2700 Scholars Boycott UI; Philosopher Cancels Prestigious Lecture; Salaita Deemed Excellent Teacher; and UI Trustees Meet Again (Updated) (Updated again)

21 Aug

I’m still on vacation and mostly staying offline but I wanted to do a quick update on the Salaita affair.

1. Tomorrow, August 22, the Executive Committee of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet again. The Executive Committee met on Monday, August 18. In an email, Phan Nguyen wrote to me, “According to the listing of BOT Executive Committee meetings on the website, there haven’t been two such meetings held within four days of each other” in quite some time, if ever. But where the Monday meeting agenda explicitly stated that employment and litigation matters would be discussed, the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting specifies no specific topics for discussion. And where Monday’s meeting was listed a closed meeting, this meeting doesn’t say if it’s closed or not.

2. Going into Monday’s meeting, many of us thought something —a decision, a deal, something—was afoot. But according to this report in the local media, no decisions were made at the meeting.

“There are a number of issues being discussed,” President Bob Easter told The News-Gazette after the meeting, but trustees are “not at a place where I can say” if resolution is close. He declined to talk further because it was a closed session about personnel.

Ali Abunimah has some further news:

However two sources familiar with the case separately confirmed that there has been no discussion of a settlement and no proposal of a settlement from either the university or from Salaita.

Both sources asked not to be identified as neither is authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

3. One of the issues that comes up frequently among the University of Illinois’s defenders is that Salaita’s tweets suggest he might create a hostile environment for students, that he’s not fit for the classroom. It’s a strange claim to make under any circumstance—how I am on Twitter bears little relationship to how I am in the classroom or in my interactions with students; all of us have different relationships with different people, and we act differently in different circumstances—but in Salaita’s case it’s especially strange because he actually has a demonstrated track record as a teacher that the University of Illinois could consult.

Salaita taught for eight years at Virginia Tech, and like most professors, he was evaluated by his students every semester. According to this report, these were the results:

The student evaluations for Steven Salaita are stunning.

In Fall 2009, 29 of 30 students responding rated Salaita’s “knowledge of subject” as “Excellent”.  In the same course, 93 percent of students rated Professor Salaita’s “overall rating” as “excellent,” and 2 as “good.”

In the same term, another group of students gave Salaita nearly identical—though even better —marks: 29 of 30 rated him “excellent” for knowledge of subject, 30 of 30 graded him excellent for grading fairness, and 93 percent rated him “excellent” for overall rating, 1 good.

These numbers repeat consistently over all six of the courses Professor Salaita submitted for review.  The lowest rating he received in the “excellent” category for “overall rating” was 86 percent.  Salaita never received, in any of the six courses evaluated, a single rating of “poor” for any of ten categories of teaching reviewed.  In his lone graduate seminar, he scored a perfect 100 percent rating of “excellence” in the category of “overall rating.”

But for purposes of our argument, it is especially important to note student evaluations of Professor Salaita in the category of “concern and respect” for students.  Here is where students evaluate their professor for professional empathy, respect for diverse points of view, and sensitivity to student opinion and student lives.

In the six courses reviewed Professor Salaita scored as follows in this category:

# of Students

30 Total: 28 Excellent  2 Good

30 Total:  30 out of 30 Excellent

10 Total: 10 out of 10 Excellent

29 Total: 28 Excellent 1 Good

28 Total: 28 out of 28 excellent

28 Total: 25 out of 28 excellent, 2 good, one No Response

In addition to these metrics, Professor Salaita submitted a peer review letter of his teaching by a Virginia Tech colleague in English.   This colleague visited Salaita’s classes to provide the department an assessment of Salaita’s teaching.

The letter cites Salaita’s numerical excellence in student evaluations, but goes on to praise his teaching in terms that would be the envy of Professors everywhere:

While the numbers are impressive, the student comments bear out in detail how deserving Steven is of the high ratings.  The students are acutely aware that they are privileged to be studying with a well-regarded scholar, who draws his knowledge from years of study and experience.  Steven is perceived as being knowledgeable and accessible—he takes time to talk with students and to encourage them in preparing their writing assignments… When asked questions in class, Steve gives factual and thoughtful replies.  It is clear to all that the teacher has mastery of his field.

Salaita’s colleague goes on to say:

The classes I visited focused on several very contemporary bodies of literature, most specifically Arab-American literature.  These works are difficult to understand and appreciate fully without the help of a good guide who knows the turf.  Professor Salaita is extremely well-informed on the history and current status of the many nations, political parties and religious sects of the Middle East.  This subject matter is urgently important not only for specialists in international affairs, but for anyone seeking to better understand the violent and volatile contemporary world.

This record shows only one thing: that Steven Salaita is an outstanding classroom teacher.

4. The campaign on behalf of Salaita has gathered steam. Yesterday, philosopher David Blacker canceled his scheduled appearance at the prestigious CAS/MillerComm lecture series at the University of Illinois. In a letter to the university, he wrote:

I regret to inform you that I must cancel my CAS/MillerComm lecture at the University of Illinois scheduled for September 29….

