Letters oppose, support Wise on Salaita issue

Letters oppose, support Wise on Salaita issue

CHAMPAIGN — More than 260 professors at the University of Illinois have signed a letter of support for Chancellor Phyllis Wise in response to recent no-confidence votes over the Steven Salaita hiring controversy.

An opposing letter demanding that Wise and other UI officials reinstate Salaita has gathered almost 200 professors' signatures, according to a faculty blog, and more than 17,000 people have signed a national petition along the same lines.

Meanwhile, about 40 Jewish students, faculty, staff and alumni wrote a separate letter to Wise and the UI Board of Trustees Wednesday protesting the decision not to hire Salaita, who had accepted a tenured job in the American Indian Studies Program last October and planned to teach classes this semester.

Wise last month declined to forward his appointment to trustees after Salaita posted angry and inflammatory tweets about Israel's invasion of Gaza. The chancellor said the tone of his comments were a threat to the "traditions of scholarship and civility upon which our university is built."

Protests soon followed, with faculty groups saying the UI's actions violated academic freedom, shared governance and free speech protections.

A half-dozen UI departments have approved no-confidence votes in Wise or UI trustees; scholars have canceled scheduled appearances at the UI; professional associations have written to Wise in protest; and Salaita supporters say several thousand faculty across the country have joined a boycott of the Urbana campus.

An open letter to Wise, President Robert Easter and UI trustees, initiated last week, noted that Salaita's hiring was reviewed by American Indian Studies, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the provost's office. Their decision was overturned "without consultation or due process," violating principles of shared governance, it said.

"Recent reporting on this issue suggests that particular donors may have had an impact on this decision and that a task force will soon be charged to 'develop a new process' for situations in which the chancellor 'does not agree with a hiring decision,'" the letter says. "This seems to represent a radical departure from principles of shared governance which have been the bedrock of academic excellence on this campus."

It calls on the board and Wise to fulfill their commitment to academic freedom by "affirming that a faculty member's extramural political opinions have no place in the evaluation of that individual's scholarship, teaching, or collegiality."

The new letter backing Wise doesn't address the Salaita decision per se but is written more broadly to express "unequivocal support" for the chancellor's leadership. It's addressed to President Robert Easter and UI trustees.

Computer science Professor Roy Campbell, who chairs the campus academic senate's executive committee, drafted the letter, said Professor Michael Leroy, who helped publicize it. The online letter had 40 signatures as of Wednesday morning and 262 by 5 p.m. Thursday. The campus has about 1,800 faculty.

Some professors who signed it said they disapproved of Salaita's comments, but others who question the campus' decision say it nonetheless is "not an issue to call a no-confidence vote," said Leroy.

"My hope is that strong and broad expression of support will take the no-confidence issue off the table," he said, noting that the list includes many of the campus' most distinguished faculty who hold endowed chairs or positions of academic leadership. They include music professor Nathan Gunn; Neal Cohen, director of the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Initiative; Paul Kwiat, Bardeen professor of physics; and Carla Caceres, director of the School of Integrative Biology and professor of animal sciences.

The faculty span several colleges, many of them in engineering, physical sciences, agriculture, applied health sciences and business.

"We support Chancellor Wise because of her sense of duty, her measured judgment and her principles of collegiality, inquiry and inclusiveness. She has dedicated herself to the challenges of leadership of a land grant, public university of reputation and impact that reach beyond the boundaries of our state, to the nation and to the world," the letter says.

It concludes: "We trust her judgment and recognize that she often must make difficult decisions based on information and perspectives that cannot immediately be shared with all of us. In those extraordinary events, she always strives to help the campus community understand the context and reasoning behind decisions, and she always takes responsibility for her decisions."

Leroy said he thinks the chancellor "made the right call," but added, "More fundamentally, this university has a history over the past five years or six years of sacking leadership," referring to the resignations of presidents B. Joseph White and Michael Hogan and Chancellor Richard Herman.

"And so my concern is that if Chancellor Wise, who has proven to be a very visionary and adept leader, is somehow pushed aside, I'm concerned about what kind of individual would want to walk into this situation.

"At some point, we just have to work through our problems as a community and not throw people overboard every time there's a problem," Leroy said. "Because there will be problems going forward. Higher education is in a state of great flux and turmoil and we need a better mechanism for resolving our differences and disputes."

The letter entitled "University of Illinois Jewish Community Letter in Support of Professor Steven Salaita" was sent Wednesday to Wise and UI trustees.

"As Jewish members of this campus community, we insist that you do not speak for us in your unjust actions. In no way do Professor Salaita's words, tweets, or presence on campus make us feel unsafe, disrespected, or threatened, as your public letter indicated," the letter said.

By equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, the letter said, the administration is "disregarding a large and growing number of Jewish perspectives that oppose Israeli military occupation, settler expansion, and the assault on Palestine. We did not survive ethnic cleansing and carry on the legacy of our people to have our existence used to justify the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, or their unethical treatment when they speak out against the murder, violence, and displacement of their own people."

The UI's action deprived the campus of "an invaluable scholarly voice to help lead this community in a conversation about why as well as how to stop this from ever happening again," the letter said.

English Professor Lauren Goodlad said she signed it because "it's important that people understand that Jewish opinion is not monolithic on this topic."

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Lostinspace wrote on September 05, 2014 at 7:09 am

And there you have the C.P. Snow split.

