Salaita prompted donors' fury

Salaita prompted donors' fury

URBANA — As news spread in late July about a new University of Illinois faculty hire and media outlets began publishing some of his profanity-laden tweets, a number of wealthy donors threatened to stop giving money to the university, recently released documents show.

What's your take? Tell columnist Tom Kacich here

The letters about professor Steven Salaita started arriving in Chancellor Phyllis Wise's inbox July 21, and the writers did not hold back.

"Having been a multiple 6 figure donor to Illinois over the years, I know our support is ending as we vehemently disagree with the approach this individual espouses," wrote one UI business school graduate.

"I have consistently believed that our flagship state university is a treasure that deserves our continued support and contributions. No more. We will now cease our annual contributions to the university and will let our fellow alumni know why we are doing so," wrote another graduate.

Here are exchanges (an 8MB, 280 page pdf) about Salaita, released by the UI under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. 

The writers included university alumni, donors, students, parents of students and members of the Champaign-Urbana Jewish community. Most were furious to learn that Salaita was to teach classes this fall on the Urbana-Champaign campus. More than one said they would stop financially supporting the university.

The letters provide a glimpse at the pushback the university received from various constituents about Salaita, whose angry tweets about Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip have drawn widespread attention. The letters from donors, some of them identifying themselves as members of the UI's $25,000-plus "presidents council," have also raised questions about the motivation behind the administration's decision to not forward Salaita's name to the board of trustees for formal approval last month.

The chancellor, however, through a spokeswoman, maintains her decision was not influenced by them, but was based out of concern for the students, campus and community.

The names of those who sent the messages, as well as other personally identifiable information, were removed by the UI, citing privacy reasons.

In one letter, a 1984 graduate whose daughter currently attends the UI said she was appalled the university would consider hiring Salaita, "an individual who has published offensive anti-Semetic (sic) rhetoric, including blaming 'Zionists' for being 'partially responsible when people say antisemetic (sic) (expletive) in response to Israeli terror,'" she wrote, referring to one of Salaita's tweets.

"I have been an enthusiastic advocate for the university since my student days and have been an active proponent of increased alumni support in this time of decreased state funding. ... I have consistently believed that our flagship state university is a treasure that deserves our continued support and contributions. No more. We will now cease our annual contributions to the university and will let our fellow alumni know why we are doing so. We will encourage others to join us in this protest, as perhaps financial consequences will sway you even though morals, common sense and decency did not," the letter read.

In another letter, a 1977 UI business graduate describes his or her financial support to the Business Instructional Facility and the Hillel building on campus as well as time spent visiting campus to deliver lectures.

"Based on the hiring of Mr. Salaita, I have decided to reconsider any future commitment of time and money to the University of Illinois. I have tremendous respect for (College of Business) Dean (Larry) DeBrock, Tim Durst and the Business School development office, and I am deeply conflicted by my decision to reconsider any support for the Business School. However, as a Jew and lover of Israel, I see no other way to make my voice heard then to take this action," the alumnus wrote.

Another alumnus, who graduated alongside his wife from the business school in 1980, detailed their contributions over the years and said that support would end.

"This is doubly unfortunate for the school as we have been blessed in our careers and have accumulated quite a balance sheet over my 35 year career," he wrote.

An alumnus and father of a current UI student wrote the following:

"While I respect the right of alternative viewpoints to many topics, there is a line that should not be crossed in arguing one's position. Frankly, the posts and rhetoric by your new hire has deeply gone way past the point of no return. I respectfully request that you review all of the information available to determine the validity and make a formal statement as to what your current position is on this potential new employee. Once I see/hear your viewpoint, I will make a determination about future donations and whether to keep my son enrolled."

Professor: Can't buy power

Many of the messages were simply forwarded to Board Secretary Susan Kies. However, with one writer, Wise was willing to rework her schedule in order to meet with him or her in Chicago. That person wrote to her to share his or her thoughts regarding the Salaita case and to get Wise's perspective.

