Emails: Wise, 2 profs did discuss Salaita

Emails: Wise, 2 profs did discuss Salaita

URBANA — An exchange of emails between University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise and two professors about Steven Salaita's tweets last summer has some faculty raising questions about who she consulted before deciding to withdraw his appointment.

Wise was asked about the emails at a Senate Executive Committee meeting Thursday by the head of a committee that investigated the case. He said they appeared to contradict her testimony to the panel.

"You had told us you hadn't met with any faculty and had only limited discussions with the provost. ... Now, it turns out that's not the case," said Professor David O'Brien, chairman of the campus Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

The July 24 emails show Wise and Provost Ilesanmi Adesida discussing Salaita with two professors, Nicholas Burbules and Joyce Tolliver, on the day the chancellor met with UI trustees to discuss Salaita's angry tweets about Israel. Both are longtime members of the Senate Executive Committee.

"We have run into a buzz saw again!" Adesida wrote to Tolliver and Burbules, saying the chancellor has been "deluged with protest messages from outraged alumni and the public."

Wise on Thursday acknowledged talking with "a few people" about the case, including the provost, Burbules and Tolliver, but "I wouldn't consider that consultation." She said she had told the committee that she "did not consult in the way I pride myself on consulting."

Professor Bruce Rosenstock, president of the Campus Faculty Association, said the emails "directly contradict" Wise's testimony to the committee.

The committee's report said the chancellor "confirmed that she had not consulted with the Provost, the Dean of LAS, or other faculty representatives about her decisions not to forward Dr. Salaita's offer of appointment to the Board of Trustees and to notify him in advance of this decision. She indicated that her initial understanding of the process was that it was her prerogative not to forward Dr. Salaita's appointment to the Board of Trustees, and she only later discovered this understanding to be incorrect. She expressed much regret that she had not consulted more widely with the faculty and administration, and attributed her neglect of shared governance to the rapidity with which decisions had to be made."

Wise said Thursday, "I don't think I pointed out whether or not I met with any faculty specifically, but that I was not happy with my own lack of extensive consultation that I usually do in these cases."

Wise noted that she also told Robert Warrior that she was going to send a letter to Salaita withdrawing his appointment, but that's different from "asking someone's opinion and taking the time to take that advice into my equations."

"I'm not proud of that. I wish there had been more time. I wish I had been more deliberate. But I didn't consider any of the emails that have come to light as demonstrating anything contrary to what I told the committee," she told O'Brien.

Burbules noted that the chancellor has said she should have consulted with the units directly involved in Salaita's hiring.

"There are other faculty who are much, much closer to those issues who should have been brought into the loop. I've said this publicly," Burbules said.

"We were not part of the decision-making process. We had conversations, I shared my thoughts about what I knew at that time of the Salaita case," he said. "I was never involved in making any decisions about his case."

The July 24 emails were obtained by Urbana resident Andrew Scheinman, who received them in a Freedom of Information Act request and published them on his website.

Burbules and Tolliver didn't comment directly on the case in the emails but told Wise it would be useful to follow up by phone or in person.

"I have much more to say, but not for email," Burbules wrote. Tolliver suggested the senate's upcoming review of University Statutes regarding academic freedom might be relevant.

In his emails, Adesida said he and the chancellor didn't know Salaita and mentioned that his hiring is "coming up in September."

"One thing that we would like to do is to figure out how we prevent this sort of highly charged and negative blow-back like we have had on (James) Kilgore and now Salaita in the future. ... What is acceptable and what are not acceptable, that is the question. We have to engage carefully with the Deans but I want to begin to seek your wise counsel in this domain even before that. This is potentially a slippery territory!"

Wise's follow-up email calls Salaita's tweets "hateful, totally unprofessional and unacceptable."

"This is after the decision to hire him and after his acceptance of our offer. It reveals a side of the person that I believe makes it difficult for him to contribute to the culture of respect, collegiality, collaboration that we hold so dear," she wrote.

Rosenstock wondered why Burbules and Tolliver didn't mention their discussions with Wise when they co-authored a response to the CAFT report in January. The document said that "certain processes ought to have been followed last summer," among them, "consulting with authorized faculty leaders," Rosenstock said, adding that Tolliver and Burbules would be considered authorized leaders.

Burbules said the report was written by five faculty members, "speaking for ourselves," and objected to the representation that he did something "nefarious" by not disclosing the conversations.

"It does seem to me in this latest round of accusations there's a kind of 'damned if you do, damned if you don't'" attitude, he said. "At first, people attacked her because she didn't consult. Now they're attacking her because she did consult and didn't disclose that fact, whatever that means.

"There are people out to get the chancellor, and I'm very concerned that people are trying to back her into a no-win situation."

Tolliver said: "As long as I have been deeply involved in shared governance, UI presidents, chancellors, and provosts have made it their practice to keep faculty leaders firmly in the loop about emerging situations, in addition to carrying out the regular wide consultation of stakeholders that the AAUP recommends.  Chancellor Wise has tried to continue that practice.  This is something that faculty and administrators alike should  be proud of. I find it lamentable that it is now being  portrayed as something shameful."