99characters wrote on September 05, 2014 at 9:09 am

I think everyone missed the point by blaming Chancellor Wise. She could conveniently closed her eyes and just submit the hiring to the Board of Trustees and let BoT take the blame for not approving the hiring. She took the responsibility by fixing what's not right while shouldering all the burden. This is the Leadership that we need. If the department has done their due dilligence in the initial hiring search, we will have no such issue......and now the same people are screaming for unfairness!

wayward wrote on September 05, 2014 at 9:09 am

Overall, I think Wise has done a good job as chancellor and do not want to see her forced out.  But I do disagree with the decision to "de-hire" Salaita this way.

Given that he received an offer letter, had resigned his job and made arrangements to move to C-U, and had even been assigned fall classes, it does seem like he was promised a tenured faculty position here.  If the UI administration believes that his Tweets violated university standards, they have every right to pursue disciplinary action including termination.  But backing out of the hire at this point in time seems unfair.

EdRyan wrote on September 05, 2014 at 10:09 am

Well of course.  The UI should never, ever hire outspoken faculty members who have strong opinions that might upset big time donors and a national political action committee that is really an agent of a foreign government that is often unfriendly to US interests.

The UI should only hire docile and well behaved faculty members who will not deviate from the offical party line.

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

Ed; we have disagreed on issues in the past.  Not on this one though.  Expect to be labeled as  anti-semitic for your comments criticizing Israel.

Fedupwithstatereps wrote on September 05, 2014 at 11:09 am

I'm so tired of hearing about this.  Wise did what she had to do.  I have no doubt that the same people screaming about "freedom of speech" would be the same people calling for her head if their poor baby or themselves were then offended by Salitia's discourse had he made it to campus spewing his hate filled views.  Get over it already and the N-G is the worse about it filling the front page every day.


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

Stop reading about it if it bothers you.  At least, the News Gazette is putting a light on the issue.  This should not be buried in the news.  Hopefully, it will make the national and international news.  As more comes out, the facts have a better chance of being known.

Rocky7 wrote on September 05, 2014 at 4:09 pm


Here is perhaps the most insightful link on the Salaita case:


It's worth reading because it is too true.  

dlgreen50 wrote on September 05, 2014 at 4:09 pm

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/04/11/1082627/-The-Bob-Weissberg-I-knew    Weissberg was/is a virulent racist. How ironic that you would bring him up in the context of false accusations of anti-semitism vs. Salaita. Weisberg was a true embarrassment to the university and an insult to the intelligence of its students, and he taught here for decades.-- David Green

Rocky7 wrote on September 05, 2014 at 8:09 pm

The point of the link I posted focuses on the fact that administrative standards were missing from the originating department nominating Salaita for a tenured faculty appointment all the way through the sytemic review of college and cive-chancelor panels until it reached the Chancellor's desk. To uphold academic standards and a few other issues that have arisen, the Chancellor decided correctly, in my view.


With all due respect Mr. Green, your side-stepping of that issue by crying "racism" and finger-pointing solves nothing on this fundamental issue of administrative standards and appears to have  only been posted to deflect attention from the real isues. This approach is not untypical of those who wish to diminish social, academic and professional standards.

dlgreen50 wrote on September 06, 2014 at 9:09 am

The usual procedures were applied in this case. They hired a highly qualified individual with an admirable record of research, publication, teaching, and service as a scholar and public intellectual. That individual was targeted by well-funded McCarthyite Zionists who keep an eye on these things, and who are threatened that they are losing control of the narrative regarding the violent and racist Jewish state. The trustees responded to donors and others who are an aspect of this informal network. This was a high-tech lynching driven by class interests in our state and community. I don't know how to be less evasive than that. -- David Green

wayward wrote on September 05, 2014 at 5:09 pm


"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."

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

And here they let this guy influence me many years ago when I was an undergrad.  Yes, I was a student in one of his classes.  It was in Lincoln Hall Theater....but still, he was up there lecturing.

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

Ok, so I'm replying to my own post.  But considering that R.W. has written that Black and Hispanic students have lower I.Q. scores due to some sort of genetic inferiority, just what does that mean in regard to any black and hispanic upper level undergrad and grad students who may have been in a class of his?  What impact did he have on their academic career?  Or was the word out either in those particular communities or in the Poli Sci department that this guy was toxic to students who were not white?

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 05, 2014 at 8:09 pm

In all likelyhood there will be a financial settlement made to the professor by the U of I to go away.  If the wealthy donors, parents, and students who orchestrated the campaign to have the professor fired would "donate" the money for the settlement; it would set things right without the rest of the state's taxpayers having to bear the financial burden.   

Rocky7 wrote on September 05, 2014 at 9:09 pm

That's not guaranteed.  Forgotten in all these discussions is a prior case involving a tenured professor of American Indian Studies who made some derogatory and unwise remarks about 9/11.  He was fired by his university so he sued.  He lost.  He lost on appeal too.

The case is: Ward Churchill vs University of Colorado.

It's a good precedent-setting law case that potentially favors chancellor Wise's decision, in my layman's opinion (but admittedly, I'm not an attorney and one can never predict what a judge will decide in a law case)..

EdRyan wrote on September 06, 2014 at 4:09 am

There was much more to that Colorado case than some comments about 9/11.