Jim Dey: Salaita controversy not slowing down

Jim Dey: Salaita controversy not slowing down

With the philosophers, the Indians and the Asians putting University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise in the crosshairs, she could use some help.

On Sunday, Wise, under fire from some academics for vetoing the hiring of a controversial professor, got it.

"Chancellor Wise has chosen to stand up for the students, and we stand with, and for, her," stated "An Open Letter to the Community and Campus" published in The News-Gazette.

Local businessman Peter Fox said he and Champaign lawyer David Sholem put the statement and 140 signatures together late last week "to show (Wise) that there is a lot of support for her."

Fox said that "everybody we contacted was happy to sign" and that he expects to run a couple more ads with similar expressions of support.

"We got another couple hundred (signatures) that came in since. I think we'll end up with a couple thousand before we're done," he said.

Meanwhile, the controversy over former Virginia Tech English Professor Steven Salaita has morphed into bigger disputes.

The pro-union Campus Faculty Association is using the controversy to persuade faculty members that they need union protection while anti-union professors say union advocates' statements are illusory.

"With a union we would be having exactly the same arguments over whether academic freedom protects Salaita, over whether 'civility' is a campus value that can legitimately enter into hiring decisions." according to "No Faculty Union at Illinois" blog authors Joyce Tolliver and Nick Buburles. "... The one thing that could be different is that a union might threaten to strike over this issue. Is that what CFA means when it says a union would solve this problem? If so, (it) should say it."

At the same time, the politics of the Middle East also have been broached.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel has announced it stands "in solidarity with the (UI's) Campus Faculty Association" in support of the ongoing academic boycott of the UI until Salaita is given a faculty post.

Salaita, a Palestinian-American, is a supporter of the academic boycott of Israel and a vigorous opponent of Israel. It was a string of obscenity-laden anti-Israel (some say anti-Semitic) tweets following the recent invasion of the Gaza strip that prompted Wise to withdraw the job offer.

Having resigned at Virginia Tech, Salaita was scheduled to join the UI faculty and begin teaching in late August. However, Wise objected to the uncivil tone of his tweeted statements and informed him in an Aug. 1 letter that the UI was withdrawing his job offer.

The Palestinian Campaign also stepped up its rhetoric on Salaita's behalf, pulling the "R" word out of its arsenal.

"The university's actions in this case are racist," said the campaign.

The use of language shows the different perspectives on the issue.

The American Association of University Professors has called for the UI to pay Salaita his salary during his period of suspension while the Palestinian Campaign seeks his "reinstatement."

The UI's position, of course, is that since Salaita was never hired, there's no reason to treat him as an employee facing discipline.

That dispute, of course, is the nub of the issue.

His supporters insist he has an enforceable contract, even though Salaita was informed UI trustees' approval of his contract was required. His supporters also suggest he's entitled to compensation because of the contractual concept of "promissory estoppel," relying on promises of employment to his detriment.

University of Chicago Professor Brian Leiter said it's his opinion that Salaita has an enforceable contract.

"That the offer was conditional on board approval doesn't mean the board can decide on a 'whim' not to approve it," he writes, concluding that Salaita was "at the time of the purported revocation a tenured member" of the UI faculty.

But what is a "whim" and what is good cause for Wise to decide that a person of Salaita's character is not suited for the UI? If a court decides his contract offer entitles him to the equivalent of tenured status, Salaita would be golden — free to continue to call for the murders of as many individuals as he wishes.

Although UI faculty defenders have expressed fears about their free speech rights, they continue to approve no-confidence votes against Wise and UI trustees. The Indian Studies, Philosophy and Asian-Studies departments all have condemned the Salaita non-hiring.

The Asian Studies resolution said it has "created an atmosphere of fear and retaliation for unpopular academic, political and personal pursuits." Of course, if the faculty members are not afraid to tell their bosses to take a long walk off a short pier, it's unclear just what it is that has them hiding under their desks.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or at 217-351-5369.

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jacksu wrote on September 02, 2014 at 9:09 am

"With the philosophers, the Indians and the Asians putting University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise in the crosshairs, she could use some help"  This is MOST OFFENSIVE!!!  The department of Asian studies and Native American studies are not made up of Asians and Indians.  The departments do not represent Asians nor Indians (a rather off putting term; are they from India?).  Wow!  I believe Wise made the right decision.  However, I also believe the dissenters have valid points.  Do not muddle and inflame the issue by writing that Indians and Asians put Wise in the crosshair.


Jam wrote on September 02, 2014 at 1:09 pm

God blesses those who work for peace for they will be called the children of God--Jesus (Matt. 6:9)


jatkins10 wrote on September 06, 2014 at 10:09 am
Sid Saltfork wrote on September 02, 2014 at 9:09 am

Unfortunately; this issue comes down to "money talks, and bull---- walks".  Donors running a university by blackmail.  The donors claim that criticism of Israel is racist.  That means any questionable professor who does not toe the Israeli line is not welcome.

How did Peter Fox gain state building leases in the past?  State employees of the time know how he did it.  Bill Cellini knows how he did.  Now, the hypocrisy of "money talks, and......".

Dudesickle wrote on September 02, 2014 at 12:09 pm

In the book "1984", George Orwell made one of the most observant statements of all-time...."He who controls the past, controls the future". If people only knew the real history of the region (see the bombing of the Kind David Hotel in 1947 by Israeli terrorists) they might not continue to whitewash all of Israel's past sins. Over the years the UN has attempted to sanction Israel hundreds of time for it's actions, only to be vetoed by the United States. I guess money can buy a historical perspective, but not the truth.I have nothing against Jews, or the state of Israel, but the history of the country should be viewed by the truth, and not the myth purchased with American $. I think Israel should pull back to the original borders set in the 1920's by the British and the rest of the world and allow the Palestinians their own freedom.

asparagus wrote on September 02, 2014 at 10:09 pm

Prof. Sailaita did not need to use the language of bigotry (or even close to it) to make his points. He could have expressed his passionate feelings without resorting to that degree of crudeness. He is an academic after all. As Dave Chapelle has famously illustrated, this is an example of when keeping it real goes very wrong.

phdham wrote on September 02, 2014 at 10:09 pm

I don't know why you're calling the Asian American Studies department "Asian Studies" and the American Indian Studies department "Indian Studies." I can't help but think Jim Dey omitted "American" on purpose. I guess it's not a surprise that a columnist uncomfortable enough with racism to call it the "R" word would have a hard time recognizing that non-white people can be Americans too. Maybe the News Gazette should start looking for a better Opinion columnist.

Ligurio wrote on September 03, 2014 at 7:09 am

What a hackjob this article is.

Jim Dey chooses to ignore the evidence linking Wise's decision to the objections of wealthy zionist donors to Salaita's hiring. Instead, he merely repeats the laughable and incoherent appeal to civility that provided Wise with her initial cover as the Board worked out their legal strategy. (By the way, Jim, given that the Board is now ON RECORD as willing to settle with Salaita, it seems that they are more willing to acknowledge the irregularity of Salaita's termination than you are.)

I'll tell you what has faculty upset over this, Jim, since you appear to feign ignorance of the cause.  The administration of a state university has turned its back upon academic freedom and free speech at the whim of a handful of wealthy donors.


kjsg wrote on September 04, 2014 at 2:09 pm

Jim Dey should write a column about Prof. Robert Weissberg.