An exchange of emails between University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise and two professors about Steven Salaita's tweets last summer has some faculty raising questions about who she consulted before deciding to withdraw his appointment.
Wise was asked about the emails at a Senate Executive Committee meeting Thursday by the head of a committee that investigated the case. He said they appeared to contradict her testimony to the panel.
"You had told us you hadn't met with any faculty and had only limited discussions with the provost. ... Now, it turns out that's not the case," said Professor David O'Brien, chairman of the campus Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure.
The July 24 emails show Wise and Provost Ilesanmi Adesida discussing Salaita with two professors, Nicholas Burbules and Joyce Tolliver, on the day the chancellor met with UI trustees to discuss Salaita's angry tweets about Israel. Both are longtime members of the Senate Executive Committee.
"We have run into a buzz saw again!" Adesida wrote to Tolliver and Burbules, saying the chancellor has been "deluged with protest messages from outraged alumni and the public."
Wise on Thursday acknowledged talking with "a few people" about the case, including the provost, Burbules and Tolliver, but "I wouldn't consider that consultation." She said she had told the committee that she "did not consult in the way I pride myself on consulting."
Professor Bruce Rosenstock, president of the Campus Faculty Association, said the emails "directly contradict" Wise's testimony to the committee.
The committee's report said the chancellor "confirmed that she had not consulted with the Provost, the Dean of LAS, or other faculty representatives about her decisions not to forward Dr. Salaita's offer of appointment to the Board of Trustees and to notify him in advance of this decision. She indicated that her initial understanding of the process was that it was her prerogative not to forward Dr. Salaita's appointment to the Board of Trustees, and she only later discovered this understanding to be incorrect. She expressed much regret that she had not consulted more widely with the faculty and administration, and attributed her neglect of shared governance to the rapidity with which decisions had to be made."
Wise said Thursday, "I don't think I pointed out whether or not I met with any faculty specifically, but that I was not happy with my own lack of extensive consultation that I usually do in these cases."
Wise noted that she also told Robert Warrior that she was going to send a letter to Salaita withdrawing his appointment, but that's different from "asking someone's opinion and taking the time to take that advice into my equations."
"I'm not proud of that. I wish there had been more time. I wish I had been more deliberate. But I didn't consider any of the emails that have come to light as demonstrating anything contrary to what I told the committee," she told O'Brien.
Burbules noted that the chancellor has said she should have consulted with the units directly involved in Salaita's hiring.
"There are other faculty who are much, much closer to those issues who should have been brought into the loop. I've said this publicly," Burbules said.
"We were not part of the decision-making process. We had conversations, I shared my thoughts about what I knew at that time of the Salaita case," he said. "I was never involved in making any decisions about his case."
The July 24 emails were obtained by Urbana resident Andrew Scheinman, who received them in a Freedom of Information Act request and published them on his website.
Burbules and Tolliver didn't comment directly on the case in the emails but told Wise it would be useful to follow up by phone or in person.
"I have much more to say, but not for email," Burbules wrote. Tolliver suggested the senate's upcoming review of University Statutes regarding academic freedom might be relevant.
In his emails, Adesida said he and the chancellor didn't know Salaita and mentioned that his hiring is "coming up in September."
"One thing that we would like to do is to figure out how we prevent this sort of highly charged and negative blow-back like we have had on (James) Kilgore and now Salaita in the future. ... What is acceptable and what are not acceptable, that is the question. We have to engage carefully with the Deans but I want to begin to seek your wise counsel in this domain even before that. This is potentially a slippery territory!"
Wise's follow-up email calls Salaita's tweets "hateful, totally unprofessional and unacceptable."
"This is after the decision to hire him and after his acceptance of our offer. It reveals a side of the person that I believe makes it difficult for him to contribute to the culture of respect, collegiality, collaboration that we hold so dear," she wrote.
Rosenstock wondered why Burbules and Tolliver didn't mention their discussions with Wise when they co-authored a response to the CAFT report in January. The document said that "certain processes ought to have been followed last summer," among them, "consulting with authorized faculty leaders," Rosenstock said, adding that Tolliver and Burbules would be considered authorized leaders.
Burbules said the report was written by five faculty members, "speaking for ourselves," and objected to the representation that he did something "nefarious" by not disclosing the conversations.
"It does seem to me in this latest round of accusations there's a kind of 'damned if you do, damned if you don't'" attitude, he said. "At first, people attacked her because she didn't consult. Now they're attacking her because she did consult and didn't disclose that fact, whatever that means.
"There are people out to get the chancellor, and I'm very concerned that people are trying to back her into a no-win situation."
Tolliver said: "As long as I have been deeply involved in shared governance, UI presidents, chancellors, and provosts have made it their practice to keep faculty leaders firmly in the loop about emerging situations, in addition to carrying out the regular wide consultation of stakeholders that the AAUP recommends. Chancellor Wise has tried to continue that practice. This is something that faculty and administrators alike should be proud of. I find it lamentable that it is now being portrayed as something shameful."