Students voice contrary views on Salaita controversy

Students voice contrary views on Salaita controversy

URBANA — In Chancellor Phyllis Wise's presence, University of Illinois students on Wednesday night jumped into the tug-of-war debate over administrators halting the appointment of would-be American Indian Studies Professor Steven Salaita.

Gathering on opposite sides of the Illini Union's Pine Lounge, some called for his reinstatement while others backed the decision to keep his appointment from going to the university's board of trustees. Meanwhile, Wise expressed regret not in the decision, but how it was made.

Wise informed Salaita last month that his appointment was not likely to be approved. The decision came after the University of Illinois professor-to-be posted profanity-laden messages on Twitter regarding the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza.

"I, in hindsight, wish I had been a little more deliberate and consulted with more people before that decision," Wise told the Illinois Student Senate and members of the campus community who had gathered for the meeting.

The student senate is working on taking their official stand in the matter. Student body President Mitch Dickey presented his statement to the other senators, which heavily favored the administration's decision.

"We support the chancellor's decision," Dickey said in characterizing the statement he asked other students to support. "We support the decision of the revocation of the hiring of Steven Salaita for the core reason outlined in the Inclusive Illinois statement: creating a respectable work and learning environment for all our identities on campus."

Dickey said the debate at hand goes beyond the Israeli-Palestinian issues that have been at the center of this particular controversy, and "it applies to any identity that could have possibly been attacked or made statements about in a derogatory way."

That being said, he understands the students are very split.

"It's really a polarizing issue," Dickey said. "There's some students who believe that it was in poor taste, the decision was in poor taste and also against his freedoms, his academic and speech freedoms. And then there's other students who agree that this is creating an environment for students that would be unsafe for a respectable work environment. It's really a mix between the two."

That dichotomy was both visibly and audibly apparent during Wednesday night's meeting, where dozens of students gathered to voice their opinion to the chancellor and the student representatives.

"This issue is extremely clear," said senior Josh Cooper. "This is not about politics, donors or academic freedom. ... This is an issue concerning hate speech, bullying and the incitement of violence toward others."

Cooper said students admire Wise's courage and leadership.

"When you stand up, we stand up with you," he said.

Other students, however, disavowed Wise's decision.

"You do not do this in our name," said doctoral student Alicia Kozma.

She cited dozens of campus faculty and thousands who signed a public petition condemning Salaita's dismissal and said that shutting students out of global conversations does them no good.

"I know UIUC students are willing to participate in the contentious conversation you pay only lip service to," Kozma said.

Supporters of Steven Salaita have organized a "National Day of Silence" on Tuesday, including a classroom walk-out, to protest the university's "un-hiring" of the American Indian Studies professor.

Organizers posted information on Facebook asking students to join in a silent protest "of this attack on students' academic freedom and free speech." Participants are encouraged to stage a "civil" walk-out from their classes and gather on the UI Quad from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday.

They're asked to cover their mouths with a sideways Illini "I" with one of the following hashtags on it: #ReinstateSalaita, #Salaita, #UIStudents4Salaita, #BoycottUIUC or #RestoreAcademicFreedom.

Stephanie Skora also said challenging viewpoints are important in academic settings, and that "comfort and personal views must be something that can be checked at the door of a classroom."

She also suggested that the university board of trustees' apparent unwillingness to approve of Salaita's appointment was a political decision.

"When the politics of 11 extremely wealthy individuals are allowed to dictate who and who cannot teach us as students at a world class university, something needs to change," Skora said.

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

Chancellor Wise has to come out clean on what was the reason for her to meet with the wealthy donor.  The question is do wealthy or non-wealthy donors can meet with UIUC officials with a meeting agenda realted to academic decisions and hiring. If that is the case, let it be clear.

The agenda for Chancellor Wise for her meeting with the wealthy donor needs to be declared.

This is the core problem rather than "civility" or others.    This will answer the question whether or not wealthy donors can affect academic decisions.  

It is a very serious issue and that is why the momentum to boycott UIUC has reached epic levels!

The problem can be fixed easily by dealing with Salita's case just like any other, not more, not less.