As part of a letter-writing campaign, several members of the Champaign-Urbana Jewish community sent letters to Wise the week of July 30.

Rabbi Alan Cook with Sinai Temple said he has been following the case, but would not make any public comments to The News-Gazette about it. Erez Cohen, director of Illini Hillel and the Cohen Center for Jewish Life, also did not want to speak publicly about Salaita.

"Hillel is partner of the university when comes to developing a vibrant Jewish life on campus, and we don't comment on internal administrative decisions at the university," Cohen said.

Never, under any circumstances, should the university — or any university, for that matter — allow a donor to have any say whatsoever over the nature of a hire or the philosophical or political viewpoints of a hire, said Bruce Rosenstock, UI religion professor and president of the Campus Faculty Association.

"If any donor told a faculty member in the Jewish Studies program that they will give money but they want veto power over who is hired, we would reject the money no matter how large a sum it is," he said. "I would hope that any university administrator would tell a donor who wishes to influence the university about a hiring decision it has made that it is inappropriate for that individual to attempt to influence in anyway whatever."

As for the emails sent, Rosenstock said he wishes Wise had responded to them all with something like, "It's inappropriate for donors to have any influence on hiring and dismissals. Respectfully, Phyllis Wise."

Chancellor responds

Wise, who was traveling, said via spokeswoman Robin Kaler that a great deal of her time is spent meeting with external audiences.

"I meet with foundation leaders, national and international university and corporate leaders, my fellow presidents and chancellors, and state and federal government officials. And, of course, I meet with alumni, donors and friends of the university. I discuss important issues with a wide array of people on virtually every significant campus issue.

"On this, I have heard from people who supported me, as well as those who criticized me. In coming to a decision, I was not influenced by any of them. My primary concern was for our students, the campus and the university," Wise said.

In her statement released Aug. 22 to the campus community, Wise said as chancellor it is her duty to ensure that "all perspectives are welcome and that our discourse, regardless of subject matter or viewpoint, allows new concepts and differing points of view to be discussed in and outside the classroom in a scholarly, civil and productive manner."

Since that statement was released and faculty returned and classes resumed on campus, three academic departments have approved votes of no confidence in Wise and other university officials because the decision violates academic freedom and Salaita's right to free speech and infringes on the shared governance model at the university, according to the departments.

In recent days, supporters of the chancellor have circulated and published their own letters of support, backing up her decision and standing by her duty "to promote campus civility, comity and constructive discourse."

Salaita, formerly a professor at Virginia Tech, has a Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma with a concentration in Native American Studies. He is the author of books on several different topics, from Arab American fiction to "Israel's Dead Soul," a criticism of Zionism. He was offered a tenured faculty position in the UI's American Indian Studies Program in October.

Salaita has been outspoken in support of Palestinians in essays and on social media. Since the Israel invasion of Gaza, his online rhetoric has drawn some criticism. In July, he tweeted: "Zionists, take responsibility: if your dream of an ethnocratic Israel is worth the murder of children, just (expletive) own it already. #Gaza" About the Israeli prime minister, he tweeted: "At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised? #Gaza"

Comments embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

nateo wrote on September 02, 2014 at 8:09 am

Why did the N-G decide to bury the lead half-way down the page? The most important information in this article was that Wise decided to change her schedule in order to meet with a donor concerning Salaita. This is at the very least the appearance of impropriety and is part of the ethical training that all University employees receive. She knew that this meeting was entirely inappropriate, but went out of her way to attend. Here's a better headline: "Wise violates ethics code to meet with major donor about Salaita."

Jam wrote on September 02, 2014 at 2:09 pm

God blesses who work for peace for they will be called children of God...Jesus ( Matt:5:9)

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on September 02, 2014 at 3:09 pm
Profile Picture

Interesting strategy. 


