CAFT Report on the Steven Salaita Case: Serious Violations of Shared Governance and Due Process

The report of the Committee of Academic Freedom and Tenure (CAFT) on the Steven Salaita case has been made public. As the Campus Faculty Association has been saying since early August, the treatment of Professor Salaita was a serious violation of due process. With the CAFT report, the University of Illinois faculty as whole stands firmly for shared governance and due process protections, and against “civility” as a standard in hiring or promotion.

The question remains: How will we protect the shared values of our profession? Even if the Administration takes this opportunity for a change of direction, how will we protect academic judgment and fairness from Board overreach and rash administrative decisions? Only a faculty union can provide us with the collective strength and legal protections to prevent the next affaire Salaita.

The CAFT report finds: The Chancellor’s decision not to recommend Dr. Salaita’s appointment to the Board of Trustees trashed the University’s accepted processes of shared governance, and the Administration’s subsequent “civility” rationale created a crisis of academic freedom.

The report goes on to conclude that the Chancellor’s and the Administration’s statements on “civility” are a danger to academic freedom and scholarly excellence, and should be withdrawn. It also states that the University should compensate Professor Salaita financially for the damage caused when it failed to follow its own procedures.

The Campus Faculty Association underscores that in recent weeks the Executive Committees of the College of Engineering and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences have issued statements supporting due process and disavowing “civility” as a hiring standard.   After the CAFT report, far from being a divided campus, the faculty at UIUC are united in support of fairness and academic standards.

Findings and recommendations of the CAFT:

The Chancellor, the President and the Trustees have disregarded and violated the principles, standards and practices of shared governance:

“The Chancellor’s, the President’s, and the Trustees’ disregard for the principles of shared governance and the very specific policies and procedures of the university and the campus is a serious matter. It violates the foundational arrangements designed to assure excellence as well as the trust necessary for a complex web of interdependent relationships to function well and with integrity.” p. 21

The Administration’s reasoning is improper and dangerous to the University’s functioning :
“The Chancellor, President, and Trustees have argued that Dr. Salaita’s tweets reveal him to lack sufficient civility for an appointment at the University of Illinois.” The committee finds this line of reasoning perilous and unsuitable as “a standard of conduct.” p. 26

The Chancellor’s assessment of Dr. Salaita’s teaching was based on no evidence:

“Suffice it to say, there is no evidence that Dr. Salaita has functioned improperly as a teacher. As part of his application for employment at the University of Illinois, he submitted his teaching evaluations from Virginia Tech University, which indicate that he was well received as a teacher; there were no allegations of misuse of the classroom. Whether the current controversy that surrounds Dr. Salaita, or which might arise in the future, could affect his success as a teacher is pure speculation.” p. 26-27

Dr. Salaita was denied due process. The Statutes were violated when Dr. Salaita was dismissed without being given a chance to respond to the charges against him.

If the Chancellor’s argument is that Dr. Salaita is professionally unfit because he holds strong political opinions is to be taken seriously, let professional academic experts form an assessment:

“ In light of these allegations, we recommend that Dr. Salaita’s candidacy be remanded to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for reconsideration by a body of qualified academic experts. Dr. Salaita should be provided the opportunity to respond to any proposed findings of professional unfitness before the body concludes its proceedings.” p. 29

This would not be a full reconsideration:

“Dr. Salaita’s scholarship has already been reviewed rigorously, according to all normal and appropriate procedures, so we allow only that his reviewers may not have attended to questions that have arisen from the present controversy.” p. 29 

Political speech and politeness are not legitimate criteria for hiring and firing: The civility standard must be withdrawn.

“We do not believe that Dr. Salaita’s political speech renders him unfit for office. Further, we find that civility does not constitute a legitimate criterion for rejecting his appointment, and we recommend that statements made by the Chancellor, President, and Trustees asserting civility as a standard of conduct be withdrawn.” p. 31

“In her conversation with the committee the Chancellor disagreed with the notion that her or the Trustees’ pronouncements should or even could be taken to constitute a speech code. However, both pronouncements contain strong language. In text and tone they are more than avuncular urgings for the observance of good manners. Both are de facto justifications of the decision to halt an employment process and suggest a standard to be observed in the future. CAFT recommends that they be withdrawn.” p. 38

Make Dr. Salaita financially whole while the matter is resolved: “We further recommend that the university take responsibility for the financial consequences to Dr. Salaita of its irregular adherence to its own policies and procedures.”


Published by Susan Davis

I teach in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois.

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