Kennedy reaffirms Wise's decision
Trustees chairman gives chancellor his support as English department votes no confidence
URBANA — In response to recent rumblings about a change in strategy regarding Steven Salaita, University of Illinois Board of Trustee Chairman Christopher Kennedy on Tuesday reaffirmed his support of the chancellor's decision to not forward the controversial professor's appointment to the board for approval.
"The board has been supportive of the chancellor's decision in the past, and as we look to the future, I doubt the board's position will change," Kennedy told The News-Gazette on Tuesday.
His comments come amid some speculation that Salaita's appointment may appear on UI trustees' agenda next week, essentially forcing them to vote publicly on the case.
Chancellor Phyllis Wise wrote to Salaita on Aug. 1, saying she would not forward his appointment to the board because an affirmative vote was unlikely.
Meanwhile Tuesday, the English Department on the Urbana campus approved a vote of no confidence in the board, President Bob Easter and Wise, adding its name to the list of academic units voicing concern about administration overriding faculty decisions and violating principles of shared governance, academic freedom and freedom of speech.
"Our statement names the board of trustees first because we think the bulk of the responsibility for this terrible decision lies with the trustees and we believe more attention should be paid to their role in the events," English professor and chair Michael Rothberg told The News-Gazette late Tuesday.
More than 50 faculty members participated in the vote, Rothberg said, adding that the result was "overwhelmingly" in favor of the resolution.
This evening, Wise and Provost Ilesanmi Adesida are scheduled to meet with the Illinois Student Senate, and students on both sides of the issue are expected to speak. Also ongoing is the circulation of a letter of support for the chancellor by community members and other faculty.
Two committees of the board meet today via video conferences, but the board as a whole will next meet on Sept. 11, in Urbana; it's a regularly scheduled board meeting. Trustees have final say on faculty appointment matters, per university statutes, and academic appointments are typically approved by voice vote at board meetings. Such appointments are forwarded to the board as part of its regular agenda.
University spokesman Tom Hardy on Tuesday said he was not aware of any change in the Salaita situation.
The board's agenda, however, is still being assembled and has not been finalized.
Salaita was expected to start teaching American Indian Studies courses this fall, but last month Wise and Vice President Christophe Pierre said Salaita's appointment would not be forwarded to the board for formal approval. The move followed an outcry to Salaita's profanity-rich social media posts in which he blasted Israel and its supporters in the wake of Israel's invasion of Gaza.
Wealthy alumni, students, parents of students and others wrote to Wise to object to his hiring, with some threatening to withhold financial support of the university if he joined the faculty. Salaita was a Virginia Tech professor until he resigned last year after he accepted the offer from the UI.
Wise had said her decision was based out of concern for the students, campus and community. In a previously released statement, the board has come out expressing "unwavering support" for Wise, saying the university campuses "must be safe harbors where students and faculty from all backgrounds and cultures feel valued, respected and comfortable expressing their views."
But in the ensuing days, the statement sparked outrage among some faculty on the Urbana campus and at other universities. In Urbana, one group held a rally outside Wise's office calling for her to reinstate Salaita and some scholars have canceled their talks as part of an academic boycott of the university.
In its statement Tuesday, the English Department's said the vote "expresses grave disappointment in the way the administration has overridden the multiple levels of rigorous faculty review that make up any offer of a tenured position at our university."
"We are deeply troubled by the disregard for academic freedom, freedom of speech, and the principles of shared governance as well as the complete lack of faculty consultation that the administration has demonstrated. In addition, we are concerned about the possibility that the administration's decision was influenced by political considerations and by the interference of donors and alumni. If this decision is not reversed, we fear that the reputation of the University of Illinois as a site of scholarly excellence and diverse viewpoints will suffer permanent damage. In the face of the administration's troubling actions, we call for the reinstatement of Professor Salaita and we reaffirm the established protocols for hiring, tenure, and promotion that have allowed us to recruit and retain top faculty," the department's statement read.