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Illinois Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure Report

By Peter N. Kirstein, chair of Illinois AAUP Committee A

The Illinois Conference thanks the courage and leadership of Robin Meade who fought for adjunct rights at Moraine Valley Community College. She won a variety of legal actions but has decided to leave academia. She was a great member of Illinois Committee A and we thank her for her service. Michael Harkins, president of the conference, has graciously agreed to serve on Illinois Committee A. We are looking for another volunteer, and especially encourage women to apply at kirstein@sxu.edu.

For the second consecutive year at the 2017 AAUP annual meeting, the Association recommended the removal of censure from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Censured in 2015 for firing Steven Salaita, a tenured faculty member, who tweeted protest of Israeli bombing in Gaza, Illinois Committee A unanimously opposed removal of censure, and endorsed this statement that was read at the annual meeting in Washington, D.C. At no time did the rulers of the AAUP seek comment or input from the Illinois Conference. They even passed out a statement from the UIUC AAUP chapter in favour of censure removal, but never consulted the conference which was the first to condemn Salaita’s firing. The AAUP removed censure from the University of Illinois in June, 2017. Hopefully the next real history of the Association will include this egregious action. Illinois Committee A acknowledges the articulate and intrepid support against censure removal by John K. Wilson, editor of Illinois Academe and an alumnus of the U of I.

This is the statement from the Illinois AAUP Committee A that reflects a commitment to academic freedom that is supposedly endorsed by the AAUP.:
Illinois Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure strongly opposes the lifting of censure of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. On August 6, 2014, Illinois Committee A was the first to condemn this assault on academic freedom, and denounced the arbitrary and capricious firing of Steven Salaita, a tenured associate professor, for using his Twitter feed to denounce the indiscriminate mass-killings of non-combatants in Gaza. We call for a public apology on the part of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for this appalling termination of a signed contract. We do not believe a mere statement, that has not been publicly disseminated, in support of academic freedom from the University of Illinois can be taken seriously. When Professor Salaita and other job seekers were offered contracts, their packet included the iconic AAUP 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure and the Statement on Professional Ethics. Such hypocrisy then, without more substantive changes now, confirms the University of Illinois has learned very little about adhering to AAUP principles and procedures.

We do not believe the Board of Trustees’ approval of faculty hires, before a semester begins, is a significant reform. The latter would not have helped Dr. Salaita, who early on resigned from a tenured position at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. There should be a very short interval between a contract offer and a governing board’s approval. Perhaps, two to three weeks at most.

Illinois Committee A demands the full restoration of the American Indian Studies Program now! The AAUP must not remain silent. A university must not, with impunity, destroy an academic program because of a controversial, idealistic professor. There are no core faculty, only affiliate faculty. The interim director is not a Native-American area specialist but a Latino, African-American, and baseball scholar. The website tersely states a director’s statement is “coming soon.”

It was the NCAA in 2007 and not the AAUP censure in 2015 that compelled some reform at the U of I. Although there are still rogue, student mascots showing up at athletic events, the NCAA threatened to withhold any post-season venues on the UIUC campus unless the “hostile and abusive” mascot Chief Illiniwek was formally retired. Yet the continuing war on Native-American culture and studies, from the demeaning chief to the evisceration of the American-Indian Studies Program demands censure.

Settlements are not enough. Tenured positions remain elusive. Professor Salaita in a June 5, 2017 e-mail, stated he is leaving the American University of Beirut and has not secured an academic appointment. Health care and retirement packages are not continuous; reputations remain unfairly damaged. It is a temporary fix; a bridge to nowhere. Norman Finkelstein settled at DePaul University, and the AAUP walked away from the most significant tenure-denial case since the McCarthy Era. We believe UIUC has not demonstrated clear and convincing evidence that it will adhere to AAUP principles and policies.

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of Keyishian v Board of Regents (1967). We reject a “pall of orthodoxy over” the University of Illinois. Illinois Committee A believes the removal of censure is an existential threat to academic freedom and tenure not only at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but also the entire academy.

Peter N. Kirstein, Vice President and Chair Illinois Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure (AAUP), Saint Xavier University
Iymen Chehade, Columbia College Chicago
Alan Ilif, North Park University
Robin Meade, Triton College