Sunday, August 31, 2014

UI Law Prof Robin Kar on the Salaita Case, August 31, 2014

Here is a link to Rob Kar's analysis of the Salaita Case.  Kar, who teaches contracts, legal theory, and moral philosophy for the UI Law School  writes, "For more than a century, the University of Illinois has been regarded as one of the world’s preeminent research universities. But its ability to maintain that status may well depend on how it deals with the current Salaita controversy."

Monday, August 25, 2014

Fact Sheet on the Case of Steven Salaita

To Faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:

You received a mass email from Chancellor Wise on Friday, August 22, 2014, along with another mass email from President Easter, the Board of Trustees, and other members of the University Administration.

We write to provide some background and to urge you to consider carefully the questions of academic freedom and faculty governance that are at stake in the actions of the Chancellor, President, and Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.

The basic facts of the case:  Professor Salaita was offered a position as associate professor of American Indian Studies in October 2013 at the University of Illinois.  The job offer went through all the regular procedures of evaluation and channels of approval that are involved in hiring tenured faculty to our campus, including a vote by faculty in American Indian Studies, an external review by scholars in his field at peer institutions, through the LAS Executive Committee, the campus Executive Committee, and the provost’s office.  All that was left was the approval of the Board of Trustees.  (It is routine for the Board’s approval to come after faculty have already begun their employment at the University.) Professor Salaita, believing that the offer was in good faith, resigned his previous position at Virginia Tech, prepared to move his family to Illinois, and was scheduled to begin teaching courses in August.

Without any consultation of faculty or the academic units involved, and without any public process, Chancellor Wise wrote to Professor Salaita on August 1, 2014 to tell him that she would not be forwarding his materials to the Board of Trustees for approval and that she would be rescinding the offer.  Her actions represent a clear violation of the basic principles of shared governance and departmental autonomy. These actions also have disturbing racial implications.  Based on documents obtained through an open records request, there is now evidence that outside political influence played a role in the Chancellor’sactions.  

The impact:  The actions and statements of the Chancellor and Board of Trustees have drawn the attention of thousands of concerned people and have resulted in profound and potentially irreparable damage to the reputation of our university.  At this writing, more than 3000 individual scholars have pledged to refuse to have anything to do with our campus (including writing tenure or promotion letters).  A rapidly growing number of scholars who had already been invited to our campus (including two Miller/Comm speakers for Fall 2014) have cancelled their visits.  At least one major conference has had to be cancelled.  American Indian Studies has issued a number of statements, including a vote of no confidence in the Chancellor.

We are a loose coalition of University of Illinois faculty calling ourselves Illinois Faculty for Academic Freedom and Justice who have come together to share information and brainstorm responses. If you would like to learn more or get involved, email

Please feel free to circulate this information, via print or electronically.
Here is a link to a downloadable version of this fact sheet which can be found on the
Support Salaita Facebook Page

Natalie Zemon Davis, Letter to Chancellor Wise, August 26, 2014

Natalia Zemon Davis is the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University as well as Adjunct Professor of History at University of Toronto.  Below is her August 26 letter to Chancellor Wise

Dear Chancellor Wise,

           As a long-time participant in the university world, I implore you to reverse your decision in regard to Professor Steven Salaita and now to recommend the approval of his appointment to the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

           I write you as an admirer of the remarkable achievements of the historians, literary scholars, and anthropologists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  I have seen the lively and creative exchange among professors and graduate students close up as an invited guest of the History Department, and cannot believe that you would want to jeopardize this learning experience by the inappropriate and misguided criterion of civility.

           I write further as a Jew, growing up in Detroit during the rise of Nazism and the anti-Semitic sermons of Father Coughlin; a Jew committed to that strand in the Jewish sensibility that still places justice and universal values at its heart; committed to the uses of rabbinical and Talmudic debate, which sought truth by language not always decorous; and to the old tradition of Jewish humor, which put laughter and mockery to the service of helping the oppressed.

           As a distinguished physiologist, you have surely heard “disrespectful words” among scientists as they argued the pros and cons of research.  I certainly have, as I listened to scientists go at it on grant committees, including when the important subject of gender-based biology was on the table.   If words thought “demeaning” were uttered, the speaker was not excluded, he or she was answered.

