In a letter I received as an email attachment last night, Anita Levy of the AAUP agrees with many of us that Steven Salaita was shafted (not the word she used.) Levy also points out that, although Salaita’s #HireFire is widely believed to be an outcome of his Tweets on Gaza, University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise gave him no reasons for her unwillingness to bring the appointment before the board of trustees, other than her belief that there would not be a positive vote. Most importantly, the idea that Salaita could not function ethically and effectively in the classroom, or as a colleague, is an argument that has been made entirely by public insinuation (see comments on my Salaita posts, for example.) It has no basis in fact, has never been formally articulated as a charge, and has not been investigated through the university’s own procedures.
Most importantly, the fact that documents were signed, classes were scheduled and Salaita was put through all the steps that would prepare him to teach in the fall, make him an employee of the University of Illinois in the eyes of the AAUP. This means they must treat him as an employee, according to their own written regulations. They cannot simply dismiss him without any warning or explanation,
Before you start writing your anti-Salaita comment, think hard: what makes you feel so safe in your job? Would any of us want to be fired, or have your hire revoked, for no reason that had to be explained to anyone? Would any of us like to lose a job because of insinuations made by strangers in public forums? Whether you support Steven Salaita’s views, and how you read his tweets, is, in fact, your personal opinion and has nothing to do with whether he should be employed by a department and a university whose faculty vetted his work thoroughly.
Furthermore, the AAUP argues that Salaita was acting as a citizen in an “extramural” capacity and not as a member of the University of Illinois faculty, a crucial distinction that is laid out in the 1940 Statement of Principles. Faculty “are citizens and should be accorded the freedom of citizens.”
What’s the upshot? Illinois must respond adequately, or risk being sanctioned for its actions. The AAUP has also expressed its position that Salaita is currently “a faculty member suspended from his academic responsibilities pending a hearing on his fitness to continue” and he must be paid.
Read the full letter here. While you are at it, join the AAUP: all of us should be better educated about these issues. It’s one thing for non-academic commenters on this blog to disregard the importance of universities being accountable for their own procedures and legal responsibilities; it’s another thing entirely for academics to think that academic freedom only goes to people of whose speech we approve. I can’t tell you how many otherwise decent people I know who, because they are repelled by Salaita’s Tweets and would not want to have him as a colleague, accept this behavior on the part of UIUC’s Chancellor and Board of Trustees.
Here’s the news: it’s not up to the rest of us who should be appointed in other people’s departments. It is up to the rest of us to protect academic freedom and the right to a fair hearing. Those of us who support Steven Salaita’s case have very different views about the Tweets and about his scholarship, might or might not have hired him in the first place. That’s not the point.
The point is that the next time it could be you.