Whether the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign violated the academic-freedom rights of Steven G. Salaita, an Israel critic denied a job there, is likely to depend on whether campus administrators had previously made Mr. Salaita a formal job offer and whether his tweeted views on Israel were the reason they revoked it, two top officials of the American Association of University Professors said in a statement issued on Thursday.
Rudy H. Fichtenbaum, the AAUP’s president, and Henry F. Reichman, chairman of the association’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, said in their statement that “a number of facts concerning this case remain unclear” because neither Mr. Salaita nor the university’s administration have offered public comment on it.
Reiterating a position taken on Wednesday by Anita Levy, associate secretary in the AAUP’s department of academic freedom, tenure, and governance, they said Cary Nelson, a former AAUP president, did not speak for the association in arguing that the university’s administration had acted properly in refusing to ask the university’s Board of Trustees to approve the hiring of Mr. Salaita as a tenured professor of American Indian studies.
Mr. Salaita was offered the job, contingent on board approval, last year, but the university came under fire last month for its plans to hire him. Critics cited his inflammatory tweets assailing Israel’s military actions in Gaza. In a letter sent to Mr. Salaita last Friday, two weeks before he was scheduled to begin his new job, Phyllis M. Wise, the campus’s chancellor, and Christophe Pierre, the University of Illinois system’s vice president for academic affairs, said he would not get the new position after all because they would not submit his appointment to the university’s board in September for approval.
They did not offer a reason for their decision other than to say that “we believe that an affirmative board vote approving your appointment is unlikely.”
The statement issued by Mr. Fichtenbaum and Mr. Reichman said Mr. Salaita “could be considered to have already acquired the rights accruing to a faculty member at Illinois” if a job offer had been made to him in writing, and if that is the case, the withdrawal of the job offer might have violated his academic freedom and the academic freedom of the faculty members who had recommended him. The AAUP’s guidelines on faculty appointments note, however, that, to be considered binding, a formal offer “should be an unequivocal letter of appointment signed by the responsible institutional officer.”
The letter the two Illinois administrators sent to Mr. Salaita last week said that an interim dean’s letter to Mr. Salaita informing him of his new appointment had specifically said it was subject to board approval.
Robert Warrior, a professor of American Indian studies, English, and history at Urbana-Champaign and director of its American Indian studies program, said on Wednesday that the board approves such appointments so routinely that it is not uncommon for new faculty members to start their jobs before the board votes, as Mr. Salaita would have done.
Thursday’s statement from Mr. Fichtenbaum and Mr. Reichman also says that the university would have violated Mr. Salaita’s academic freedom if it withdrew the job in response to Mr. Salaita’s expressions of his personal views through social media and let considerations of civility or collegiality factor into its decision. “Whether one finds these views attractive or repulsive is irrelevant to the right of a faculty member to express them,” the statement says.Return to Top