The second section of adjunct professor Iymen Chehade’s “The Israeli/Palestinian Conflict” course has been reinstated after an American Association of University Professors report concluded the college violated Chehade’s academic freedom. However, the college disputes the report’s findings and denies the class was reinstated in response to the report.
Prompting a petition that led to the March 25 AAUP investigation, the issues surrounding the canceled section galvanized national support for Chehade, as reported March 31 by The Chronicle.
The AAUP’s Illinois Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure agreed that Chehade’s academic freedom was violated following an allegedly contentious meeting between Chehade and Steven Corey, chair of the Humanities, History & Social Sciences Department. The report states that the meeting was directly linked to the removal of one section of “The Israeli/Palestinian Conflict” course after it had been posted for registration on OASIS, the online student portal.
Corey disputes the report and said the course was removed because of enrollment policies. Corey said departments plan course offerings based on the previous year’s enrollment figures, referring to a spring 2013 class Chehade taught that had only 12 enrolled students with a maximum capacity of 25.
“The classes are assigned based on enrollment,” Corey said. “We anticipate enough enrollment in the fall to justify two sections of the class.”
Despite low enrollment in Chehade’s spring 2013 class, OASIS records show that Chehade’s fall 2013 sections were nearly full with 23 and 24 students enrolled.
Chehade said he is pleased with the reinstatement of his second class but has yet to hear from administrators about his case.
“The issues of academic freedom still have to be addressed,” Chehade said. “[The college] still has yet to come out and say, ‘We acknowledge this issue and we want to work with you to make sure it never happens again.”
Chehade said he agrees with the findings and recommendations of the AAUP’s report.
“I wasn’t surprised given the experience I went through,” Chehade said. “It was wonderful to see an independent organization doing an independent investigation that came to that conclusion.”
However, the college is challenging the report. Steve Kauffman, senior director of public relations, released an April 1 statement from the college saying the AAUP failed to collect information from multiple parties involved in the dispute.
“We object to the conclusions reached by Committee A of the [AAUP] and regret that it has intervened in a pending labor-relations matter involving a unionized part-time faculty member,” the statement reads.
In addition to concluding that the college violated Chehade’s academic freedom, the AAUP report gave two recommendations, including the reinstatement of Chehade’s second section of the course. The committee also recommended the college review how student complaints are addressed. In its ruling, the committee said Corey should have referred the student back to Chehade rather than handling it independently.
“It’s good for the student to mature and realize that if you’re going to criticize someone, do it to their face,” said Peter Kirstein, vice president of the Illinois AAUP chapter, chair of the Illinois Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure and a professor of history at Saint Xavier University.
Kirstein said Chehade answered approximately 60 questions from the AAUP over the course of several days. The committee also collected information from P-Fac, the college’s part-time faculty union, and a statement from Louise Love, interim provost and vice president of Academic Affairs. Days after the AAUP reached its ruling, Corey released a March 27 statement to the AAUP criticizing its involvement and again stating Chehade’s claims were inaccurate.
According to Corey’s statement, the meeting was amicable and Chehade was never directed to alter his course’s curriculum.
Corey reiterated that the reasoning for the section’s cancellation was the result of a directive from Deborah Holdstein, dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Love, to maintain HHSS average class size of 22 students.
Corey said he was following that directive and canceled four classes, including Chehade’s, based on previous semesters’ enrollment figures and classes that were scheduled during times that drew low interest.
Holdstein did not return requests for comment as of press time. Love referred requests for comment to Corey. In his statement, Corey said he offered Chehade a second history course after the cancellation and Chehade did not refuse the offered course until months later. Kirstein disputed Corey’s claims and reaffirmed the committee’s ruling. Chehade said the college’s criticism of the AAUP’s findings are indicative of the administration’s attitude toward academic freedom.
“[The college] continues on this course of denial and refusal to acknowledge that there is an issue of academic freedom at the college,” Chehade said.