UI precluded any honest debate
We are writing to respond to the recent opinion piece by Nicholas Burbules and Joyce Tolliver ("Salaita Case Calls for Honest Debate"). We agree with these colleagues that the case calls for dialogue, but note that this very possibility was foreclosed when the chancellor rescinded Dr. Steven Salaita's job offer without any apparent faculty consultation.
The University of Illinois has strict protocols for tenured faculty hires that govern every step from the appointment of a committee of qualified faculty to the extensive review of scholarship and teaching. The tenure process involves consultation with outside experts and a series of votes at department, college and provost levels. Having emerged from this rigorous process as the most qualified candidate, Salaita was offered a tenured professorship in American Indian Studies in October 2013.
Had this process taken its course, he would have begun work on Aug. 16, several weeks before the formal approval of the UI Board of Trustees at their September meeting. Salaita resigned his previous position, rented a house in Champaign, and prepared to join a faculty that had had over a year to scrutinize his credentials. The withdrawal of the offer just days before the expected start date was made without the knowledge of the department leaders and deans most familiar with the details of the case.
Burbules and Tolliver assure us that this wholly unprecedented decision had nothing to do with Salaita's stance on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict since the "real issue" concerns "numerous public statements over the summer" that "in the view of many people" are "incendiary and anti-Semitic." Their reference is to a small number of tweets that were first publicized and described as anti-Semitic on a pro-Israeli, conservative blog.
The following day The News-Gazette reported that an incoming UI professor "has drawn the ire of a conservative website after posting angry commentary on Twitter about Israel's ground invasion of the Gaza Strip." Neither the blog nor The News-Gazette noted that the cited tweets were part of a train of discussion in which Salaita wrote that his criticism of Israel consisted in a "principled stand against state violence" and that he was "fundamentally" committed to "acknowledging and countering the horror of antisemitism."
In tweets from the same period, he "refuse(d) to conceptualize Israel/Palestine as Jewish-Arab acrimony," declared his "solidarity with many Jews," and wrote, "It's a beautiful thing to see our Jewish brothers and sisters around the world deploring Israel's brutality in Gaza."
As such messages indicate, Salaita's criticisms of Israel are not anti-Semitic. These are strident remarks on a topic that draws heated political debate. Their misrepresentation on various blogs was the result of a deliberate campaign to create controversy over the hire of a scholar who is an outspoken critic of the Israeli government.
According to Burbules and Tolliver, however, Salaita's comments on social media as a private citizen "preclude any possibility of dialogue, disagreement or reasoned examination." Yet, anyone familiar with the actual stream of tweets would recognize that they created dialogue. Salaita's record of highly reputed research and excellent teaching is not and has never been in dispute. It is, rather, the decision to rescind Salaita's offer in this arbitrary manner which has precluded debate.
But the decision has done much more than that. It has also severely damaged the reputation of the University of Illinois which now appears intolerant of political speech as well as indifferent to its own principles of due process, shared governance and academic freedom. Unsurprisingly, thousands of distinguished scholars from all over the world and venerable professional organizations such as the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Modern Language Association have written to the chancellor in protest; many have promised to boycott the university until the decision is reversed.
The issuing of public statements from the chancellor, president and UI Board of Trustees last Friday confirms our fears that these officials are determined to ignore the mounting criticism that their decision has provoked. The emails offer the illogical position that the only way to foster "diverging opinions" and "robust debate" is to silence dissent through top-down management. They ask us to believe that a single faculty member whose teaching and research qualified him for a tenured position just a few weeks ago has now become a threat to the "traditions of scholarship and civility upon which our university is built."
A transparent account of how this conclusion was reached and which faculty, if any, were consulted is apparently no longer part of how shared governance is practiced on our campus.
We call upon all members of the UI community and concerned Illinois citizens to join us in urging Chancellor Wise, President Easter and Chair of the Board of Trustees Christopher Kennedy to reinstate the offer to Professor Salaita. Decisions of such weight require diligent consultation with the relevant faculty experts, open dialogue, transparent procedures and adherence to established protocols.
The university has time-tested practices for handling concerns from the public which can be followed in this case like any other. We must reject administrative irregularities and secretive decision-making in favor of preserving our commitment to academic excellence, shared governance, freedom of speech and procedural rectitude. The integrity and reputation of the University of Illinois are at stake.
