Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance Violations at Northeastern Illinois University

December 17, 2013

For more information, please contact:
Rebecca J. Williams, Investigating committee chair
Loretta Capeheart, NEIU AAUP chapter president
Jordan E. Kurland, AAUP Associate General Secretary

The Chicago university denied tenure to a candidate who had opposed administrators.

Washington, DC The administration of Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago violated principles of academic freedom when it denied tenure to a candidate who had opposed its wishes in a dispute between linguistics faculty and teachers of English as a second language (TESL), concludes an AAUP investigating committee in a report issued December 17. The committee found that the activity of the professor was protected under principles of academic freedom and that the administration had allowed allegations that the tenure denial was retaliatory to go unrebutted. Additionally, the committee concluded that the administration, in not providing a credible explanation for the tenure denial, placed itself fundamentally at odds with a requirement in the AAUP’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities.

The candidate, an assistant professor of linguistics, had been recommended for tenure during the 2011–12 academic year by his tenured linguistics colleagues, his department chair, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and, unanimously, the faculty’s elected University Personnel Committee. The NEIU president, however, rejected his candidacy—the only rejection among the sixteen candidacies for tenure to reach her desk that year.

The president cited two reasons for denying tenure: the candidate’s failure to meet a deadline for filing a plan regarding student advising and the inadequacy of his “cooperation with colleagues and students.” But the AAUP’s investigating committee found that neither reason was credible.

NEIU faculty members interviewed by the investigating committee believed that the president was instead motivated by the fact that the rejected candidate had been a leader in the dispute between linguistics and TESL faculty, which culminated in faculty votes of no confidence in the president and her provost.

AAUP’s fundamental principles of academic freedom are found in the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which was jointly issued by the AAUP and the American Association of Colleges (now the American Association of Colleges and Universities) and has been endorsed by more than two hundred other organizations. The Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, also commonly accepted in the academic world, describes principles of academic governance.

The NEIU administration provided lengthy objections to a draft text of the investigative report, emphasizing its commitment to AAUP policy recommendations and its resentment about being faulted for having declined to provide “confidential personnel information” to the AAUP, an external organization. In response, the chair of the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure wrote that the basic problem “is not NEIU’s refusal to provide the information to AAUP. The AAUP’s concern is instead that [the candidate] was not afforded credible reasons, stated in detail, for the decision to deny him tenure and, as called for in the AAUP’s procedural standards, opportunity for him and his supporters to contest what they alleged to be an unstated reason that violated principles of academic freedom.”

AAUP investigating committees, which are authorized in a few selected cases when significant violations of academic freedom, tenure, or governance have been alleged and persist despite AAUP staff efforts to resolve them, are composed of AAUP members from other institutions with no previous involvement in the matter.

The report is available on the AAUP’s website at

The mission of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is to advance academic freedom and shared governance, to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education, and to ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good. Founded in 1915, the AAUP has helped to shape American higher education by developing the standards and procedures that maintain quality in education and academic freedom in this country’s colleges and universities. The AAUP is a nonprofit professional association headquartered in Washington, DC.

Media Contact: 
Rebecca J. Williams, Jordan Kurland, Loretta Capeheart
Publication Date: 
Tuesday, December 17, 2013