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Presentation by O’Brien at AAUP chapter meeting, “AAUP Censure, Academic Freedom, and Criminal background Checks:  An Open Discussion”, October 2015

Oct. 20, 2015

Where Does the University Go Now?

This statement addresses common questions that have arisen in relation to the AAUP’s censure of the University of Illinois. It outlines briefly the AAUP’s procedures for removing a university from its censure list and how these are likely to apply to the University of Illinois. It ends with a few comments on what might be done to move the University forward, quite apart from the issue of censure.

Removal of censure

The AAUP normally goes through three steps in order to remove an institution for its censure list. It checks that any policies that may have led to censure have been revised. It determines if aggrieved faculty members have received redress. And it sends a representative to the university to verify that conditions there merit the lifting of censure.

This is not always a lengthy process, but there is considerable discussion between the AAUP’s Washington office and, on the one hand, the administration of the censured institution, and on the other hand, the aggrieved party.

When the AAUP’s Washington office feels steps have been taken that are adequate for lifting censure, the general secretary writes a report to this effect. There is usually discussion between the Chair of Committee A and the Washington office while the report is written. The report, when finalized, is submitted Committee A, which may vote to recommend the lifting of censure, but may also delay its decision or vote to continue censure. If Committee A votes to lift censure, the question is then put to the delegates at the AAUP’s national convention. Delegates to the national convention may vote to lift (or not lift) censure, or they may delegate this authority to Committee A.

There are no absolute criteria when it comes to the decision to lift censure. This is suggested in a passage on the AAUP website page entitled “Committee A Procedures”:

Discretion is […] involved in deciding whether to recommend the lifting of censure, and in deciding upon the adequacy of the terms. Should we ever take an administration off the censure list, for example, before adequate redress is made to the injured party? While such redress may be eminently desirable, and always sought, it has been impossible for Committee A to make redress an absolute sine qua non for the removal of an administration from the censure list. All factors must be considered, and not merely redress, when we consider the lifting of censure. Sometimes the best interests of higher education are better served by taking an administration off the list even though satisfactory redress is not forthcoming. Occasionally, partial redress seems preferable to the long wait that may be required if full redress is insisted upon. [O]ur main concern must be the interests of the academic profession as a whole rather than those of the complaining party. A flexible approach to our problems is therefore inevitable.

While this suggests that censure may be lifted even when a university has not satisfactorily redressed the grievant, the opposite has also occurred. In its reports the AAUP has often made observations about the policies of or climate at a university that, while not themselves the reason for censure, have negatively impacted shared governance or academic freedom. These have sometimes resurfaced in decisions to keep an institution on the censure list.

Regarding the University of Illinois

The AAUP report of April 2015 regarding academic freedom and tenure at the University of Illinois cites two main reasons for censure: the decision of the administration and trustees to reject Professor Steven Salaita’s appointment, and their stated reasons for doing so. There are two obvious solutions for redress. First, the Chancellor, President and Trustees may withdraw statements justifying the decision not to appoint that relied on civility as the relevant standard of conduct. While these are not exactly “policies,” the AAUP views them as the equivalent and will in all likelihood require that they be nullified. Because many of the individuals who made
these statements (former Chancellor Wise, former President Easter, and some trustees) no longer hold their positions, the current administration and trustees may simply be asked to affirm their support for academic freedom.  A short statement announcing its intention to adhere to the AAUP’s 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure may suffice.

Second, Professor Salaita would have to be either appointed to the position he was offered, or offered a settlement that the AAUP accepts as adequate compensation for the wrongs done to him. The AAUP has always taken a legal settlement as a satisfactory indication that the wrongs against the aggrieved party have been redressed.

As noted earlier, the AAUP does not always insist that all wrongs be set right before removing an institution from its censure list. Nonetheless, discussions with AAUP officials lead me to believe that the organization will insist on the two conditions above.

The report mentions a number of aspects of the climate at the University of Illinois as aggravating factors. To name just two of these, the report cites the reluctance of the administration to negotiate with legally constituted unions and the legacy of the Chief. It is worth noting that, since the AAUP censure, our administration has made no progress in negotiations with the union for NTT faculty formed over a year ago, a union that is affiliated with the AAUP. Furthermore, it has recently been revealed that the university continues to sanction the sale of Chief regalia online. It is extremely unlikely, in my opinion, that these factors will be cited as reasons to continue censure, but they do not help our situation. The proposed policy on background checks also violates AAUP guidelines, but because this was not mentioned in the report, it will in all likelihood not be raised in negotiations to life censure.

What can be done apart from the issue of censure?

There are many things that can be done to move the University forward quite apart from the issue of censure. There are, for example, many statements that have been made about the Salaita matter that are now demonstrably false. It is untrue that Professor Salaita’s appointment was the result of incorrect procedures or a flawed search process in the Department of American Indian Studies or the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.  Both the CAFT report and the AAUP report demonstrated this. It is untrue that scholars working in the Humanities brought about censure. It is untrue that our current situation is the result of inadequate Statues. Censure was the result of the actions of the upper administration and trustees. Efforts to incorrectly blame this matter on certain departments or fields or rules inhibit the university from moving forward. They conceal the true causes of our problems and create unnecessary animosity on campus. There is much we can do to move forward beyond removing the University from the censure list.

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