The co-editor of the American Association of University Professors spoke at Allen Hall Monday night about academic freedom in the context of Steven Salaita's rejected appointment to the American Indian Studies program.
John Wilson, co-editor of AAUP and editor of Illinois Academe, said he believes the University violated academic freedom in Salaita's case.
"It's really a violation in two senses," Wilson said. "One is the prohibition on judging faculty based on their political borders, and the other is the issue of punishing professors for what we call 'extramural utterances'."
Salaita posted several politically charged tweets regarding the conflict in Gaza, which many professors categorized as "hate speech."
Wilson stated that extramural utterances, or the speech that is done outside of one's profession (i.e. tweets), have been significant in the "extraordinarily important" history of the University. He cited several events that occurred in the past, including the 1960 firing of Leo Koch, former professor of biology, and the 2010 firing of Kenneth Howell, former professor of religion.
As told by Wilson, Koch wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily Illini that defended premarital sex in 1960. Within three weeks, he was fired by President David Henry, due to what he believed was the "encouragement of immoral behavior".
"Unlike the University statutes today, which don't allow what happened to Steven Salaita, the University statutes back in 1960 explicitly allowed faculty to be fired for immorality," Wilson said.
Wilson described an "enormous backlash" from the AAUP in 1963, who decided to put the University on the censure list — the highest form of condemnation that the association has for violators of academic freedom.
As a result, the University decided to change its statutes and policies, which began to protect academic freedom, and led to their removal from the list "fairly quickly."
In relevance to the 2010 firing, Wilson said Howell made homophobic comments to his class in 2010, which was followed by an email that also expressed homophobic views.
Wilson noted that one big difference between Salaita and Howell is that Howell made his comments in a classroom, while Salaita made his comments on a personal social network.
"It was, in my view, much more explicitly offensive to the people and bigoted than what Steven Salaita had to say," Wilson said.
Wilson said another big difference was that Howell was rehired in the Spring of 2011, following a faculty meeting that looked at the case after concerns were raised.
Wilson said he believes that what the University did in the Howell case is a model of what it should have done in the Salaita case, which was to contact the faculty, consider the concerns of the community and look at the qualifications of the professor.