A few hurdles remain, but the censure imposed on the University of Illinois over the Steven Salaita case could be lifted this spring, according to the American Association of University Professors.
The AAUP placed the UI administration on its censure list last June for revoking a job offer to Salaita after his controversial tweets about Israel. The organization concluded that the school violated his due-process rights and academic freedom.
The AAUP's Anita Levy said the UI's $875,000 legal settlement with Salaita in November was a crucial first step to resolving the censure, and the two sides are making progress on the remaining conditions.
"I'm optimistic as well, and hopeful," interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson said.
Still being worked out:
— A board-approved policy or procedures to ensure that any faculty appointment trustees have doubts about would be sent back to a faculty body that could respond to the board's objections. That didn't happen before Salaita received notice from top administrators — two weeks before he was to start teaching in August 2014 — that his job offer was being withdrawn because the board was unlikely to approve it, Levy said.
— A commitment from the Board of Trustees to endorse the AAUP's statement against campus "speech codes," to demonstrate the university's commitment to academic freedom. "We want some kind of recognition that this has been a problematic issue in the past," said Levy, associate secretary of the AAUP's Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance.
The final step would be a follow-up visit to campus by an AAUP representative to gauge the climate for academic freedom, Levy said.
If those conditions are satisfied, "we're hoping to be able to remove censure in the spring," Levy said.
The vote would come at the AAUP's annual meeting during the second week of June.
Levy said she's been encouraged by developments since Wilson took over last August. At the time, Wilson said resolving the Salaita case and removing the AAUP censure were high on her priority list.
The AAUP reached out to Wilson after that and has been actively working with her to resolve the outstanding issues, said Hans-Joerg Tiede, another AAUP senior program officer.
"Certainly the administration's attitude has changed," Levy said. "She has been very good at responding to our concerns."
Likewise, Wilson said gave the AAUP credit.
"They've been really helpful in engaging me in lots of conversations about our next steps and what needs to be done. They've been terrific to work with, actually," she said.
Wilson said the university has already adjusted its procedures on the timing of faculty hires, so that board approval comes before a professor starts working on campus.
The campus has already revised its own hiring procedures to ensure more consultation about faculty appointments if questions are raised at the campus level, Wilson said.
Regarding the two remaining AAUP conditions, Wilson said she is working with President Tim Killeen on a general statement about academic freedom, as well as "ensuring we have a consultative process going forward should this ever occur again." She isn't sure what form that will take.
"The president is eager to work with us. We haven't really approached the board on how to do this, and what way to make sure it's in our process," she said. "There are different options."
She isn't sure when the board would be asked to approve the new statement — trustees meet on Wednesday and again in May — but the goal is to get it done before the AAUP's June meeting.
Salaita, a former English professor at Virginia Tech, was hired for a tenured position in the American Indian Studies program in October 2013, subject to trustees' approval, and didn't plan to start teaching until the following August.
Then-Chancellor Phyllis Wise revoked the offer on Aug. 1, 2014, after Salaita posted a series of angry and sometimes-profane tweets about Israel during its bombing of Gaza and before trustees approved the hire.
Trustees upheld Wise's decision in September 2014. Salaita later sued the university to get his job back. The UI argued that Salaita was never an official employee because the board hadn't approved his appointment.
Faculty worried that the AAUP censure would damage the UI's reputation and its ability to recruit new talent.
The actual impact "varies by discipline," Wilson said.
Overall, "I don't think it's been a significant issue this year, other than it continues to be something we want removed," she said.
The current AAUP censure list includes about four dozen colleges and universities, mostly small, private or religiously affiliated institutions.