No decisions made on Kilgore, Salaita

No decisions made on Kilgore, Salaita

URBANA — The fate of two scholars at the University of Illinois is still unclear after top university officials met behind closed doors Monday afternoon to discuss several high-profile personnel issues and possible pending litigation.

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The university in recent months has come under fire for its handling of not one but two different teaching appointments — Professor Steven Salaita and lecturer James Kilgore.

The Urbana campus last October offered Salaita, then a professor at Virginia Tech, a tenured faculty position in the American Studies Program, but informed him a few weeks before the start of this coming semester that his appointment would not be forwarded to trustees for formal approval. Salaita's angry, anti-Israeli posts on social media drew widespread attention in July during Israel's invasion of Gaza.

Earlier this spring campus officials reportedly told nontenured lecturer and African Studies researcher James Kilgore he would not be employed after his contract expired on Aug. 15. Kilgore's supporters have said the decision was made in response to political pressure and not based on his performance or academic contributions. The announcement came following media attention to Kilgore's past as a member of the radical Symbionese Liberation Army and his role in a robbery that led to the killing of a bank customer in 1975. But not long after the news was revealed, university officials said the decision was not final and a "campus-driven" review of his employment would take place over the summer.

"There are a number of issues being discussed," President Bob Easter told The News-Gazette after the meeting, but trustees are "not at a place where I can say" if resolution is close. He declined to talk further because it was a closed session about personnel.

Monday's meeting included the executive committee of the UI Board of Trustees (Chair Christopher Kennedy and trustees Pam Strobel and Ed McMillan), plus university lawyers, Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise, Urbana Provost Ilesanmi Adesida and President Easter. Trustees James Montgomery and Tim Koritz also participated in the meeting. No action was taken. The board's next meeting as a whole is Sept. 11 in Urbana.

The closed-door session comes at a time when the campus is filling with students and faculty returning for the start of classes next Monday. Attention and speculation in Salaita's case has been growing. In the past few weeks more than 15,000 people signed a petition on demanding Chancellor Wise reinstate Salaita. Other petitions have been circulating, including one signed by more than 1,000 scholars in which they pledged to boycott speaking at any conferences or public events at the university due to Salaita's treatment.

In a letter sent to Wise on Sunday, UI professor and English Department head Michael Rothberg said Wise should not underestimate the damage to the reputation of the university by the rescinding of Salaita's job.

Meantime scholars in constitutional law and academic freedom have written essays on the case of Salaita, who has remained quiet, raising speculation a settlement between him and the university may be in the works.

"I do not want to go one way or another without knowing all the facts," said UI computer science professor Roy Campbell, chair of the Urbana Academic Senate. But the fact is as more faculty return to campus and catch up on the news, more and more have asked him questions that need to be answered, Campbell said.

"What is the reason the university does not want to hire (Salaita)," he said. A reason has never been publicly given. Also, "was he considered an employee or not?" It is not uncommon for appointments to receive formal board approval weeks or even months after the employee starts working on campus, Campbell pointed out.

As for Kilgore's case, he declined comment via email on Monday. After public demonstrations in support of his work on campus in recent weeks, the provost assembled a special committee to review Kilgore's case over the summer. That group was expected to have completed its work recently and forward a recommendation to UI administrators.

Officials have not released the names on that committee or its formal charge.

Ultimately these personnel appointments are subject to board approval, as outlined in the university statutes, Campbell said.

"It's really up to the board. We can make recommendations (on Kilgore). It will be interesting to see if the board (of trustees) follows that recommendation," he said.

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GeneralLeePeeved wrote on August 19, 2014 at 7:08 am

OK, for all of those playing at home, let's take a little quiz.....

Study the two statements below and determine which is the most racist/bigoted remark:

(A)  "I hate all black people"

(B) "I hate all jewish people"

Give up? ....ah, it was a trick question.  The correct answer is (C) It depends on who said it.  

Once again, all of us non-PhD's, and more importantly, non-academicians, are essentially being told that we're too stupid to know the difference between a racist/bigoted statement made to hurt others and those made to inspire and motivate discussion.......and, yet, once again, even the overlords can't decide which is which.  Here's a little help for them.....if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck.....there's a pretty good chance it's a duck (unless, of course, it's a duck with a PhD).


fogiman wrote on August 19, 2014 at 3:08 pm

There are also no ducks mentioned in the article. Big disappointment.

jlc wrote on August 19, 2014 at 12:08 pm

If anyone mentioned in the article had gone on record saying they hate all black people or they hate all Jewish people, your comment might be relevant. As it is...not so much.

