Statement on NEIU Censure at the AAUP Annual Meeting
By Peter N. Kirstein, Chair, Illinois AAUP Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, and Vice President of the Illinois AAUP
Northeastern Illinois University linguistics professor John Boyle, who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, initially contacted the American Association of University Professors Illinois Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure on April 12, 2012. Professor Boyle requested intervention concerning issues related to his application for tenure. We advised him to defer, pending the president's letter to the Board of Trustees. We also received several inquiries from other NEIU colleagues. Dr. Boyle contacted Illinois Committee A on July 3, 2012 and informed us that President Sharon Hahs had not recommended him for tenure or promotion to associate professor.
AAUP Illinois Conference A on Academic Freedom and Tenure submitted its initial report on this tenure-denial case to President Hahs on July 13. 2012.
We were very concerned given the outstanding evaluations Dr. Boyle received: "Every unit from the Chair of the Department of Linguistics, the Department of Linguistics, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and the University Personnel Committee evaluated Dr. Boyle's teaching as 'superior' and unanimously recommended him for tenure."
The AAUP Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities states that "faculty status...[is] primarily a faculty responsibility; this area includes...decisions not to reappoint, promotions, the granting of tenure..." It is unacceptable for a president to reject recommendations for tenure from four responsible academic units without providing substantive and specific reasons for reversal.
AAUP Committee A concluded that NEIU's president arbitrarily and capriciously used collegiality as a unacceptable criterion to deny Dr. Boyle tenure: "Furthermore, you raise disturbing innuendos concerning Dr. Boyle's alleged lack of collegiality. Your letter repeatedly refers to the issue of 'cooperation with colleagues and students.'"
Illinois Committee A has not examined a single document that charges Dr. Boyle with a lack of collegiality vis-à-vis other faculty. The University Personnel Committee-produced data summaries of course evaluations are also probative that Dr. Boyle established a very good relationship with students.
The central issue that was raised against Dr. Boyle concerned a quarrel over advising turf and competing for student minors. Boyle was in the crossfire of a turf war between Linguistics and Teaching English as a Second Language faculty. Boyle tried to recruit more minors into his programme, as he should, and several bullying TESL tenured faculty wrote highly disparaging letters, without copying to Dr. Boyle, to senior administrators claiming poaching and raiding their department cache of minors. I thought students in this country could change minors and that professors could encourage students to minor in a certain area of study.
President Hahs ordered Professor Boyle to undergo a bizarre reeducation of sorts including tutoring in advising software techniques and strategies. He completed her requirement yet accidentally submitted a report on the successful completion of this training to the wrong office. Dr. Hahs cited the missed deadline as an infraction in her letter of tenure denial, even though she received it as soon as he realized what had happened.
A student complained Dr Boyle during class pressured students to switch their minor from TESL to Ling. The student filed the complaint after the class with Dr Boyle had ended, and when enrolled as the only student in a directed study course with a TESL faculty member who was associated with the sending of one of the damaging letters claiming poaching. Illinois Committee A's report concluded:
"This raises serious questions about the voluntary nature of the student complaint and whether it was coached. There is evidence of only one student complaint during Dr. Boyle's six-year probationary period. It concerned an alleged but permissible opinion that a professor made in the course of instruction concerning academic minors. While we respect student complaints, and cannot prove or disprove the accuracy of its substance, this is a trivial matter in the tenure and promotion case of Professor John Boyle."
President Hahs avoided any critique of either Professor Boyle's teaching or scholarship just an absurd charge of alleged advising irregularities, a missed deadline and unsubstantiated collegiality concerns.
This case and the motion to censure was a culmination of significant cooperation between Illinois Committee A, national Committee A and the Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance. Key players were Hank Reichman, Jordan Kurland, Loretta Capeheart, from the ILL Conference Committee A and a faculty member at NEIU, and the investigating committee whose chair was Rebecca J. Williams.
We wrote the report, submitted it to national and contacted both Committee A and the DAFTG office seeking assistance. National decided to investigate, wrote their excellent report and graciously cited Illinois Committee A's investigation.
No one likes censure but in this case it is absolutely essential that such action be taken to defend AAUP principles, defend the rights of faculty against arbitrary and capricious presidential diktat and preserve what remains of the tenure system and the treatment of tenure-track probationary faculty. It is necessary to censure Northeastern Illinois University to send a message to not only to their administration but also to other university presidents that teaching, scholarship and service are the triad of tenure-track documentary review: not politics, not anger with a dept. that supported a no-confidence vote, not trumped up charges of collegiality and getting even with probationary faculty just doing their job.
This is an expanded version of remarks at the AAUP annual meeting in Washington DC June 14, 2014, that unanimously recommended censure of Northeastern Illinois University. To read the IL AAUP Committee A Report on NEIU, go to ilaaup.org.