Salaita attorney: 'More questions'

Salaita attorney: 'More questions'

Emails released by the University of Illinois on Friday may raise new questions about the decision not to hire Steven Salaita, with Chancellor Phyllis Wise saying at one point she was tired of "carrying the water" for the controversial move.

Wise has been the focal point of the faculty uproar about the decision to revoke Salaita's job offer after his harsh, profanity-laden tweets about Israel last summer, just days before he was to begin teaching. But comments in Wise's emails indicate that former Board Chairman Chris Kennedy may have played a bigger role than previously indicated.

Salaita's attorney, Anand Swaminathan, said the emails indicate that "something changed" around the time of the Board of Trustees' July 24, 2014, board meeting, where Wise discussed the situation with trustees in closed session.

"We think these documents in some ways raise more questions than they answer," Swaminathan said. "It's very clear that the university administration understood all the way through, at least through July 24, that they had obligations and commitments to Professor Salaita. Something changed in their attitude since then."

Salaita and his lawyers believe donors who deluged the campus with emails protesting his appointment had substantial influence on the decision, but UI officials have denied that.

Until the July 24 board meeting, most email traffic between Wise and her advisers seemed focused on how to handle the fallout from Salaita's tweets, rather than whether or not to hire him.

The timeline

— On July 23, at 5:49 p.m., UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler laid out a plan for Wise: The chancellor would instruct American Indian Studies department head Robert Warrior to contact Salaita and express Wise's dissatisfaction and send him the UI's ethics code. Warrior would instruct Salaita to meet with Wise when he arrived on campus in the fall, and she would convey her unhappiness with him. But Salaita was still expected to be approved by the board.

— The next morning, July 24, at 5:44 a.m., Provost Ilesanmi Adesida referred to Salaita's contract being "delayed" and noted that he had been offered the job almost a year earlier.

— At 7:13 a.m., Wise criticized Salaita's Twitter comments as "hateful, totally unprofessional and unacceptable" and said they had appeared only "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."

— At 7:25 a.m., going into the executive session, Wise asked Kaler to draft a joint statement with Adesida about how Salaita's behavior was inappropriate, but she did not say his appointment would not be forwarded to the board.

— The first mention of that occurred after the meeting, at 1:55 p.m. When Kaler asked for an update, Wise said: "Too complicated to do in email. But they will be considering carefully whether to approve in September. Definitely not a given."

— On Aug. 1, Wise informed Salaita that she would not be forwarding his appointment to the board, as approval was "unlikely."

Wise's son writes

Months later, on Dec. 14, Wise wrote to the provost expressing frustration about the draft report of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which was investigating the Salaita case.

"What angers me about this report is that they believe that I made the decision and that the BOT followed my recommendation. That is just plain not true. I have been carrying the water since (public relations firm) Edelman said that we have to stay as one voice. I don't think I can do that any longer. I am going to talk with (university counsel) Scott (Rice) about setting the record straight," Wise wrote.

A few hours later, Wise's son, attorney Andrew Wise, assessed the situation for her in an email, with the subject "talking points."

"Chris Kennedy was clear he did not support Salaita's hire, and others concurred that they would not approve his hire," the email said.

"In fact, you did not submit Salaita's potential hire to the board because during executive session, there was a general consensus between you and the Board that Salaita's tweets and behavior made him someone who did not belong on the tenured faculty at UIUC," the email continued.

In previous interviews with reporters, Kennedy indicated that the board followed Wise's lead on Salaita, telling The News-Gazette that trustees were "supportive of her decision." However, he also made clear that the board shared her assessment of Salaita's controversial tweets and his fitness as a teacher.

UI spokesman Thomas Hardy, who was not in the executive session, said it's his understanding Wise and President Bob Easter briefed the board on the Salaita situation and the decision was made after a discussion by all parties.

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vcponsardin wrote on August 08, 2015 at 9:08 am

Outrageous interference by the state BoT.  The state of Illinois pays less than 10% of the university's budget, yet it still thinks it has the right to control 100% of the university's decisions.  If the state wants more of a voice in the running of the U of I, then pay up.  Otherwise, shut up and stay out of the university's business.

Sid Saltfork wrote on August 08, 2015 at 1:08 pm

Let's not confuse the "state" with Chris Kennedy.  Kennedy was appointed to the BoT by a governor.  Kennedy made his decision for various possible reasons.  One reason maybe his personal animosity toward Palestinians.

I agree with you about the state, and the university.  The best solution would be to lease the campus to a private university.  Drop the name, and name it after a corporation or a prominent donor.  That way there would be no interference from the state such as ethics violations, misused money, or any other scandals.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on August 10, 2015 at 7:08 am
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Yep, Chris Kennedy has a thing about angry Palestinians.

If Pat Quinn didn't have a nearly worshipful admiration for all things Kennedy clan, we wouldn't be in this fix.

Remind me again: Why was a sinecured trust fundee, who experienced zero public education from pre-school onward, considered the best choice for this job?

asparagus wrote on August 08, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Why do you believe that just because a state institution manages to raise money over time such that 90% of its annual budget does not need to come from state annual revneues that that instituiion is no longer 100% under state control? Why does the state have to pay the majority of the instutions budget each year out of newly acquired state funds to be in control of its own institution?

I have never understood this argument.

Does the state have the right to control the IL Lottery?

vcponsardin wrote on August 08, 2015 at 7:08 pm

The U of I has been forced to raise all that extra money because the state continues to cut its funding.  If that very simple economic reasoning escapes you then there's absolutely no need for me to comment further...

asparagus wrote on August 08, 2015 at 8:08 pm

Whatever monies the UofI raises belong to the state. If that simple reality escapes YOU than I need not respond. You seem to believe that "extra monies" are somehow not state funds. Why?

How does UofI raise monies that do not belong to the state?

Seriously, if there is an explanation for this that I do not understand then I would like to hear it.

jwr12 wrote on August 09, 2015 at 7:08 am

Asparagus: so are you saying, for example, that the tuition money paid by UI students, which has surpassed the state contribution, "belongs" to the state?  In other words, that they're kind of like a special category of tax payer, whose money serves to subsidize the service of their education, provided out of this "state money" for the good of all?  That's a pretty way to think about it, and in general I do think of education as a public good. But as a public good, I don't see why students as "tuition tax" payers should support it.  The public as a whole should pay for public goods. Despite your novel way of thinking about it--and I say this without sarcasm, truly--most people would regard the strategy of reducing state aid and raising tuition as privatization and reduced state ownership.

Sid Saltfork wrote on August 10, 2015 at 8:08 pm

Why not have the state lease the campus to let it become a private university since it already acts that way?  The university would have to change it's name since it would no longer be a state university.  It would be a win-win accomplishment for both.  There are other good state universities that bring much less shame to the already tarnished state name.