           The role of vigorous expression is even more central in the humanities and social sciences, where we are examining thought systems and actions that range from the violently cruel to the heroically generous.   What, following your Principles of August 22, would we make of the writings of the great Fran├žois Rabelais, who used every comic metaphor available, especially the bodily ones, to plead the cause of those who had been silenced by the Inquisition or harmed by unjust war?

           You speak of your responsibility “ to ensure that. . . differing points of view be discussed in and outside the classroom in a scholarly, civil and productive manner.”  In the classroom: one of the exemplars of master teaching was the late George Mosse of the University of Wisconsin, refugee from Nazi Germany and historian of the rise of Nazism.  His lectures were celebrated for his sharp affirmations and his simultaneous invitation to the students to respond in kind—which they did – and for what one observer has called the “cross-fire” between him and a Marxist colleague.   Not surprisingly, he had good friends among both Israelis and Palestinians.

           Outside the classroom?  But surely one knows that “differing points of view” are being discussed by members of your large faculty all the time, using every kind of speech, some of it uncivil and disrespectful.   How would one enforce your criteria at the University?  By “speech-police” in every classroom, college restaurant, sports arena, and living room?

           Since this cannot be your intention, I come to the case of Stephen Salaita, whose scholarship, publications, and teaching were reviewed and warmly approved by colleagues, specialists, and university executive committees.  You say in your statement of Principles that the “the decision regarding Prof. Salaita was not influenced in any way by his positions on the conflict in the Middle East nor his criticism of Israel.”  If this be truly the case, then what could lead you to overturn the well-established evaluation and appointment procedures of your university and (according to the commentary by legal specialists) even hazard a possible lawsuit?  

           Professor Salaita’s tweets in regard to the Israeli bombing of Gaza in the last months seem to have been the trigger: as reported in information obtained by Inside Ed, they prompted some seventy emails to you, including from students who, as Jews, said they feared he would be hostile to them if they happened to take his course.  (What their majors were was not specified in the report.)

           Indeed, some of Professor Salaita’s tweets were vehement and intentionally provocative: he used strong language both to criticize the deaths from Israeli bombing and to attack anti-Semitism.  The lack of “civility” in some of his tweets is linked to the genre itself: a tweet is often an answer to a tweet, and a tweet always anticipates a response.  It is a form of concise communication based on give and take, on the anticipation that the respondent may respond sharply or critically to what you have said, and that the exchange will continue.   Thus, in his public political life, Professor Salaita participates in a mode that always leaves space for an answer, thus, extending the respect to the individual respondent for which you call in your Principles.

           The classroom is, of course, the critical space for assessing a professor’s educational performance, and from all reports, Professor Salaita has been a very successful teacher and much appreciated by his students.  Why not accept the careful and extended scholarly inquiry of your University of Illinois colleagues over the hasty and seemingly politicized judgment and fears of the emailers?    Further, Professor Salaita would be joining the Department of American Indian and Indigenous Studies, which on its web site commits itself to “free academic inquiry” and “the best ideals of academic freedom.”  Why not leave it to the professors in this fine department to insure that a new colleague fulfills the highest goals of teaching?   Indeed, the practices of careful listening and full speaking are very much part of the American indigenous tradition.  Professor Salaita would thus be in a setting where he could expect to do his best teaching and make the significant contribution to scholarly inquiry hoped for by the University of Illinois professors who have been seeking his presence.

           I urge you, Chancellor Wise, to rethink your position and to recommend that the Board of Trustees give its approval to the appointment of Professor Salaita.   This would be an honorable course, and one that would restore the academic values which should and can prevail at a great university.

                                               Natalie Zemon Davis,

Henry Charles Lea Professor of History emeritus, Princeton University
Adjunct Professor of History, University of Toronto

Letter from Vicki Mahaffey, Clayton and Thelma Kirkpatrick Professor of English and Gender and Women’s Studies

With Professor Mahaffey's permission we repost her letter to Chancellor Wise:
August 27, 2014

Chancellor Phyllis Wise

Dear Chancellor Wise:

     What follows is a response to your post of September 22, 2014, “The Principles on Which We Stand.”