Who do you think is more likely to subscribe to the new testament? Jews or Muslims?

nateo wrote on September 02, 2014 at 8:09 am

Why did the N-G bury the lead half-way down the page? The most important information in this article was that Wise changed her schedule to meet with a donor about Salaita. This is, at the very least, the appearance of impropriety. Situations like this are covered in the ethical training that all University employees receive. Wise had to have known that this meeting was inappropriate, but went out of her way to attend. Here's a new headline: "Wise violates code of ethics to meet with donor about Salaita."

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 02, 2014 at 9:09 am

Anonymous donors?  Why not publish theirs names so all can see who wrote the threats regarding pulling donations?  Make this issue transparent.  Does one group exercise such power in secret?  If so, academic freedom does not exist at the U of I.  These secret donors sure do not keep their names secret when they donate the money; only when they want their influence to be used in deciding who the university hires.

Bulldogmojo wrote on September 02, 2014 at 11:09 am


The Foundation and Alumni Association declare they are exempt from FOIA so there is your donor transparency problem

EdRyan wrote on September 02, 2014 at 9:09 am

I suppose AIPAC is now running the UI.

tominmadison wrote on September 02, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Whenever someone on campus would suggest that you had to be careful of criticizing Israeli policy, one would ask why? If you were told that it was because there was this very coordinated and connected group of powerful monied Jews who could hurt would laugh it off as paranoid quasi-racist stereotype. Well...hmmmm....thanks to chancellor wise...the stereotype has been given object legitimacy.  Nicely played.

Skepticity wrote on September 02, 2014 at 10:09 am

While I don't believe that the meeting with a university donor violates the ethics code (unless you claim Ms. Wise was bribed?) I agree it was an error in that it opened the door to accusations claiming impropriety. 

She should have maintained a distance from donor outrage and just relied upon the content of the tweets in determining Mr. Salaita's lack of professionalism and his unsuitability for a professorship. I believe that the nature of his tweets disqualify him for appointment due to their language and advocacy of atrocities, not because of the side he chose to argue.  There have already been atrocities from Israel and Hamas. Advocating more violence in obscenity laden tweets shows poor judgment in one awaiting confirmation of an appointment to a professorship.  Such public expression of this nature reflects poorly on the university and justifies the failure to confirm his position with U of I. 

The blame in the terrible situation in Gaza can be spread in many directions, going back to the UN decision to partition Palestine in 1947, Zionist excesses during the formative years, the subsequent decisions that prevented Palestinian assimilation into neighboring states, the 6 days war in 1967, ongoing Israeli policy, PLO and Hamas extremism, etc.  It is relatively easy to choose a side and advocate for it, since injustice exists on all sides.  It is difficult to see how peace can be established with organizations such as Hamas who advocate the total destruction of Israel and who fire rockets into Israel.  It is shameful that Hamas places weapons in civilian areas, and quite troubling that Israel destroys those weapons despite their placement.  The resolution of this larger conflict is not the focus of the article. 

Mr. Salaita is entitled to express views that differ with those who support Israel.  It is HOW he chose to express his views that show his unsuitability for a professorship. 


Note to the News-Gazette:

I think that Ms. Des Garennes article shows some continued slant toward the cause of the protesters, but in this article she at least made a reasonable attempt to balance the views.

The News-Gazette cannot ignore the accusations of donor influence, so a story was needed. However, donors are entitled to express their views (freedom of speech?) using appropriate language, of course.

Isn't there a better picture of Mr. Salaita that you could have used, if you had to use a picture of him? Please find a photo that would show him looking somewhat professorial, so the initial hiring decision makes sense.    Recently I have noticed questionable photo choices on the front page.

nateo wrote on September 02, 2014 at 12:09 pm

State law and the resulting administrative rules governing the conduct of state employees prohibit both impropriety (such as bribes and quid pro quo) and the appearance of impropriety. Wise is certainly guilty of the latter. UIUC and other State agencies conduct training on this. So, will she be punished? I ain't holding my breath. Should she be punished? Yes—if you believe in the rule of law.

