In 2013 Professor Steven Salaita was offered a tenured position in the Department of Native American Studies at Illinois University in Urbana-Champaigne. But after giving up his previous position at Virginia Tech University, the University withdrew the offer. The decision was a response to the a string of Twitter messages that Salaita posted in summer 2014.
"Zionists, take responsibility: if your dream of an ethnocratic Israel is worth the murder of children, just fucking own it already." ; "This is not a conflict between Israel and 'Hamas'. It's a struggle by an Indigenous people against a colonial Power." ; "Let's cut to the chase: If you're defending Israel right now you're an awful human being." ; "Will you condemn Hamas? No. Why not? Because Hamas isn't the one incinerating children, you disingenuous prick." ; "Zionist uplift in America: every little Jewish boy and girl can grow up to be the leader of a murderous colonial regime." ; "Israel's message to Obama and Kerry: we'll kill as many Palestinians as we want, when we want. p.s.: fuck you, pay me." ; "You may be too refined to say it, but I am not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing." ; "The IDF Spokesperson receives money to justify, conceal, and glamorize genocidal violence. Goebbels much?" ; "Israeli Independence Equals sustenance of the European eugenic logic made famous by Hitler."
The Salaita case raises an important issue of academic freedom. In 2014 the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) issued a statement:
“Recently we argued in a policy statement on "Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications," that faculty comments made on social media, including Twitter, are largely extramural statements of personal views that should be protected by academic freedom. While Professor Salaita's scholarship does appear to deal with the topic of Palestine, his posts were arguably not intended as scholarly statements but as expressions of personal viewpoint. Whether one finds these views attractive or repulsive is irrelevant to the right of a faculty member to express them. Moreover, the AAUP has long objected to using criteria of civility and collegiality in faculty evaluation because we view this as a threat to academic freedom. It stands to reason that this objection should extend as well to decisions about hiring, especially about hiring to a tenured position.”
On June 13, 2015 the AAUP censured the University of Illinois for rejecting Salaita’s appointment, a violation of principles of academic freedom and tenure.
A censure decision by the AAUP is significant, but has no legal standing. Salaita has filed a lawsuit against the University to force it to disclose correspondence relating to the case. There is also a technical question, whether Salaita was in effect hired by the department, or was a final approval by the University's Board of Trustees to be made.
Whatever the outcome, the Salaita case promises to add to the evolving understanding of academic freedom.
Summary Rejection of Professor’s Appointment Violated Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure
1 May 30, 2015
The University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
The report of the investigating subcommittee concerns the actions taken by the University of Illinois administration to reject the appointment of Professor Steven Salaita. In October 2013, Professor Salaita was offered a tenured position in the American Indian Studies Program at UIUC, effective in August with the start of the fall 2014 semester. He accepted the offer, received course assignments, and resigned from his tenured position at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Professor Salaita’s posts in late summer 2014 on the social media site Twitter expressed outrage in strong language over the war in Gaza. After these posts were brought to the attention of the UIUC administration, Chancellor Phyllis Wise informed him on August 1 that his appointment would not be submitted to the board for approval. His appointment, like all tenured appointments, had been defined in the administration’s offer as subject to final approval by the board of trustees, but the appointee and those who recruited him had reason to believe that board approval was a mere formality, mainly because the board’s meeting was scheduled for September 25, more than two weeks after the fall term began. Subsequently, the chancellor did submit the appointment to the board, which voted in September to reject it.
The Association has consistently held that aborting an appointment without having demonstrated cause is tantamount to summary dismissal, an action categorically inimical to academic due process. As the stated reasons for Professor Salaita’s dismissal were his Twitter posts, the administration was obligated under AAUP‐supported standards to demonstrate that these extramural utterances clearly implicated his professional fitness as a faculty member. Instead, the chancellor and trustees justified the dismissal by insisting that “civility” was a standard by which to judge the fitness of a scholar and teacher. They further maintained that incivility threatened the comfort and security of students. The trustees claimed that disrespectful and demeaning speech “is not an acceptable form of civil argument” and “has no place . . . in our democracy.” In rejecting Professor Salaita’s appointment after it had already begun, the board chair did express interest in compensating him for the damage done to his pocketbook and to his academic career.