      I served for two years as the University Ombudsman at my former university, and one of my main responsibilities was to educate (tactfully) faculty and staff about what constitutes professional conduct, and how it is essential for the establishment and maintenance of intellectual community.  One of the things I learned was that professional conduct is not simply a matter of civility. Civility is a form of politeness, but what is most important for professional conduct is respect. In Friday’s posting, you acknowledge the importance of mutual respect, but in a discussion of the importance of mutually respectful discourse. I must nevertheless question whether the actions taken by the administration demonstrate respect toward the faculty: not only Professor Salaita, but also the department that proposed his hire, and the many faculty members who have protested this decision. Does this method of refusing to approve a hire at the last minute without consultation show respect for faculty judgment, or concern for the consequences that are being borne by the faculty?

      It is of course highly desirable for an intellectual community to value respectful discourse, but at the same time it should be clear that when individuals feel passionately about ideas and events, such passion puts pressure on civility. What could the administration have done that would have allowed management to express its concerns while remaining respectful of the faculty? Obviously, consultation with the department in question prior to taking action would have demonstrated greater respect. Clear communication between the administration and the faculty about the ways in which their respective missions may conflict might also be useful. The administration needs to make it more explicit that their mission is to safeguard the image of the University of Illinois (which is important for fundraising) while fostering and protecting intense, thoughtful debate about difficult issues. The faculty’s mission is to think critically, creatively, and often resistantly about issues and presuppositions that might otherwise go unchallenged. Perhaps we need to establish a task force on the use of social media to express personal or political opinions. Is it a violation of ethics to express strong opinions publicly, even when the commentator does not identify himself as an employee of the university? In the information age, isn’t it impossible to keep an individual’s institutional affiliation from the knowledge of anyone who wants it? Was there any evidence that Professor Salaita would not have treated students with respect? Does the fact that he has strong political opinions mean that he would be intolerant in the classroom?

      I am suggesting that the administration has violated—through actions, not modes of self-expression—the very values that your eloquent post professes to endorse: mutual respect. In my view, it is the administration’s disrespect for strong (and strongly worded) convictions, a disrespect expressed through highhanded action (taken without faculty consultation), that is responsible for the widespread reaction of the academy against the position taken by the administration at the University of Illinois.

Vicki Mahaffey
Clayton and Thelma Kirkpatrick Professor of English and Gender and Women’s Studies

Sunday, August 24, 2014

David Palumbo-Liu in *The Nation*

Here is a link to Palumbo-Liu's Nation article, "Why the 'Unhiring' of Steven Salaita is a Threat to Academic Freedom."

Bonnie Honig's Letter to Chancellor Wise and the Board of Trustees, 8/24/14

With the permission of Professor Bonnie Honig, we publish this letter to Chancellor Wise, the Board of Trustees, and the UI community:

 August 24, 2014

Dear Chancellor Wise, (and Members of the Board of Trustees, and the UIUC community of faculty, staff, and students), I wrote to you when I heard about the Steven Salaita case a couple of weeks ago and hoped you would reconsider. As I told you then, I am Jewish and was raised as a Zionist, and I was moved by the case. I write now in the hope that you might find some measure of empathy for this man. Please bear with me for 2 pages....

I do not know Prof. Salaita, but I must say that as I read about the case I was struck by what I can only describe as a certain smug and uncivil tone in his critics, who seemed very assured about what sort of speech is within the bounds of propriety, and what is not. To be clear: I do not grant that speech that lacks propriety justifies the treatment Prof Salaita has received. I leave that point aside since others -- John Stuart Mill, Brian Leiter, others – have ably addressed it.