Omar Ramahi


Sid Saltfork wrote on September 04, 2014 at 10:09 am

Agreed.  The professor would be teaching now if the wealthy, pro-Israel donors had not intervened.  This latest U of I scandal is about MONEY versus the freedom to criticize a country which has committed war crimes.  There will be a payoff to the professor; and the U of I will add another scandal to it's list.  It will harm recruitment of academics in the future; and possibly the unionization of untenured academics.

Manscape wrote on September 04, 2014 at 11:09 am

Wrong. Mr. Salaita would be "teaching" now if he hadn't deferred his start date and/or he hadn't spouted his hate-filled tirades for the world to see BEFORE he was hired.

It's fun correcting you, although tiresome.

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 04, 2014 at 11:09 am

And who objected to his supposed "hate-filled tirades"?  You ignore the real issue of wealthy, pro-Israel donors financially blackmailing the U of I administration (Wise), and the BOT.

Keep the Israeli propaganda coming !  Whether your doing it for political correctness, or patriotism is unknown.  Either way, your ignoring the issue.

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

Congratulations, Manscape, you're now an Israeli, at least in Sid's mind.

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 04, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Many Americans respond to the Israeli- Palestinian issue with "political correctness" out of fear of being denounced as anti-semintic.  You did it to me intially in my comments on this fiasco.  I gave the gentleman the options of being "politically correct", or "patriotic".  I did not accuse him of being Israeli.  I did indicate that he was an Israeli supporter.  

Now spangwurfelt, play your deceptive propaganda some more.  More, and more across the world are starting to see through it.

spangwurfelt wrote on September 05, 2014 at 6:09 am

It's such a simple point, and you're struggling so hard not to get it. Criticize Israel all you want. But if you can't do it without falling into the standard themes of antisemitism, expect to be called out for it. As I called you out. 

Once more, because you seem very slow on this point: I don't call people antisemitic just for criticizing Israel. But when that criticism falls into the familiar long-worn ruts of antisemitic rhetoric, as yours has, heck yeah, I'm gonna call it out. 

Git it yet?

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 05, 2014 at 12:09 pm

What are the "standard themes of antisemitism" when criticizing Israel?  By the way, you do accuse people of anti-semitism when they criticize Israel.  Note your demeaning comments toward others who have the same feelings toward Israel's war crimes as I do.

"Git it yet?"

spangwurfelt wrote on September 05, 2014 at 3:09 pm

"By the way, you do accuse people of anti-semitism when they criticize Israel."

... but only when they use historically antisemitic imagery or stereotypes.

A distinction you seem utterly incapable of grasping. As in, you answered my "git it yet" with a firm negative.

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 05, 2014 at 4:09 pm

I read your link.  The "distinction you seem utterly incapable of of grasping" is my criticism of Israel versus Jews.  Even a portion of Israeli citizens oppose their country's actions toward the Palestinians.  I do criticize wealthy donors who attempt to influence a public university's administration for any reason.  Again, you howl at critics of this campaign as being anti-semitic.  That seems to be your only arguement.  According to you, people who see this issue contrary to you are anti-semitic.  Stick with the issue of wealthy donors, parents, and students creating a campaign against the professor for his animosity towards a country which is being investigated by the U.N. for war crimes. 

spangwurfelt wrote on September 05, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Okay, one last time, and if you still don't get it, I'll just conclude that you're basically uneducable.

Your version: "Again, you howl at critics of this campaign as being anti-semitic."

Reality version: I do not howl at critics of this campaign or call them antisemitic *unless* they are being critical in a basically antisemitic way, using well-known antisemitic tropes like "dual loyalties," in which case it is perfectly justified to call the argument antisemitic.

The position opposite to mine would be "go ahead and be antisemitic in the way you criticize Israel - sling all the antisemitic canards you want." And that is the position you're defending, although I don't think you understand that you are because you refuse to think it through.

Git it yet?

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 05, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Again, you pervert and distort what was said.  Dual-citizenship was said; not dual-loyalties.  There were no "antisemitic canards" except in your fantasies.

"Git it yet?" : spangwurfelt's demeaning, and uncivil reply among other replies to commentors on the issue.

Hopefully, it is "one last time".  Although, I doubt it.

spangwurfelt wrote on September 06, 2014 at 8:09 am

Well, answers my question: ineducable. At least I tried. 

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

Give it a rest about money and undue influence.

The Chancellor meets with wealthy donors all of the time.

