette:

Wise told The News-Gazette she has no plans to alter her decision, but said “there have been some errors in the process. People are on campus and working before their appointments are approved by the board. We need to correct that.”

This is an admission that the board frequently meets after a semester has started, hardly a new revelation, confirming its role is basically one of processing prior recommendations for appointments. If she intends to insert directly the Board of Trustees into assessing scholarship, teaching, service and “tweets,” then she is clearly challenging the very essence of shared governance and the primacy of faculty to determine faculty status. The current facts on the ground are that the BOT does meet after scores of faculty have begun their initial appointment and that an ex post facto reversal after unit approval cannot stand. If she is recommending that the board should meet and substantively review appointments prior to the beginning of a term, she risks even a greater crisis of mismanagement of basic principles in the appointment of faculty. It is not when the Board of Trustees meets, it is the inappropriate and arbitrary assumption of authority that it does not possess.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign chancellor stated another misgiving in the summary dismissal of Professor Steven Salaita:

But she admitted she wished she had sought more consultation before writing that letter.

“I think we need to go over the processes that I should go through in instances like this,” Wise said.”

While Chancellor Wise does not explicitly state her August 1 firing of Professor Salaita was a unilateral act as the News-Gazette claims, this is, perhaps, an admission that she acted improperly in bypassing the American Indian Studies Program and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences interim dean that had recommended and proffered Salaita a written contract in October 2013.  The “processes” that she claims need greater scrutiny and attention were clear enough at the time. If she is conceding that due process was violated in this summary dismissal, she is giving more ammunition to any legal challenge of this outrage or to any future fact-finding investigation of the American Association of University Professors.

In the News-Gazette there is a significant statement concerning academic freedom:

She also thinks university officials should review and consider spelling out what is and is not in the realm of academic freedom.

“There’s no hard and fast policy, and I think that one of the good things that can come out of that is a really active discussion, symposia, workshops, seminars on what is considered academic freedom and what is considered freedom of speech in light of digital media,” Wise said.

This is unexceptionable in principle. All postsecondary institutions should engage in self-examination and an intensive review of academic freedom and what it means. However there is a “hard and fast policy” when it comes to shared governance, academic freedom, and the powers of the Board of Trustees. Recognising there is leeway for universities to develop their own practices of academic freedom, it is not a wild west show. She chose to ignore essential documents of the AAUP that her university in its enclosures to Professor Salaita claim to honour: for example the essential 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. With regard to digital media, the AAUP has developed a comprehensive statement, Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications on the need to extend academic freedom and extramural communication into this realm.

I have no criticism of Chancellor Wise’s stated intent of opening up a dialogue. Yet it must reexamine the egregious violations on the UIUC campus of academic freedom, shared governance and denial of free speech rights under the First Amendment. It is not enough to seek possibly reform, if that is her objective, but to resolve and settle the central issue of the moment: That is the summary dismissal and monstrous firing of Dr. Salaita. This tenure travesty and viewpoint cleansing should be reversed now and then subsequently a comprehensive university-wide discussion of academic freedom and shared governance should commence.

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