Professor Steven Salaita is history at the University of Illinois. Like a bad hangover, however, he's still a source of discomfort.
But interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson is working on it. She's negotiating with the American Association of University Professors in an effort to remove the censure the organization imposed over the university's handling of the Salaita case.
For those who take actions like that seriously, the AAUP's label is equivalent to the mark of Cain. For those who don't, the AAUP's response to controversies of this sort, as often as not, symbolize pretensions driven as much by ideology as any sense of fair play.
UI trustees acted correctly when they concluded that Salaita lacked the requisite professionalism people have a right to expect in faculty members. Even more aggravating, Salaita is a marginal scholar, at best. His written work and his public pronouncements revealed him to be more political activist than educator.
There are, of course, those who vehemently disagree, and they're entitled to their views. There's no point in relitigating the issue now that the actual litigation has concluded with a settlement that paid Salaita and his lawyers $875,000 to go away.
Given the expense of litigation, it made sense for the UI to settle the matter after U.S. Judge Harry Leinenweber denied the UI's motion to dismiss the case. That decision set the stage for a lengthy, hugely costly process prior to a trial on the merits.
Ironically, the UI's settlement with Salaita is one factor key to persuading the AAUP to consider lifting its censure.
For those who have forgotten, Salaita was offered and had accepted a tenured faculty post and was scheduled to start teaching here in fall 2014. UI trustees, however, had not formally approved his contract, raising the question of whether Salaita had an enforceable contract.
A month before the beginning of the semester, Salaita fouled his own nest with a series of obnoxious and obscene tweets attacking Israel after that country took action in the Gaza Strip to cut off a terrorist threat.
Former Chancellor Phyllis Wise and UI trustees sensibly concluded that kind of public behavior was not acceptable for a prospective faculty member and withdrew his job offer.
Salaita subsequently filed a lawsuit alleging that, as a tenured faculty member, he was not subject to any discipline because of his intemperate rants.
In almost every respect, the Salaita case was unique. If not for Israel's action or his decision to condemn Israel's action in such an unprofessional, self-demeaning manner, Salaita would be on the faculty today.
The UI has taken steps to prevent any repetition of that specific issue by ensuring that trustees approve faculty appointments before new hires begin teaching. That alone should prevent another Salaita case.
As part of a settlement, the AAUP is asking the UI to express its opposition to speech codes and embrace the concept of free speech on campus. That should be no problem.
It has always been our position the UI already has a speech code, and an excellent one at that. It's called the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It is alarming that many universities try to restrict speech in pursuit of some ill-conceived goal of preventing hurt feelings that prompt the overly sensitive to demand refuge in so-called "safe spaces."
But if AAUP really wants the UI to endorse such a concept, it's our hope it would join other universities, including Purdue, and embrace the free-speech policy statement produced by the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago.
The statement guarantees "all members of the university community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn," and makes clear that "it is not the proper role of the university to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable or even deeply offensive."
In other words, the university pledges itself to act as an educational institution, not a day care center, when it comes to academic, political and any other campus discussions.
Until more recent times, that kind of thinking was business-as-usual in colleges and universities, which are supposed to be bastions of free inquiry. At least something good would come from the Salaita controversy if it produced that result.