Alert Top Message


Summary Rejection of Professor’s Appointment Violated Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure

April 28, 2015
For more information, please contact:
Henry Reichman, AAUP First Vice President,
Hans-Joerg Tiede, Member of  the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure 
Anita Levy, AAUP Associate Secretary, , 202-737-5900, ext. 3653

Trustees and Administration of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Failed to Demonstrate Cause When Rejecting Steven Salaita’s Appointment

A report released today by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) finds that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) administration and the board of trustees of the University of Illinois violated principles of academic freedom when they withdrew a tenured faculty appointment that had been offered to Professor Steven Salaita. The job offer was withdrawn after Professor Salaita made a series of impassioned Twitter posts expressing outrage about the war in Gaza. The report, written by an investigating committee, addresses a number of critical issues in this case. Among its findings:

  • Professor Salaita's appointment should have entitled him to the due process rights of a tenured faculty member.  Professor Salaita had received a letter in October 2013 offering him the tenured position, subject to board approval. He accepted the offer, received course assignments, resigned from his existing tenured position, sold his house, and put down a deposit on a condo in Illinois before being informed in late summer 2014 that the job offer would not be submitted to the board for approval. The next board meeting with approvals on the agenda was scheduled to occur after Professor Salaita was to start teaching. It has been regular practice at the University of Illinois for the board to formally approve new tenured faculty appointments only after the faculty members have already begun work, a violation of recommendations made by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).
  • The rejection of appointment amounted to a summary dismissal, in violation of both AAUP and university policies.  The UIUC administration and the board of trustees of the University of Illinois violated the university’s own policies by rejecting Professor Salaita’s appointment without demonstrating cause, and by doing so only after the appointment had been offered and courses had been assigned to him. They also violated the AAUP/AAC&U 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which has been endorsed by more than two hundred academic organizations. Aborting an appointment in this manner without demonstrated cause and without due process amounts to a summary dismissal.
  • The decision by the chief administrative officer, the chancellor, and the board to reject the appointment contravened widely accepted standards for the conduct of academic governance.  The decision was announced without consultation with relevant faculty and administrative bodies. The chancellor announced the decision without even having informed those involved in several previous levels of evaluation, all of whom had recommended making the appointment.
  • The climate for academic freedom at UIUC is uncertain. The stated reasons for the rejection of the appointment by the chancellor and the board of trustees have cast a pall of uncertainty over the degree to which academic freedom is understood and respected at UIUC. The report finds that Professor Salaita's tweets were examples of "extramural expression," speech as a citizen and hence protected by academic freedom. Claims that his dismissal was intended to protect students were unsupported by any evidence calling into question Professor Salaita's previous conduct in the classroom. The chancellor and the board claimed on multiple occasions that "civility" is an appropriate standard by which the fitness of a scholar and teacher may be judged, a claim which is inimical to academic freedom.

“The dismissal of Professor Salaita has roiled the UIUC community and much of academia; it is one of the more significant violations of academic freedom this decade," said Henry Reichman, professor emeritus of history at California State University, East Bay, and chair of the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, who also chaired the investigating committee in this case. "The issue in the case has never been the content of Salaita’s message.  One may consider the contents of his tweets to be juvenile, irresponsible, and even repulsive and still defend Salaita’s right to produce them.”

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 efforts to resolve them, are generally composed of AAUP members from other institutions with no previous involvement in the matter.  In this case the Association built upon the work of the UIUC senate's own Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

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.

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, April 28, 2015