 I want to draw your attention to the issue of “empathy.” This is what I thought at the time this story first broke: Here is a man of Palestinian descent watching people he may know, perhaps friends, colleagues, or relatives, bombed to bits while a seemingly uncaring or powerless world watched. He was touched by violence and responded in a way that showed it. In one of the tweets that was most objected to (Netanyahu, necklace, children's teeth), Salaita commented on a public figure who is fair game and who was promoting acts of terrible violence against a mostly civilian population. I found that tweet painful and painfully funny. It struck home with me, a Jew raised as a Zionist. Too many of us are too committed to being uncritical of Israel. Perhaps tweets like Prof. Salaita’s, along with images of violence from Gaza and our innate sense of fair play, could wake us from our uncritical slumbers. It certainly provoked ME, and I say “provoked” in the best way – awakened to thinking.

That is what I thought. I also, though, felt something. I felt that whoever wrote that tweet was tweeting his own pain. And I felt there was something very amiss when he was chided for his tone, by people who were safely distant from all of it, while he was watching people he maybe knew or felt connected to die as a result of military aggression. This, frankly, seemed evil. And then to have the major charge against him in the UIUC case be that he lacked empathy: now that seemed cruelly ironic. The real charge, it seems to me, is that he suffers from too much empathy.

What kind of a person would Prof Salaita be if he did not respond more or less as he did!? What kind of a teacher? What kind of community member? Meantime, even under duress, he is careful about a key thing: His published tweets distinguish Zionism from Jews and others. In the one tweet about anti-Semitism, he puts that term in scare quotes. I don't know if I would be as nuanced were I in the same situation. Certainly many of my Zionist or Netanyahu-supporting friends and relatives are not: they do not take the trouble to make the analogous distinctions in their commentaries on the situation.

Anyone involved in this case who is incapable of empathy for Salaita at the moment could themselves perhaps learn something about empathy from the very person who has been charged with lacking it. May I ask you: Surely you are not incapable of empathy for his plight, both now (stranded between institutions) and in July (watching from afar as people to whom he presumably feels connected die or are wounded)?

May I add, further, that, as befits the picture I have here painted, there is no actual evidence in the teaching record that Prof Salaita lacks the empathy and tolerance expected of teachers in the classroom. The repeatedly stated 'concern' that he is lacking in this way is not only unpersuasive. It is also painful because it may well stick: based on nothing but ignorant or self-serving fears, it may well have a lasting impact on a blameless person's career and fortunes.

Can you not find a way to resolve the situation to the advantage of both UIUC AND Prof. Salaita? Decisions like this one are the sort that haunt the people who make them for years to come, so I hope you will indeed be able to open your heart in your consideration of the matter. It is not too late. At the very least I urge you and UIUC to stop charging Prof. Salaita with being wanting in vague and either irrelevant or personal ways. That just adds insult and injury to injury.

Another irony there: your stated position is that words matter, so much so that other commitments must fall before them. So the responsibility to choose them carefully seems to me to land especially heavily on you and your institution. I do not see you rising to that challenge. This too, I want to suggest, should be hard to live with.

In the meantime, I stand in solidarity with the thousands of academics worldwide who, regrettably, cannot accept invitations henceforth to speak at UIUC or to do any other sort of support work (tenure or promotion letters etc) for your institution. I say regrettably because I have been happy to visit in the past, as a keynote speaker and lecturer. I hope you can understand my position. Simply put, to act in any other way would be wrong.

Thank you for your consideration.

Bonnie Honig, Nancy Duke Lewis Professor, Brown University, Providence, RI

Brian Leiter, "University of Illinois Repeals the First Amendment for its Faculty"

Leiter is the Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the Center for Law, Philosophy and Human Values at the University of Chicago.  He argues that "Chancellor Wise and Chairman Kennedy have made statements that commit the University of Illinois to illegal because unconstitutional courses of action. They should resign, or be removed from office, before doing further damage to one of the nation's great research universities. Their public statements make clear they are unfit to lead academic institutions in which both freedom of speech and freedom of research and inquiry are upheld."  Read his piece, here.

Friday, August 8, 2014

National Lawyer Guild Chicago, Letter to Chancellor Wise, August 8, 2014

Here is a link to a letter sent to Chancellor Wise calling for reinstatement of Steven Salaita's hire. They assert that as a public university, "UIUC is required to adhere to First Amendment and academic freedom principles that protect the rights of faculty members to "speak or write as citizens," and to be free from "institutional censorship or discipline."