AAUP Censure, and What It Could Mean for Illinois

The abuse of academic freedom and faculty governance procedures in the Kilgore and Salaita cases have placed our university at grave risk of censure from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). How might the AAUP censure process play out over the coming year, and what consequences might the university face?

Background. Job candidates at the University of Illinois are formally told we “subscribe to the principles of academic freedom and tenure laid down by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).” Yet recent administration actions raise serious doubts about the university’s commitment to AAUP principles.  The Campus Faculty Association (CFA) has stood up to defend academic freedom and the rights of the faculty by requesting back in August that the AAUP conduct an investigation into the Administration and Board of Trustees’ actions.

The current situation.  After Dr. Salaita’s hiring was terminated, the AAUP warned the university  that “[a]borting an appointment in this manner without having demonstrated cause has consistently been seen by the AAUP as tantamount to summary dismissal, an action categorically inimical to academic freedom and due process and one aggravated in [Salaita’s] case by the apparent failure to provide him with any written or even oral explanation.” Right now the AAUP is waiting for the campus Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure (CAFT) to report on the matter, and then for the administration to respond to that report. Nothing prevents the AAUP from initiating an investigation before the campus process is complete, especially if that campus process appears to get stalled.

Why is an AAUP investigation likely? Regardless of the outcome of the CAFT report, it seems likely to us that the AAUP will authorize a formal investigation – because the Chancellor and Board of Trustees have already acted to deny the tenured position and show no signs of reversing course.  Since the specific situation of Dr. Salaita involves general principles (as does the earlier case of James Kilgore), an investigation could proceed even if he reaches a legal settlement with the university.

How does an AAUP investigation proceed? Investigations are authorized by the Executive Director after consultation with AAUP staff. If the AAUP authorizes an investigation, then the Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance sets up an investigating committee, and the investigating committee issues a report to AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom. Then Committee A makes a recommendation to the AAUP Annual Meeting regarding censure of the institution.

Can violations lead to AAUP censure? Yes, if the investigating committee finds serious violations of AAUP principles, then censure can be voted upon by the Association’s membership at the Annual Meeting in June.

How does censure work? AAUP relies upon its reputation as the conscience of the academy to recommend a common law across higher education, particularly in the areas of academic freedom, tenure, shared governance, adjunct rights and academic due process. When an institution grievously violates AAUP principles that have been widely accepted throughout the academy, formal censure is the appropriate response.

When AAUP censures a university, it is the administration and governing board that are censured – the institution as a whole is not. But even if the President, Chancellor, and Board of Trustees are replaced, the censure remains in effect until the institution implements needed changes in policies.

What effect does censure have on hiring and on faculty?  Censure seriously affects an institution’s reputation.  AAUP leaves to the discretion of individual scholars whether they wish to accept an appointment at a censured institution. AAUP does encourage job applicants to examine carefully the institution’s commitment to academic freedom, tenure and shared governance before accepting a position.

Faculty members of a censured institution remain eligible to join the AAUP. Faculty members are encouraged to work within their institution to mitigate the violations of AAUP standards that led to censure.

Which universities are currently under censure? The Censure List is posted on the AAUP website. Very few research institutions such as the University of Illinois ever commit violations worthy of placement on the List.

Conclusion. The Campus Faculty Association believes an AAUP investigation is highly warranted, given the seriousness of the Administration’s violations of academic freedom and faculty governance procedures. If an investigation leads to formal censure, the damage to the university’s reputation will be significant.

We believe the faculty need to regain power over academic employment matters at this university. The best way forward is through unionization, so that tenure stream faculty gain the power of collective bargaining to protect the university from administrative encroachments on freedom of speech and inquiry and on the role of the faculty in academic hiring. These are important reasons why the CFA is building a faculty union. If you agree with the goal, then contact us today to join the union effort!

We are grateful to Peter N. Kirstein, Chair, Illinois AAUP Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, for assistance in writing this article.

Note: non-tenure-track faculty in most colleges on campus have union representation already, through CFA Local 6546