This pretty much sums up your reasoning (here it goes...but remember I'm not an English major so it might not come out as eloquent as some of the other prose on this board): "His academic freedeom, NAY, his 1st amendment rights are being viol....SQUIRREL!!! MONEY, POWER, INFLUENCE! THE MAN IS OPRESSING"

Keep ignorning his hate speech and making this about your own personal vendettas.

oramahi wrote on September 04, 2014 at 11:09 am

The chancellor can and should meet with wealthy donors all the time and that is great.

However, this is not the quesiton. The question is can a meeting agenda with a wealthy donor be precisely to influence academic decisions. this is the core question. We need an answer based on facts, not myth or contemplation. This can come directly from Chancellor Wise or the administration.


there is a lot at stake, not only for UIUC but for academic institutions in general.


Omar Ramahi

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

Absolutely right Omar!  This fiasco has reached the other side of the pond - I am an English retired academic and pedagogue.  In the UK we do have a degree of zionist pressure, but nothing like the disgraceful financial and political pressure that Chancellor Wise has succumbed to. 

Most of us in Europe want both Israelis and Palestinians to be safe and secure, but as the noted British-Israeli prof. emeritus Avi Shlaim (Oxford) has pointed out, the illegal occupation and oppression of palestinians is the main reason for the rise of anti-semitism in the West.  Prof Salaita's tweets are clearly anti- Israeli but the anguish he feels and expresses is no way antisemitic. 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has recently had an article published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which Americans both academic and non-academic would benefit from reading.  My prayer is that justice will be done that allows the great name of the University of Illinois -UC not to be tarnished any further and that the students and faculty will benefit from being taught inspirationally by Prof. Steven Salaita.

Kind regards to all

Rodney Watts




rsp wrote on September 04, 2014 at 1:09 pm

All of the papers that were released, why is there in the middle of them the phone tag of trying to meet with the major donor if not about this case? They were only asked for documents about this case.

IlliniwekMerica wrote on September 05, 2014 at 8:09 am


Robert Haymond wrote on September 09, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Civility does matter.  When a professor publishes a hate filled screed, as did Salaita, his freedom of speech ends at his own nose.  He has cut off dialogue, a central tenet at any self-respecting university. That the chancellor is being admonished for rejecting Salaita is simply another indication of how university personnel (professors and graduate students) remain oblivious to what their own institution of learning needs to uphold.  As usual, university professors tend to live in that la la land of no consequences for their own actions.  Those of us outside university nevernever land see things differently: Our actions have real consequences in the real world.  Salaita lost the opportunity of a secure position because he failed to live up to the tenets of discourse.  It's good that he was found out in time.  Why doesn't his old institution hire him back if he is such an invaluable teacher and/or researcher?  Why doesn't another university offer such a "scholar" and "expert" teacher a job?  I think we know.  He is a mediocre researcher and a lazy teacher (see student comments).  Moreover, rather than compelling dialogue in an institution (university) which, at the minimum, requires an openness to dialogue, he blocks it (dialogue) with his obscene screeds.  The chancellor took measured steps, made a bold decision and has refused to waffle in the face of public criticism.  She should be commended.  

spangwurfelt wrote on September 04, 2014 at 1:09 pm

I just f---ing can't f---ing understand why any f---ing person would have a f---ing problem with f---ing Steven f---ing Salaita's f---ing level of f---ing professionalism. I mean, what the f---?

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 04, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Finally.  Uncivil speech, or spur of the moment emotional comment?

phdham wrote on September 04, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Weird power dynamics last night. Most of the anti-Salaita speakers were mobilized by the Illini Hillel, and Mitch went over to there to engage in much hand-shaking and back-patting during the proceedings. Conveniently, the donor Steve Miller, one of those who had pressured the Chancellor on blocking Salaita's appointment, sits on the Board of Governors of the Illini Hillel.

Mitch chastized a few anti-Salaita speakers for "personal attacks," then sat back and did nothing when his allies made sarcastic remarks toward pro-salaita speakers. The UIUC student senate is a complete joke.

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 04, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Thanks for speaking up.  Be aware that you may be attacked as being anti-semitic based on your observations.  Thanks again for speaking up. 

spangwurfelt wrote on September 05, 2014 at 6:09 pm


Sid Saltfork wrote on September 05, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Finally, silence without anti-semitic rants.