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University of Illinois likely to be censured for ousting anti-Israel prof Salaita

Evaluations showed he wasn’t ‘anything other than professional’ in class

Anti-Israel academic Steven Salaita got new ammunition in his quest against the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) last week.

The American Association of University Professors’ academic freedom committee found the school violated certain “academic freedoms of the faculty” by revoking Salaita’s job offer over his vicious tweets – or what UIUC calls, his lack of “civility.”

Another AAUP committee will review the Salaita report at the end of the month to decide whether the school should be added to AAUP’s censure list.

“Unless something unexpected happens we will recommend censure and forward that to the annual meeting [this summer], and the annual meeting will have to decide whether to vote along,” Hans-Joerg Tiede, co-author of the report and a professor at Illinois Wesleyan University, said in a phone interview with The College Fix.

Salaita left his position at Virginia Tech and was ready to start classes at UIUC in August. The university scheduled his courses, set him up with the IT desk and was even ready to reimburse him for his moving expenses when he started tweeting about the summer conflict in Gaza.

Following outrage from donors and pro-Israel groups – as well as a former AAUP president, UIUC professor Cary Nelson – the school rescinded Salaita’s job offer.

“It’s important to realize that we are not somehow claiming that academic freedom gives us [professors] a license to say whatever we want,” report co-author Tiede told The Fix.

Tiede serves on AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, whose members traveled to Urbana-Champaign to interview Chancellor Phyllis Wise, administrators and faculty members.

A job termination “has to be demonstrably related to your performance as a faculty member if you want to discipline a faculty member, and for all we could find, including going to the university and speaking with the chancellor, there is no indication that that’s the case,” Tiede said.

The first major finding of the report is that although the board of trustees still need to approve Salaita’s appointment, the divisive professor was otherwise an official faculty member. Board approval was “simply a formality,” Tiede said.

“The AAUP is not interested in the legal question, ‘Did he have legally a contract?’ But it’s interested in academic best practices and the standards of the profession,” Tiede said.

“If you make somebody an offer and you begin scheduling their classes and you begin making arrangements for them to come, they simply are at that point appointed,” Tiede said.

The report also finds that speech like Salaita’s – made outside of the classroom – does not determine what his conduct is like in the classroom.

If his “professional fitness,” in Tiede’s word, is in question, then Salaita was entitled to a faculty hearing. A faculty committee at UIUC recommended the school convene a “body of qualified academic experts” to reconsider Salaita’s candidacy, though the board ignored that.

“Whether or not we agree with what [Salaita] has to say is immaterial. What matters is that there is no indication that this [his actions on Twitter] at all reflects the faculty member” in the classroom setting, Tiede said.

According to AAUP, UIUC had access to documents describing Salaita’s classroom conduct at Virginia Tech, none of which indicated he was “anything other than professional.”

Neither the University of Illinois nor Salaita responded to interview requests.

College Fix reporter Courtney Such is a student at Furman University.

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IMAGE: Steven Salaita’s Facebook page

About the Author
Courtney Such -- Furman University.

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