James R. Barrett, Professor of History and African American Studies
Robert W. Barrett, Jr., Associate Professor of English, Medieval Studies, and Theatre
Asef Bayat, Catherine and Bruce Bastian Professor of Global & Transnational Studies and Professor of Sociology and Middle East Studies
Nancy Blake, Professor of Comparative and World Literature
Antoinette Burton, Catherine and Bruce Bastian Professor of Global & Transnational Studies and Professor of History
Jodi Byrd, Associate Professor of American Indian Studies and English
J.B. Capino, Associate Professor of English and Media & Cinema Studies
C.L. Cole, Professor and Head of Media & Cinema Studies
Eleanor Courtemanche, Associate Professor of English
Clare Crowston, Professor of History
Jerry Da´vila, Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor of Brazilian History
L. Elena Delgado, Associate Professor of Spanish, Criticism &Interpretive Theory, Gender and Women's Studies
Vicente Diaz, Associate Professor of Anthropology and American Indian Studies (Co-Chair of Salaita Search Committee)
Hadi Esfahani, Professor of Economics
Walter Feinberg, Charles Hardie Professor, Emeritus, of Educational Philosophy
Stephanie Foote, Professor and Chair of Gender & Women's Studies
Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi, Associate Professor of History and Sociology
Zsuzsa Gille, Associate Professor of Sociology
Lauren M. E. Goodlad, Professor of English, Criticism & Interpretive Theory
Kevin Hamilton, Associate Professor of Art & Design
James A. Hansen, Associate Professor of English
Dianne Harris, Director, Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities and Professor of Landscape Architecture
Valerie Hoffman, Director, Center for South Asian & Middle Eastern Studies and Professor of Religion
Kristin Hoganson, Professor of History
Frederick E. Hoxie, Swanlund Professor of History, Law and American Indian Studies
Laurie Johnson, Associate Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures
Lilya Kaganovsky, Associate Professor of Slavic, Comparative Literature, and Media Studies and Director, Program in Comparative and World Literature
Stephen Kaufman, Professor, Emeritus, of Cell and Developmental Biology
Marcus Keller, Associate Professor of French and Comparative Literature
Diane P. Koenker, Professor and Chair of History
Susan Koshy, Director, Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory and Associate Professor of English and Asian American Studies
Bruce Levine, J.G. Randall Distinguished Professor of History and Professor of African American Studies
Erik McDuffie, Associate Professor of African American Studies and History
Martin F. Manalansan IV, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Asian American Studies
Faranak Miraftab, Professor of Urban & Regional Planning
Isabel Molina-Guzman, Associate Professor of Media & Cinema Studies
Ellen Moodie, Associate Professor of Anthropology
Jennifer Monson, Professor of Dance
Justine S. Murison, Associate Professor of English
Chantal Nadeau, Professor of Gender & Women's Studies
Hina Nazar, Associate Professor of English
Carl Niekerk, Professor, Germanic Languages and Literatures
Fiona I. B. Ngo, Associate Professor of Asian American Studies and Gender & Women's Studies
Mimi Thi Nguyen, Associate Professor of Gender & Women's Studies and Asian American Studies
Kathryn Oberdeck, Associate Professor of History
Robert Dale Parker, James M. Benson Professor of English
Curtis Perry, Professor of English and Classics
Junaid Rana, Associate Professor and Interim Chair of Asian American Studies
Jesse Ribot, Professor of Geography and Director of Social Dimensions of Environmental Policy Initiative
Jay Rosenstein, Center for Advanced Study Professor of Journalism
Bruce Rosenstock, Associate Professor of Religion and Jewish Studies
Emanuel Rota, Associate Professor of Italian
Michael Rothberg, Professor and Head of English/Director of Holocaust, Genocide & Memory Studies Initiative
Gabriel Solis, Associate Professor of Music and African American Studies
Siobhan Somerville, Associate Professor of English and Gender & Women's Studies
Anna Stenport, Director of the European Union Center, Associate Professor of Scandinavian Studies and German Languages and Literatures
Eleonora Stoppino, Associate Professor of Italian
William Sullivan, Professor of Landscape Architecture
Renee R. Trilling, Conrad Humanities Professorial Scholar of English and Medieval Studies
Ted Underwood, Professor and LAS Centennial Scholar of English
Robert Warrior, Professor and Director of American Indian Studies
Deke Weaver, Associate Professor of Art & Design
Gillen Wood, Director of Sustainability Studies Initiative and Professor of English
Yasemin Yildiz, Associate Professor of German