Vicente Diaz wrote on August 19, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Enough with the smearing already! Salaita has a long record of attacking anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and fundamentalist thinking. The attacks on Salaita cherry pick his tweets and read them out of context on several levels, and do so for ideological purposes (or do so to cover up ulterior political motives, as seems to be the case at UIUC). Whether or not you agree with his and many peoples' view here, his record of anti-Israeli military action is one against a modern nation state and not against any one religion or ethnicity or racial or cultural or historical group of people. People with PhDs don't have a monopoly over correct thinking, but academia is a place where standards of reasoning and intellectual debate are higher than most institutions and spaces outside. Here conventions and guidelines and standards include things like reliable evidence, due process, shared governance, external and independent evaluations, among some biggies.  To continue to simply assert pigheadedly that Salaita is anti-Semitic is not unlike the view that continues to assert in other circles, and against evidence and facts, against compelling arguments to the contrary, that Salaita is basically a Jihadist against whom the University and America must defend their supposed purity.


Sancho Panza wrote on August 19, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Vincente, Can you please provide reliable evidence of recent comments by Dr. Salaita regarding Jews which are anything other than anti-Semitic?  At least some people were able to present references to Donald Sterling being supportive of blacks.  Do you have any knowledge of why the American Indian Studies Program offered a tenured professorship to an individual whose scholarship is primarily related to the Middle East and Middle Eastern peoples in America?

ialdabaoth wrote on August 19, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Well, there are of quite of few of Dr. Salaita's tweets that condemn anti-Semitism and other forms of racism, including his critique of Macklemore's performance dressed as a stereotypical anti-Semitic portrayal of a Jew straight out of the 1930s.

Further, it was clear within context that Dr. Salaita's statement that "anti-Semitism is honorable" was commenting on tendency for Israel's apologists to slur all critics of the apartheid state's war crimes as being anti-Semitic.

Dr. Salaita was offered his position in the AIS program due to his expertise on issues relating to colonialism and settler states.

Can you provide any evidence that recent comments by Dr. Salaita regarding exclusionary and nationalistic Zionism are indeed anti-Semitic?

Sancho Panza wrote on August 19, 2014 at 10:08 pm

Ialdabaoth, Thanks for the response both with regards to twitter comments and to making a connection between his work and American Indian history. 

I tried searching his tweets refering to Macklemore and found the reference.  I’m not sure if there is a fair way to balance his comments which range from racist (i.e. anti-semitism being honorable) to anti-racist (i.e. Macklemore).  I see similarities between this situation and that of Donald Sterling.  In the current cultural climate, racist comments are generally not tolerated, and determining the proper consequence in each situation is difficult.  I feel that declining to hire him is the best option, however I understand others’ desire to protect their own controversial/insensitive speech.

rsp wrote on August 20, 2014 at 2:08 am

Just because you don't understand the context of his tweets does not mean they are racist. They are just the opposite. I've taken the time to read them, find out what he's talking about at that time, what's going on. I started reading other stories about the situation. In the past when I tried to understand what was going on over there I couldn't follow it. Because of him I'm understanding it.

Sancho Panza wrote on August 20, 2014 at 7:08 am

While I'm glad that he has helped you get up to speed, you and I do not need to reach the same interpretion of his body of tweets. 

wayward wrote on August 20, 2014 at 9:08 am

Just out of curiosity, are there any problems with Salaita other than some of his tweets? I don't know much about his field, but a search of Google Scholar shows what looks like a reasonable number of publications. Ward Churchill got a lot of attention because of inflammatory writing after 9/11, but what got him fired from University of Colorado were findings of research misconduct. AFAIK, there have been no credible misconduct allegations against Salaita.

Revilo Oliver's writing was a lot more noxious than the worst of Salaita's tweets, IMHO, and UI survived having him as a tenured full professor. I think they can survive Salaita too.

Sid Saltfork wrote on August 21, 2014 at 11:08 am

Israel has many supporters in the U.S. including Congress who depends on "campaign donations", and votes.  Criticizing Israel's actions toward it's neighbors, appropriation of borderlands for settlements, and subjecting an indigenous people to ghetto conditions is viewed as anti-semetic by it's supporters.  This includes the politically correct academics also.

How many Palestinian students attend the U of I now as compared to the past?  There was a time when the Palestinian students were vocal on campus.  This appears to have been squelched either by the diminshment of their numbers, declining financial resources, the politically correct academics; or all three.

Irish, Turkish, and ships of other countries have been boarded by Israel; and not allowed to deliver food, medicines, and other necessities to Gaza over the past years.  Hundreds of civilians including children have been killed in bombardments by Israel.  Power, and water plants have been targeted.  Hospitals, and schools including U.N. sanctuaires have been targeted.  The world has watched in horror; and voiced complaints.

Now; one professor who wrote tweets regarding his hatred for Israel, not Jews, is being charged as being anti-semetic by the politically correct academia in the Midwest of this country.  Why?  Perhaps fund raising from people with dual citizenships?