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Illinois AAUP Newsletter – Issue 2, October 2020

    President’s Message

    David O’Brien, President, University of Illinois AAUP Chapter

    It has been a very busy summer and fall semester for the officers and Policy Committee of the Chapter. The continuing pandemic has only added to the issues that our organization must address. I note here some of the business of the Chapter in the last few months.

    COVID-19. On July 30, members of the Policy Committee met with President Killeen, Executive Vice President Wilson, Chancellor Jones, and Provost Cangellaris via Zoom to discuss the University’s preparations for the fall semester, specifically in relation to COVID-19. We had written to them inquiring whether professors could be compelled to teach in-person and asking if they had set conditions under which they would close the campus in the fall. In the meeting we learned that, while there is no formal policy regarding teaching in person vs. online, no professor would be compelled, they assured us, to teach in person. We also asked about the circumstances that would lead the administration to close the campus in the fall. They replied that, because there are so many contingencies and possible outcomes, they found it unhelpful to specify precise conditions under which the campus would close. I note that many people who attended the meeting communicated to me how impressed they were with the administration’s thoughtfulness and familiarity with the University’s plans.

    On August 31st I wrote to Chancellor Jones again about this matter (and copied my message to President Killeen, Executive Vice President Wilson, and Provost Cangellaris). Because the number of COVID-19 cases during the first week of classes was much higher than what the University’s models had predicted, and because the number of new cases continued to be much higher than the models’ predictions, I urged the Chancellor to make some statement explaining these data and informing the public about any changes in the University’s planning. 

    Finally on this matter, I note that we chose not to sign a collective statement that was co-authored and signed by many AAUP chapters in the Midwest. It is found here:

    We chose not to sign it because some parts of the statement do not apply to the University of Illinois. In particular, the administration has taken important steps to engage in shared governance, and has followed the advice that our Chapter offered regarding the right of professors to choose the modality of their teaching. It would have appeared strange, we felt, to sign a letter that included complaints that our own university’s administration has addressed, and which we had already discussed with them in meetings. The collective statement nonetheless raises important concerns, and there are many universities to which all its criticisms apply.

    Sexual Misconduct Policy. As you may recall, last semester the Provost’s Office consulted with our Policy Committee on the changes proposed by the campus Committee on Faculty Sexual Misconduct. We continue to monitor the University’s progress formulating policies to address this very important issue. Most recently, we responded to new language proposed for the Campus Administrative Manual (CAM). Our comments addressed in particular the absence of any system of progressive sanctions—something we had recommended in our previous discussions with the Provost’s Office on this matter. Our specific concernt is that, while the new campus policies establish mechanisms for finding fault, they do not establish procedures for imposing sanctions to address that fault. The
    Policy Committee is wary of the potential for ad hoc administrative action, and is therefore advocating for the development of a well-conceived, clear and well-justified system of sanctions . I would be happy to share the comment with anyone who wishes to see it.

    University Statutes. Members of the Policy Committee have been discussing President Killeen’s decision not to present proposed revisions to the University Statutes to the Board of Trustees. I summarize here the problem: The 2006 Supreme Court decision Garcetti v. Ceballos removed government employees from some of the protections they had previously received under the First Amendment. Specifically, the court deemed that government employees could be disciplined for speech critical of their superiors. Because public universities are government-run institutions, faculty at them may now be disciplined for criticizing the policies of the university or the actions of administrators. In response to this situation, numerous public universities amended their statues in order to explicitly provide their faculty with the freedom to criticize university policies and administrative decisions. The senates of the three campuses of the University of Illinois system, as well as the University Senates Council for the three campuses, approved such changes to the University Statutes, but they have never been presented to the Board of Trustees for consideration by President Killeen. We have been told that the system’s legal counsel objects to the amendment, though the nature of their objection has never been made explicit.

    Article XIII Section 8 of the University Statutes states, “If every senate acts affirmatively on the proposed amendment [to the Statutes] and concurs as to its text, the conference shall send the proposed amendment to the president for transmission to the Board of Trustees and shall simultaneously notify the senates of its action; the conference may append its comments.” This would seem to mean that the president must present the amendment to the Board, but this has not happened. We are currently discussing how to address this breakdown in the system, and how to attain for the University of Illinois faculty the same freedoms that many of our colleagues in other top public university already enjoy.

    Promotion and Tenure Workshop. I am happy to report that last year’s annual Promotion and Tenure Workshop, which we moved online due to COVID-19, worked very well, with over sixty participants. Please inform junior faculty in your units about this important service that we offer in conjuntion with the Provost’s Office.

    Appeal for New Members and Invitation to Get More Involved

    If you would like to become more involved in the actitivities of our Chapter, please let me our another member of the Policy Committee know. We welcome member participation and help in addressing the many issues now confronting us as faculty.

    Most importantly, we welcome new members. Please talk about the importance of the AAUP to your colleagues who are not members. No other organization does more to preserve academic freedom and tenure. Locally, we have more collaboration and dialogue with senior administrators than ever before. With the increasing burdens placed on faculty, many feel they no longer have the time to devote to service organizations related to our profession. Now, however, more than ever, aspects of the university that make our professional lives productive and sustainable are under attack. We need the AAUP more than ever.

    AAUP and COVID-19

    The AAUP has created a number of resources for faculty to consult on issues related to COVID-19. They can be found at: . Of particular note on this page are statements and guidance concerning university policies, administration, and shared governance. The statement at this link is especially helpful and advocates for shared governance, publicity, and the primary role of the faculty regarding curriculum, instruction, educational process:

    Two Members of Policy Committee Recognized for Becoming Fifty-Year AAUP Members

    Walt McMahon and Bill Williamson

    Each year the AAUP recognizes at the Annual Conference those individuals who have been AAUP members for fifty years. This year two members of the Policy Committee were so recognized: Walter McMahon and H. F. (Bill) Williamson. Both have played critical roles in the governance and deliberations of the Chapter. They join a group which includes two other Policy Committee members: Mathew Finkin, a member for fifty-three years, and Harry Hilton, a member for a remarkable sixty-four years. On behalf of the Chapter, I thank Walt and Bill for their long service and dedication to the AAUP.