The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has formally censured the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) over its firing last summer of Steven Salaita for criticizing Israel on Twitter.
The action, by a vote of delegates at the AAUP’s annual conference in Washington, DC, on Saturday, places UIUC among just 56 institutions currently on the censure list out of thousands of colleges and universities in the United States.
“Censure by the AAUP informs the academic community that the administration of an institution has not adhered to generally recognized principles of academic freedom and tenure,” according to a press release from the organization that counts tens of thousands of university and college educators and graduate students as members.
Just three other institutions suffered the ignominy of being added to the censure list this year and one was taken off.
Cary Nelson, a past president of the AAUP and a “faculty fellow” for the Zionist group the Israel on Campus Coalition, was reportedly hissed when he urged conference delegates to oppose censure of UIUC.
Nelson told delegates that “rushed censure has been compromised by anti-Israeli sentiments.”
A retired professor of English at UIUC, Nelson has been a leading defender of the administration’s decision to fire Salaita.
“The AAUP’s censure is a serious blemish on the university’s record,” the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) said in a statement.
“The university’s stubbornness continues in spite of academic boycotts, department votes of no confidence in the UIUC administration, student walk-outs, tens of thousands of petition signatures, a federal lawsuit, and the AAUP’s reprimand, suggesting that the UIUC administration is more beholden to donors than it is to due process, academic freedom, and the First Amendment,” CCR added.
CCR and the law firm Loevy & Loevy are representing Salaita in a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that university administrators and trustees dismissed him due to pressure from pro-Israel donors.
The AAUP censure also came just a day after Salaita scored a significant legal victory when an Illinois judge ordered the university to release thousands of emails under the Freedom of Information Act that it has been withholding for months.
The censure follows the publication in April of the AAUP’s scathing official investigative report into the Salaita matter.
Salaita was fired last August as he was about to take up a tenured faculty position in the American Indian Studies program at UIUC because of tweets criticizing Israel’s attack on Gaza that administrators deemed lacked “civility.”
The AAUP report confirmed that the university’s decision constituted a “dismissal” of Salaita and not a mere withdrawal of a job offer. Salaita was therefore entitled to full protections of his academic freedom and to due process, all of which the university violated.
It noted that a professor notorious for habitually expressing white supremacist views had been afforded protection of his rights that was denied to Salaita.
The report meticulously examined the “civility” excuse cited by UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise and found that her claims Salaita’s tweets would make him an unfit teacher amounted to “pure speculation.”
AAUP has long argued that “civility” and “collegiality” are vague standards applied by the powerful to the marginal in order to enforce conformity with prevailing ideas.
In the past, the report observed, standards of civility were used “by aristocrats to distinguish themselves from the bourgeoisie” and by “Christians to establish their superiority to Muslims and Jews.”
The report found much concern on campus that the university administration’s action against Salaita had had a broad “chilling effect” on academic freedom and free speech.