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Alex M. Mobley wrote on May 30, 2015 at 10:05 am
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People are not out to "get the Chancellor." This is not an ad hominem attack. This is about the principle of academic freedom. This is about the complete lack of power that the UIUC faculty have over hiring decisions. In the ongoing aftermath of the Salaita affair, many department heads were surprised to learn that the notification of appointment letters that they issue to hires are simply unidirectional contracts that are binding upon the employee and not the employer. It seems the Board of Trustees made the decision to fire or "unhire" Salaita and Wise has been taking the flak ever since. The former chair and Kennedy scion will likely be enjoying a vacation in Martha's Vineyard, while Phyllis Wise gets to do the dirty work and make the case to the AAUP to lift the censure (likely to happen June 13) since Salaita was offered "hundreds of thousands of dollars" as settlement. Attacking the Chancellor is counter-productive and tends to verge on racist. No need to blame the player, blame the game.

andrewscheinman wrote on May 30, 2015 at 10:05 am

I've now released the complete FOIA result set, you can find it at



vcponsardin wrote on May 30, 2015 at 1:05 pm

Agreed.  This article is making a mountain out of a mole hill.  The real issue is the perversion of shared governance, the failure to follow proper hiring/consultation procedures, and the lack of transparency from an imperial administration (not just the chancellor, I might add).  These emails are minor considering the bigger issues involved.

Rocky7 wrote on May 30, 2015 at 4:05 pm

Not only is this making a mountain range out of a pimple mound, but it seems a lot of people have too much time on their hands when they should be doing scholarly research.  Or have they forgotten how to do it?

andrewscheinman wrote on May 30, 2015 at 4:05 pm

The fact that these emails weren't disclosed in 2014 when there were at least 27 FOIA requests to UIUC on Salaita is more than a "pimple" ... it's almost certainly illegal behavior by UIUC.

The fact that I got those emails right before memorial day is quite reasonably parsed as evidence that UIUC timed the release to occur after everyone had left town.  This would fit with the fact that I got the initial FOIA production in April, and that these documents were delayed until just before memorial day.

Illegal behavior isn't a "pimple."  FOIA is supposed to protect the public's right to public information.

As far as the communications themselves, one thing you can certainly conclude from them is that the CAFT didn't do its job when it investigated, in fact in its Report it didn't even list what documents it had seen -- not even "list" in the sense of giving a *sense* that it had actually done more than meet Wise once and review what UIUC's lawyers provided.

If you want to call all of that a "pimple," fine.  But the first step to a beautiful complexion is to root out all those nasty little bugger pimples ... and without a beautiful complexion being seen in public becomes a real issue.

Rocky7 wrote on May 30, 2015 at 10:05 pm

I'd like to see a lawyer's perspective on Andrew Schweinman's comments.

andrewscheinman wrote on May 30, 2015 at 11:05 pm

Hey, Rocky, I AM a lawyer.  How bout that?

Rocky7 wrote on May 31, 2015 at 12:05 am

Good for you! ! ! :)

Rocky7 wrote on May 31, 2015 at 1:05 am

I wonder if Dr. David O'Brien and colleagues are splitting hairs here.  The article stated about  the two 'profs' that "Both are longtime members of the Senate Executive Committee."  So, were they consulted in their capacity as members of the Senate Executive Committee, or were the two picked out of a hat?

David Green wrote on May 31, 2015 at 9:05 am

Wise, Adesida, Burbules, and Tolliver have officially begun not sleeping well at night. This will be a relentless, inevitable, quasi-tragic drama that will result in more lying, stonewalling, damage control, and ultimately resignations and criminal prosecutions. This is what the "entrepreneurial" university has got us. Leverage that!

andrewscheinman wrote on May 31, 2015 at 11:05 am

David, that's rather portentous a set of statements!

Question: the most digestible issue here is that none of the emails in that FOIA set were produced when they should have been, which means either 1) the UIUC-FOIA process is negligent at least to the threshold of illegal behavior, or 2) UIUC purposefully withheld the documents, which is flat out illegal.

Given the above, there needs to be a groundswell of demand for full disclosure by UIUC of what it did and why.  You seem to be well-placed in the community, do you have any suggestions as to how to pursue a forceful yet still civil path forward to obtain this information?


Andrew Scheinman


David Green wrote on May 31, 2015 at 12:05 pm

Andrew, thank you for your indefatigable efforts. "Well-placed"?? No. But I would suggest that those associated with the Campus Faculty group might like to behave like a proper union and suggest to administration the possibility of their withholding their labor at some point. And then other campus employees should support them in that effort. Solidarity is the basis for any effective approach to challenging the neoliberal university. Beyond that, my primary concern is that the university not embody institutionalized racism vis a vis the Palestinian people, as it currently does.

andrewscheinman wrote on May 31, 2015 at 4:05 pm


I don't see that the CFA alone would be the solution to loss of faculty power in the light of the surge of administrators and the power imbalance that seems to have come with that.  It's the macrocosm in the microcosm in any case, a reflection of the broader income inequality of society, and there's no easy answer to that either ...

