Despite calls for unity, University of Illinois faculty still appear divided — some of them angry and fearful — in the wake of the administration's decision to reject American Indian Studies professor Steven Salaita last month.
At the annual meeting of the faculty Monday in the Illini Union, faculty lined up to express their concerns about the Salaita affair and ask questions about ramifications, including possible censure by the American Association of University Professors, or AAUP.
For more than an hour faculty challenged Chancellor Phyllis Wise on her decision, described the campus as feeling "polarized" and "oppressive," and said some junior faculty are worried that if they research or publish in a way that offends administrators or donors, they will not receive tenure. Some turned their backs to Wise when she issued her opening statement.
Meanwhile other faculty said enough is enough and it's time for the campus to move on.
The annual meeting of the faculty is a tradition each fall. The president and chancellor deliver remarks about the state of the campus and then take questions from faculty.
"It was difficult. It was challenging," Wise told The News-Gazette after the meeting. "There's clearly some deep-seeded dissatisfaction and polarization. We have to figure out ways to get back together. This is something we have to work on together."
And it's not going to happen instantaneously, she said.
A faculty search committee offered Salaita, a Virginia Tech professor, a tenure track faculty job back in October 2013. He accepted and planned to teach this fall. After his tweets critical of Israel's invasion of Gaza received scrutiny, Wise notified him in August that she would not forward his appointment to the board for approval. Trustees rejected the appointment last month. Some faculty and students have decried the decision while others have come out in support of Wise and the board.
Wise has said she should have taken more time to consult with additional people on campus before informing Salaita in early August that she would not forward his name to the board for approval. She reiterated her previous statements that the decision was not motivated by donor pushback or that it was political, which several faculty questioned Monday. She has said she will encourage symposia and other discussions about academic freedom and freedom of speech.
Wise also pledged to fix problems with the hiring process, which allows faculty to teach before their appointments are officially approved by the board. In addition, Provost Ilesanmi Adesida recently convened a committee, comprised of faculty members, to review faculty hiring practices and processes and submit recommendations by November.
Also, the Academic Senate's Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure is reviewing Salaita's case.
In late-August American Association of University Professors wrote to Wise expressing "deep" concern about the Salaita affair. The university's "aborting" of Salaita's appointment without demonstrating cause is tantamount to summary dismissal, "an action categorically inimical to academic freedom and due process and one aggravated in his case by the apparent failure to provide him with any written or even oral explanation," wrote Anita Levy, associate secretary with the AAUP.
The AAUP could conduct its own investigation, and it should, said Bruce Rosenstock, UI religion professor and president of the Campus Faculty Association. Censure votes occur during the AAUP's annual meeting which is held in June.
No major public research university has ever landed on that list, Rosenstock said.
If the AAUP censures the university, it would be "devastating and demoralizing" to be affiliated with the university, said English professor Curtis Perry.
Censure, said UI communications professor Susan Davis, is a public shaming. If the university wants to recover its reputation, the administration must adhere to the AAUP's principles on academic freedom and tenure, and, if censured, take back some of its statements and reverse its decisions, she said.
"As faculty we are the ones who will suffer the reputational consequences if the AAUP censures our institutions. We the faculty must speak up. ... A censured institution is not an excellent institution," she said.
Wise said the Committee on Academic Freedom on Tenure's work will be done before any vote on censure.
"I'm hoping CAFT in collaboration with administration will be able to work through that process," she said.
Rosenstock called Monday's meeting a "tremendous disappointment."
"It was disappointing to hear how little our administration acknowledged the damage to the reputation of this university, to the morale of its faculty. Until the administration says we made catastrophic errors in judgement and procedure and we wish had done it differently there will never be unity on this campus," Rosenstock said.
Kim Graber said those who lined up to talk Monday represent only one side. She supports Wise.
"I think people needed an opportunity to say what they were feeling," she said. "We've heard the same things from the same people and it's time to move forward. ... They're a group that's going to be dissatisfied until they have a union," she said, referring to the Campus Faculty Association's ongoing campaign for a tenure-stream faculty union.
In one of the final comments of the evening, physics professor George Gollin acknowledged the Salaita case is a complicated one that has caused a tremendous amount of pain for people on both sides. "In my experience, this has been a fabulously collegial university. The current events now are things that will ultimately be resolved, We will continue to be colleagues at this world class university. ... This is just one incident. It will pass and we will eventually come together again," Gollin said.