Skepticity wrote on September 02, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Yes, yes, I am quite familiar with the State of Illinois Code of Ethics.  I even reviewed it again quickly after reading your reply.  I might have overlooked the relevant section, but I found no applicable reference to the situation of Ms. Wise meeting with a university donor.  Anyone can imply that some act gave the appearance of impropriety in any situation. This does not mean an ethics violation took place.  So I will ask you to specify the section under which her alleged "appearance of impropriety" is applicable under the Ethics Act. 

My point was that her meeting was a poor decision in light of university politics around this issue, not that there was an ethical lapse. 

If you can specify her violation, I suggest you send your information to the Inspector General so there can be an investigation and evidence gathered for a hearing. 

That would be preferable to your making a general reference to ethics violation and suggesting that punishment is warranted under an unspecified section of the ethics act, with no hearing and no evidence presented.

spangwurfelt wrote on September 02, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Worth pointing out that almost-professor Salaita is not giving the "peace sign" in the photo but the V-for-Victory sign. See for example

"Crowds took to the bombed-out streets of Gaza to celebrate the end of hostilities. Many used the v-sign to signify Palestinian victory over Israel."

Salaita may want you to think he's peacenik, but that's not what the gesture is. Google "palestinian victory sign" for a lot more examples.

wayward wrote on September 02, 2014 at 1:09 pm

I think the "V for Victory" sign is pretty universal:


Sid Saltfork wrote on September 02, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Pathetic attempt to change the subject of the article.

spangwurfelt wrote on September 03, 2014 at 12:09 pm

Direct comment on the article's photo. Sorry if you don't like it.

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 03, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Just more childish propaganda on your part to divert the real issue of racism toward Palestinians.  A secret group of wealthy donors, parents, and students wanting to control educational access of others on an international issue is called what?  No different than Easter television viewing in the past.  Just more controlled pro-Israeli propanganda.  

jdmac44 wrote on September 02, 2014 at 11:09 am

To my understanding, many research projects are directed by funds from industry grants, why would this be any different?  Let's not pretend that the university isn't driven by money.

Homeboy wrote on September 02, 2014 at 11:09 am

The chancellor, however, through a spokeswoman, maintains her decision was not influenced by them, but was based out of concern for the students, campus and community.Guess the chancellor was concerned about Salaita but not Kilgore? 

wayward wrote on September 02, 2014 at 12:09 pm

The PDF archive of the letters seemed to have a fair amount of repetition.  There were about a dozen letters signed "The Jewish Community of Champaign Urbana" that referred to "Germany in the 1930s," according to Adobe's text search feature. Perhaps a coordinated letter campaign?

rsp wrote on September 03, 2014 at 1:09 pm

A few refer to a facebook page. I'm thinking they read it more than they read his text messages. There's one from a student in Boston that comes close to blaming Salaita for the Holocaust, even describes what it was like in the 30's. My favorites are the ones were they would never take a class with him but are afraid he wouldn't grade them fairly. Maybe the U of I should offer some critical thinking skills classes to incoming classes.

wayward wrote on September 03, 2014 at 3:09 pm

That same letter referring to "Germany in the 1930's" appears with 9 different timestamps, suggesting that 9 people sent the same letter to the Chancellor:

July 29, 2014 at 3:07:51 PM CDT,  Tuesday, July 29, 2014 3:07:55 PM,  Tuesday, July 29, 2014 4:26:30 PM,  Wednesday, July 30, 2014 10:58:15 AM,  Wednesday, July 30, 2014 1:18:09 PM,  Wednesday, July 30, 2014 2:42:23 PM,  Wednesday, July 30, 2014 4:20:25 PM,  Wednesday, July 30, 2014 10:40:32 PM,  Thursday, July 31, 2014 5:23:54 PM

It looks like a coordinated letter campaign where the more motivated participants composed original messages, but others went for the quick copy-paste.


wayward wrote on September 02, 2014 at 2:09 pm

According to a Twitter user, the chancellor met with Steve Miller of Origin Ventures in Chicago:

Mr. Miller apparently funds enterprenurial scholarships in the UI business program:

Per LinkedIn and the Hillel website, Mr. Miller is on the Illini Hillel Board of Governors.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on September 02, 2014 at 3:09 pm
Profile Picture

Some people call him the Space Cowboy.

sweet caroline wrote on September 02, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Now, THAT's funny, Rob!  :)

kiel wrote on September 02, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Will donors who object to evolution have a say in hiring biology faculty? Donors who have other strong religious beliefs pull funding when hiring atheist faculty? This is a dangerous precedent. 

kagni wrote on September 02, 2014 at 4:09 pm

@tominmadison: You ask if a UIUC employee has to be careful of criticizing Israeli policy, and you seem to say that the Salaita case means the affirmative.  But as Prof Farrand's letter to the Editor reminded News-Gazette readers few days ago:  "Speaking out against Israel and its policies clearly is not cause for even censure at the University of Illinois.  David Green, a committed anti-Zionist, writes well-reasoned, clear and provocative letters and op-ed pieces arguing against Zionism and in support of the rights of the Palestinians. I have seen no effort to censure Mr. Green or to remove him from his position in the UI's Institute of Government and Public Affairs." 

dlgreen50 wrote on September 02, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Just because I have a job unrelated to Israel/Palestine doesn't mean that Salaita is not being persecuted for his views rather than his "tone." Even though his teaching may not directly relate to I/P, he would have had an opportunity to be one of less than a handful of voices for Palestinian rights on this campus (Francis Boyle, can you name any others?). He would have been the first person of Palestinian background to have a job in a field that relates in someway to the I/P situation. I believe he is, without a doubt, being persecuted for his beliefs, not for the tone of his speech. He has a stellar scholarly and teaching record. The local and statewide Zionist fanatics saw their opportunity, and they took it. It's happened in plenty of places, and there's always been plenty of intimidation on this campus. I've experienced it myself when I scheduled a Palestinian speaker at the Y in 2005, and the Director of Hillel got on the phone and tried to keep it from happening. There has for many years been an overbearing and intimidating Zionist presence on this campus and in this community. But times have changed, and even those associated with the Program for Jewish Culture and Society are embarrassed and appalled by this. The Zionist donor/thugs have hopefully met their match, and that would be a very positive sign of the times in more ways than one. -- David Green

kagni wrote on September 02, 2014 at 5:09 pm

@David Green: 

Nobody will censure you for your anti-Zionist views.  

Similarly, it is not the views that are the problem with Mr. Salaita. Had a job candidate tweeted messages like his against Native Americans or Palestinians, people who condemn the university now would rightly demand that it is not tolerated. 



dlgreen50 wrote on September 02, 2014 at 7:09 pm

You can invent a hypothetical world in which oppressors are victimized (denied their academic freedom and opportunity to earn a living) for defaming the oppressed, but real world examples are hard to come by. In any event, Salaita is clearly not a hateful person, but one who is passionate about decrying the victimization of his people, which is not hypothetical but real. He is being victimized by forces much more powerful than himself. That's the way things usually work in the real world, rather than a fantasized world of harms done to the powerful and secure. --David Green

Manscape wrote on September 04, 2014 at 12:09 pm

What, did the Rothschilds not send you the check this month?

dlgreen50 wrote on September 02, 2014 at 7:09 pm

I would add that there is no evidence whatsoever that anyone advocacting for Salaita would promote the denial of a promised job to anyone on the basis of their political expression. I certainly would not. That's just something that is fantasized by those with a compulsion to avoid reality. Repression is your M.O., not mine. But It only adds to the slander. -- David Green

Bulldogmojo wrote on September 02, 2014 at 4:09 pm


Well after all we live in a country where the supreme court said that money is free speech so I guess since this is now a private University run by a handful of the wealthiest donors they need to be billed for the outstanding balance the state is in arrears for.

Maybe throw in a little extra for cardboard cutouts of Wise so we can "feel her presence around campus".


