I am a faculty governance leader on my campus. (I sit on the executive committee of the faculty. For many years, I served as the union’s contract enforcement officer for my campus.) I care deeply about the issue of shared governance at American universities. I am very concerned about the withdrawal of the offer of a tenured position in American Indian Studies made to Professor Steven Salaita. The Chancellor’s decision is a clear violation of academic freedom and has done serious damage to the reputation of UIUC. It also appears to be a violation of the University’s governance.
I know from experience that these rules are in place to prevent arbitrary actions by administrators. This is in the best interests of the institution. The apparent violation of Article III, section 3, has led in this case to the difficult position in which the Board now finds itself. The Chancellor’s public explanation of her decision to “de-hire” Professor Salaita has been undone by the release of documents to media covering the episode. It is now clear that the Chancellor did not engage with the relevant faculty and administrators as she should have if she had doubts about the hire. This is the bedrock of shared governance. Further, given the timeline of events, if the Chancellor had no reason to question the judgment of faculty committees and the institutional vetting embedded in the University’s hiring procedures until the public controversy, then her apparent violations of the University’s Statutes is all the more egregious.
I am writing not as a representative of my College or of the faculty to which I belong, but as an individual with a long-standing interest in shared governance. I am a witness to the damage done to an institution by the arbitrary exercise of authority. In difficult situations, where the institution finds itself in the middle of some controversy or other, it is especially important for leaders of the institution to be very deliberate in following the governance rules. This is often a difficult thing to do when circumstances are rapidly changing and when it would seem that quick action would make the controversy go away. But it is the right thing to do.
The Board has the responsibility to correct the errors that have been made in this case. Doing so would begin to restore the credibility of the University and to rebuild the trust of the UIUC faculty as well as potential future applicants.
I hope you will approve the appointment originally made to Professor Salaita and undertake a review of the governance breakdowns that occurred in this case.
Timothy Shortell, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
City University of New York