A two-year academic censure of the University of Illinois for the Steven Salaita case could be lifted in June, according to officials with the American Association of University Professors.
Delegates to the national AAUP meeting in June are scheduled to take up the matter again after voting last year to leave the 2015 censure in place.
An AAUP representative, Illinois Wesleyan University philosophy Professor Mark Criley, visited the UI on April 28 to talk with faculty senate leaders, administrators and representatives of the local AAUP chapter to prepare a report for the AAUP's Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure. The committee is scheduled to meet in early June to make a recommendation to the full AAUP assembly, which meets June 17 in Washington, D.C.
"I don't anticipate that there will be any problems," said Anita Levy, senior program officer for the AAUP's Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance. "I think the visit went smoothly, and we hope that Committee A will recommend UIUC for the removal of censure."
Levy spoke Friday just after receiving Criley's report from his visit to campus. She declined to discuss it until Committee A members had a chance to review it.
UI emeritus Professor Harry Hilton, a faculty representative to the AAUP who had argued against removing censure last summer, also said he will recommend it be lifted this year.
The AAUP placed the UI administration on its censure list in June 2015 for revoking Salaita's job offer after he posted a litany of controversial, and sometimes profane, tweets about Israel during its bombing of Gaza.
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, but didn't plan to start teaching until the following August.
Then-Chancellor Phyllis Wise revoked the offer on Aug. 1, 2014, after consulting privately with UI trustees about Salaita's angry tweets, which some considered anti-Semitic. Her action came before trustees formally approved the hire but after Salaita had been given course assignments and resigned from his tenured position at Virginia Tech. Trustees voted to uphold Wise's decision in September 2014.
The AAUP said the university rejected his appointment without demonstrating cause, violating his due-process rights and academic freedom. The UI argued that Salaita was never an official employee because the board hadn't officially approved his appointment. Salaita sued the university and later agreed to a settlement of $875,000.
That was a key step in getting the censure lifted, and the AAUP said most other conditions were met last year. The campus changed its hiring procedures to ensure timely Board of Trustees' approval of new appointments, and more faculty consultation if questions arose. Top UI officials publicly reiterated the UI's commitment to the AAUP principles of academic freedom.
But last June, at the urging of Hilton and another UI faculty delegate, Professor Bruce Rosenstock, AAUP members agreed to delay lifting censure for a year so that UI trustees could consider a statutory change to UI hiring procedures approved by the campus Academic Senate. Under the proposed change, trustees would no longer vote on individual academic hires below the level of dean, but rather delegate that authority to the president and chancellor.
Rosenstock said at the time that the proposal was a response to the censure and should be allowed to run its course through the UI's governance system. The statutory change has since been approved by the Springfield and Chicago campus senates and the University Senates Conference, but President Tim Killeen has yet to present it to UI trustees.
Rosenstock said Thursday he brought the matter to Criley's attention when he met with him last week.
"What I told Professor Criley was that the Committee A of the AAUP should at the very least endorse the resolution's recommendation. I did not say that I thought that removal of censure should depend upon the BoT acceptance of the statutory change, only that Committee A should be aware of the history behind this resolution," he said in an email.
He said July 2014 emails between Wise and UI trustees prompted fears that the board would take a much more active role in faculty hiring because of the Salaita case.
"This resolution, over a year in the making, is the way that the entire faculty of this university believes that future BoT political intervention in hiring can best be prevented. It reflects the faculty's worry that the current arrangement where the BoT approves hires in the spring will only invite further intervention in cases of controversial faculty hires," he said.
Rosenstock said he probably won't attend this year's meeting and expects Committee A to recommend lifting censure, but hopes it will endorse the statutory change.
But Levy — and Hilton — said that delegation of authority was never a condition for removal of censure.
"As far as I know, most boards do retain that authority solely," Levy said.
She said the AAUP believes "sufficient safeguards" are in place regarding faculty appointments to prevent a similar case in the future.
Hilton, who heads the local AAUP chapter, said faculty last year wanted to let the process play out through the campus governance process, but "we don't consider that an obstacle any more."
He noted that the delegation wouldn't give administrators final authority, as trustees could still override a hiring decision, which might "cause a bigger stink" than simply not approving an appointment in the first place.
Hilton commended top UI administrators for working "tirelessly" to improve conditions on campus, specifically Vice President Barbara Wilson, who dealt with the fallout as interim chancellor last year after Wise's resignation; former interim Provost Ed Feser; Vice Provost Abbas Benmamoun; and Killeen.
"It's very unusual to go off censure in two years," Hilton said, with the average closer to four years.
Most important, Hilton said in a statement from the local AAUP chapter, is that former Board of Trustees Chairman Chris Kennedy is gone, along with "his misplaced micromanagement style and his much-too-frequent pre-emptive interferences in traditional faculty decision-making prerogatives. Parenthetically, let me add that this criticism is by no means politically motivated as I worked on his uncle's and father's presidential campaigns."