Also, Salaita isn't the best rallying cry, while I don't think he should have been un-hired, I also have precious little respect for him, particuarly regarding the tweet he sent a week after the three Jewish teens were kidnapped and murdered, where he said "more settlers should go missing" and then claimed later he meant "missing" as in get out of Isreal, rather than "missing" in the pretty obvious sense of be killed.

Again, he's entitled to say what he wants, I think no one, on either side should speak glibly about children being murdered, not the Jewish kids, not the Gaza kids ... not okay no matter where the live.  He isn't a rallying point as,say, Martin Luther King or other people who seem to have been a lot better at unifying than dividing -- my opinion of course, but to the extent that the Salaita Affair is an exemplar of the larger imbalance of power at UIUC it's not a unifying cause celebre.

I myself think we could all come togther over the fact that UIUC broke the law in not providing those Wise/Adesida/Burbules/Tolliver emails last fall, which is specifically a violation of FOIA law.  Since Rocky asked, I actually am an attorney, those emails were never produced in the 1,600 pages of documents UIUC provided on Salaita, which can ONLY be either 1) intentional withholding in response to FOIAs (a crime), or 2) negligent withholding such as almost certainly rises to the level of criminal (culpable) negligence.

Let's focus on that.  Let's not even parse Wise's "oh I didn't disclose the emails to the CAFT because they didn't represent my normal level of consultation."  She didn't disclose them to ANYONE, not in those FOIAs, and that's either illegal or negligence to the likely point of illegality.

The question is, who in the company town that Urbana's become is likely to put their name to a demand for an investigation of that illegality?  You?  Rocky?  Anyone else?

David Green wrote on May 31, 2015 at 7:05 pm

Andrew, how about focusing on the fact that Salaita's rights were trampled upon. Then on the conspiracy to trample upon them. Then on the lying about the conspiracy to trample upon them. Then about the inadequacy of the CAFT report. Then about the hand that anti-BDS fanatic Cary Nelson had in all of this, while he brazenly advises his colleagues on how to mitigate censure. Then on whether there should be a micro-aggression report on Nelson's demonization of SJP/BDS on this campus. Then we can discuss Salaita's "anger at Israel" (an unfortunate phrase in Wurth's otherwise decent reporting) in the context of the radically asymmetrical relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, not to mention the relationship between the Israel Lobby and the Illinois State Assembly, which couldn't produce one vote in opposition to apartheid/racism. There's plenty of criminality and plenty of context to go around. Then we can speculate on what Salaita meant, and what attention he would have drawn if he had made analogous comments about ISIS.

andrewscheinman wrote on May 31, 2015 at 8:05 pm


I see your anger, I wouldn't say what you suggest amounts to focus.

I don't fault you for having passion, but the world gets changed one step at a time.  The illegality of UIUCs not providing these documents is damning, it's an easily propagated meme, and it's one that everyone can care about, because it's focused and doesn't raise that overwhelming sense of ennui that your impassioned posts always bring -- and again, God Bless you for having passion (not that I necessarily agree with all of it).

More to the point, I think there are huge numbers of people who would really like to see positive life-affirming events at UIUC.  As oxymoronic as it may appear, putting them on the spot for breaking FOIA law might be a good first-step to that end.


David Green wrote on May 31, 2015 at 9:05 pm

No problem with your focusing on FOIAs. You've forced the NG to publicize them, good on you.

Johnhotto wrote on May 31, 2015 at 9:05 pm

What I want to know is why a private citizen had to fight with the University to get these emails. The News Gazette as our local paper of record has at least two beat reporters assigned to the U. of I. plus a columnist who has made the Sailata case his own personal crusade. Does the News-Gazette know about FOIA?

andrewscheinman wrote on May 31, 2015 at 11:05 pm

Christine des Garennes has for the last 6 months ignored the information I've been sending her, including the earlier discovery that Wise touted Salaita's free speech rights.  Julie Wurth has similarly not responded.

Both reporters ignored an email I sent to Wise and Adesida and Pratt Clarke on May 18 in which I listed all the points of non-coherence I'd uncovered to that point. I'll put the text up on tomorrow.

Ask the Gazette what's going on.  Probably has something to do with their having their own agenda?

TruthMatters wrote on June 01, 2015 at 12:06 am

How ironic. A lack of transparency from UIUC administration and faculty who came together to collectively decide to withdraw an offer of employment to a man who was transparent about his thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Where is the recourse when campus administration are not honest with their consumers? I would have greater concern sending a child to a campus that has documented issues of transparency on the administrative level than sending a child to a campus where there is a faculty member who has a controversial opinion (be it one I agree with or not). Mr. Scheinman found UIUC's equivalent of the Lewinsky blue dress. Professor Burbules can spin it how he wishes, but this is not a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. If you continually practice transparency then the ethical standard is met. When you don't disclose pertinent information then yes, some might want to damn you. And if you are pulled into the damnation because you're guilty by assocation, don't complain.