15 April 2016

Academic Freedom 2.0

Steven Salaita is back in the news and our local paper continues to relish his downfall.  There must be readers who enjoy following his fortunes--most people I know are still wondering when AAUP censure will be lifted, mourning the demise of the American Indian Studies program here, and dealing with the brain drain as the combined effects of L'Affaire Salaita and the ongoing budget morass prompt humanities faculty who can go elsewhere to do so.

It's not over, though.  The questions that Salaita's unhiring raised remain unanswered, and it remains unexplained, "the nature of the line that Salaita crossed and the point at which he crossed it so that faculty have some clearer measure than "civility" to know when their passion, rage, ill-considered utterances, profanity, and political expressions become actionable."

One could continue to complain about this endlessly deferred conversation, except that the university has quietly and resolutely sought to end it altogether by eliminating the protections of academic freedom at the bargaining table.

The appointment letters that tenure-stream faculty read include boilerplate language affirming AAUP principles and promising that the university will adhere to them.  The appointment letters that most non-tenure stream faculty offer no such assurances, only a line in the accompanying "Notification of appointment that "This appointment is made subject to all applicable laws and to the University of Illinois Statutes, the General Rules Concerning University Organization and Procedure and other actions of the Board of Trustees. These policies are subject to change from time to time and the most updated version of the policies is applicable."

The Statutes do have an academic freedom article, Article X. However, "faculty" is presumed throughout the Statutes to refer to tenure-stream faculty, leaving NTTs without these protections. The Senate has crafted a set of revisions to the Statutes to make sure that TTs and NTTs count as "faculty" throughout the documents, but they are not yet approved by the Board.  Moreover, the university's bargaining team has shown a general disinterest and disregard in building minimal academic freedom protections into the contract for NTTs.  They seemed surprised that academic freedom should even be relevant to these negotiations and were accordingly unprepared to discuss it.

The future of academic freedom here lies not in in the fortunes of high-profile cases like Salaita's, but in the basic protections afforded to the faculty doing 40% of the university's teaching.  As tenure lines dwindle, the contract available to non-tenure-stream faculty becomes, quite literally, the bottom line.

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