The investigating subcommittee concluded that the rejection of the Salaita appointment for the reasons stated by the chancellor and the board violated Professor Salaita’s academic freedom and cast a pall of uncertainty over the 2 degree to which academic freedom is understood and respected at UIUC. The subcommittee further concluded that the chancellor in her rejection of the Salaita appointment contravened AAUP’s widely accepted standards for the conduct of academic governance.
Responding to an invitation to provide information on subsequent developments at UIUC of which Committee A should be aware when it formulates a statement on the Salaita case for presentation to the 2015 annual meeting, the administration informed the committee of efforts to improve institutional policies and practices, which in the judgment of Committee A have not adequately addressed the issues raised in the investigative report. We will continue to monitor developments in this regard.
Chancellor Wise has reported that “genuine and significant” efforts have been made to reach a settlement with Professor Salaita. Professor Salaita’s attorneys dispute this. Whatever the outcome of the litigation, the Association’s concern is not with whether an administrationʹs actions have been legal but rather with whether they conform to sound academic practice as established in AAUP principles, principles that UIUC has itself endorsed.
Committee A therefore recommends to the One Hundred and First Annual Meeting that the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign be placed on the Association’s list of censured administrations.
The Guardian Sunday, June 14, 2015
University of Illinois censured for pulling Steven Salaita job over anti-Israel tweets
American Association of University Professors voices disapproval of withdrawal of job offer following tweets about war in Gaza
A leading academic group voted on Saturday to censure the University of Illinois’ flagship campus over its decision not to hire a professor following his anti-Israel Twitter messages, a vote the university’s chancellor said would have repercussions.
In a voice vote, the membership of the American Association of University Professors affirmed the censure at the group’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
The decision came in reaction to the university rescinding Steven Salaita’s job offer following his posts on Twitter concerning Israel and the West Bank.
The vote hinged on the principle of academic freedom, said Anita Levy, an association staff member involved with the group’s investigation of the matter. A report by the group described Salaita’s tweets as expressions of “outrage in strong language over the war in Gaza”.
Rejecting the professor’s appointment “violated Professor Salaita’s academic freedom and cast a pall of uncertainty over the degree to which academic freedom is understood and respected” at the school, Levy said, reading from a statement after Saturday’s vote.
The academic association currently has 56 institutions on its censure list.
A university spokeswoman, Robin Kaler, said the school had an “unyielding commitment to the principles of academic freedom”.
And, in an email sent to faculty on Saturday, university chancellor Phyllis Wise said the decision was “disappointing, but not unexpected”.
“We take this decision by the AAUP seriously,” Wise said in the email. “We understand that it will have repercussions on the scholarly activities of many in our community, and we intend to address both the censure and the underlying concerns through our established processes of shared governance.”
An AAUP censure is a relatively rare condemnation that can damage a university’s reputation in the academic world. Some faculty members at the University of Illinois have said they believe it might lead job hunters working at other schools to choose not to work at the Urbana-Champaign campus, though other faculty members have discounted that idea.
The university rescinded Salaita’s job offer after some donors complained his tweets were anti-Semitic. He has since sued the school. The censure vote came one day after a judge ordered the university to turn over thousands of pages of documents sought by Salaita.
On Saturday, his attorneys issued a statement calling the censure “a serious blemish on the university’s record”.
In October 2013, Salaita was offered a professor’s job in the university’s native American studies department, starting in August 2014. He accepted and quit his job at Virginia Tech University.
But in the summer of 2014, Salaita, whose father is from Jordan, wrote a long series of Twitter messages complaining about Israeli military action in Gaza. Some of those messages included profanity and a few were considered anti-Semitic by university donors who wrote to Wise.
“Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948,” he wrote in one message.
In August, just before school was set to begin again and after Salaita had received his class assignments, Wise told Salaita he wouldn’t get the job after all. She later said the university was concerned about the “abusive nature” of his messages.
His lawsuit states he had already been hired. The university counters that the board of trustees had not yet approved his hire, a step required for all tenured faculty members.