"History may not repeat itself but it does rhyme..." ~ Wittreich

kagni wrote on September 02, 2014 at 11:09 pm

@David Green  Re "hypothetical world in which oppressors are victimized for defaming the oppressed, but real world examples are hard to come by"    -  Really?  Larry Summers got fired from being a president of Harvard for badmouthing women. 

dlgreen50 wrote on September 03, 2014 at 4:09 am

Poor, poor Larry. Summers got "fired" because he routinely treated his associates like crap, after he actually had a job. And you can hardly compare the plight of this privileged and powerful man and his exorbitant speaking fees to that of Salaita.-- David Green

spangwurfelt wrote on September 03, 2014 at 12:09 pm

$85K a year, Salaita's proposed initial salary, plus tenure -- sounds like a pretty darn good definition of privilege to me.

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 03, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Compared to the money that his "secret" critics possess?  Your diverting again from the issue.

Manscape wrote on September 04, 2014 at 12:09 pm

No, it is YOU who are diverting from the issue of his racist, hateful tweets. If that's the type of person you want representing the University of Illinois, then put your name in for the President position and make changes.

You never did tell me if you learned the word "hypocrite" in mind-reading 101.

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 05, 2014 at 11:09 am

Evidently, the high salaries of the President and Chancellor does not buy competency based on the university's past, and present hirings in both positions.  The professor's tweets were "hateful" toward Israel; but not "racist".  You keep trying to portray criticism, and anger toward Israel as anti-semitic and racist.  Why not be honest about it?

wayward wrote on September 03, 2014 at 7:09 am

Oh my, Robert Weissberg has something to say about this too:

For those who are unfamiliar with Weissberg, here's his Wikipedia entry: . He's a professor emeritus at UIUC.

The "American Renaissance" magazine where he has published has been described as a white supremacist site. How is someone like Weissberg *not* a "civility" problem at UI?

dlgreen50 wrote on September 03, 2014 at 11:09 am

Good catch; Weissberg is a racist creep; but if he had maintained a tenured position here, I would not support his dismissal on the basis of being a racist creep. Salaita, meanwhile, is a thorough cross-cultural literary scholar. He is being persecuted for his beliefs. All the rest is BS. -- David Green

wayward wrote on September 03, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Although I understand that the Israel-Palestine conflict is a hot button issue with very strong emotions on both sides, I think Salaita would be more credible if he expressed himself more thoughtfully.  That said, I do think academic freedom should protect his right to post some of the stuff that he has.  Sort of like the famous quote about free speech that says, "I detest what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it."

Likewise, I strongly agree that Weissberg is a racist creep, but would not have pushed for his dismissal either.  It was just sort of ironic that even that article itself seemed pretty offensive if you read it carefully.

wayward wrote on September 04, 2014 at 10:09 am

The Academe blog has a great piece on Weissberg and his recent essay about Salaita:

"In fact, I think Weissberg’s racism is highly relevant. It reveals some of the double standards found in the Salaita case, and certainly dispels some of the arguments that Salaita would never have had a chance to hold a job at the University of Illinois if he had been accused of racism rather than anti-Semitism."

oramahi wrote on September 03, 2014 at 10:09 am

Larry Summers ... hummmm

according to Wikipedia:

a 2005 speech in which he suggested that the under-representation of women in science and engineering could be due to a "different availability of aptitude at the high end"


Is this "bad mouthing women" or else?   Just curious?

spangwurfelt wrote on September 03, 2014 at 12:09 pm


Sid Saltfork wrote on September 03, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Finally, no propagand response.  Just silent identification.

greyhoundc wrote on September 03, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Did the author of this article even read through the FOIA document that was posted?  Only a very few writers mentioned the possiblity of withholding donations.  Many, many more were students, parents of students, or former students who mentioned how frightened or ashamed they would be to share a campus with, attend a class taught by, or share a university affiliation with Dr. Salaita.  To me, and from some of their included emails, to the University administration as well, I think the volume and passion of these less financial but more personal emails carried a great deal of weight.  To reduce this situation to the university responding to a couple of wealthy donors is biased and dishonest reporting.