I have decided I must honor the growing worldwide pledge of academics not to appear at U. of I. unless the Salaita matter is acceptably resolved….

…Instead of choosing education and more speech as the remedy for disagreeable speech,the U. of I. has apparently chosen “enforced silence.” It thus violates what a university must stand for — whatever else it stands for — and therefore I join those who will not participate in the violation. In my judgment, this is a core and non-negotiable issue of academic freedom.

My hope is that the U. of I. will relent and restore its good name.  I would be delighted to reschedule my talk if and when this happens.

5. I haven’t got complete updates on the boycott campaign, but here are some new numbers (if I don’t have new numbers, I don’t list the petitions here; for a fuller list, go here):

Anthropology: 121

Latino/a and Chicano/a Studies: 70

Communications: 73

Sociology: 242

Philosophy: 241

English: 256

Political Science: 169

Rhetoric/Composition: 32

Contingent academics: 210

Along with our other signatories on other petitions (for which I do not have updated numbers), we’ve got 2716 scholars committed to not engaging with the University of Illinois until Steven Salaita is reinstated.

A more general petition calling on the University of Illinois to reinstate Salaita has over 15,000 signatures.

Updated (9 pm)

An entire conference scheduled at the UI has now been officially canceled.

The Education Justice Project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been carefully observing the growing international academic boycott of our campus and weighing the potential impacts upon our Strategies for Action National Conference on Higher Education in Prison. After thoughtful deliberation, we have canceled the national conference.

This decision has not been easy.

We reached this decision after consulting with conference presenters and attendees, directors of other prison education programs, members of the higher ed in prison listserv, and with members of the Education Justice Project. We concluded that for EJP to host the conference at this time would compromise our ability to come together as a national community of educators and activists.

Updated (10 pm)

Yet another scholar has pulled out from a distinguished lecture series at the University of Illinois. This time it’s Allen Isaacman, Regents Professor of History at the University of Minnesota.

Breaking: UI Trustees meeting, as we tweet

18 Aug

Away all weekend and offline, but came home to this breaking news: the Executive Committee of the University of Illinois Trustees is meeting, right now (Monday, 2:30 pm), to discuss the following:

In closed session, the Executive Committee will consider University employment or appointment-related matters, and pending, probable or imminent litigation against, affecting, or on behalf of the University.

I have no idea if this meeting had been previously scheduled or not. And I have no idea if this is in reference to Steven Salaita’s case. You’ll recall that Wise or some other administrator had said that the Trustees weren’t scheduled to meet until September, when they would have been expected to vote on Salaita’s appointment. This would suggest this meeting (which, it should be pointed out, is of the Executive Committee rather than the full Board) is an emergency meeting to consider the Salaita affair, but again, I can’t know for sure.

In addition, according to Michael Rothberg, who’s the chair of the English department at UI, a group of concerned faculty at UI were scheduled to meet today with the Chancellor.

I’m leaving tomorrow first thing in the morning, and will have scant access to the internet for the next few days. I’ll post any updates I get on this meeting before I go. In the meantime, here are some stats on our statement of refusal drive:

The general, non-discipline-specific, statement has 1250 signatures. The political science statement has 160 signatures. The contingent academics’ statement has 200 signatures. The women’s studies statement has 52 signatures. The philosophy statement has 153 signatures. The sociology statement has 226 signatures. The communications statement has 68 signatures.

I don’t have updates on English or rhetoric/composition, but when I do I’ll post them here. (At last count, English had 214 and rhetoric/composition had 20.)

There is now a statement for scholars of Chicano/a and Latino/a Studies to sign. At first glance, it seems as if they have 67 signatures.

There is also a statement for anthropologists to sign.

All told, as of 3 pm, we have more than 2400 scholars publicly declaring their refusal to engage with the UI until Steven Salaita is reinstated.

Update (3:30 pm)

Phan Nguyen emailed me the following link on the Executive Committee of the Board. It states:

The Executive Committee meets on call of the chair or of any two members for the transaction of business that is urgent and cannot be postponed until the next regular meeting of the full board. The Executive Committee has all the powers of the Board of Trustees.

The Board is composed of three members: Christopher Kennedy (of the Kennedy family), Edward McMillan, and Pamela Strobel. All heavy hitters from corporate America.

Update (7 pm)

Rhetoric and composition has 31 signatures on their statement.

What is an Employee?

15 Aug

One of the sillier claims defenders of the University of Illinois are making is that the University never hired Salaita because the Board of Trustees never approved of his hire. Yet, as one astute commenter points out here, when the University was first confronted with Salaita’s tweets in the local News-Gazette, on July 22, before Inside Higher Ed made the story national, the university had this to say in defense of Salaita (if you can’t read the quote from the News-Gazette, you can read it in the Inside Higher Ed piece):

“Faculty have a wide range of scholarly and political views, and we recognize the freedom-of-speech rights of all of our employees,” Kaler said in response to the tweets.

The rights of all of our EMPLOYEES. You normally don’t talk about someone who is not in your employ as an employee.

Top Legal Scholars Decry “Chilling” Effect of Salaita Dehiring

15 Aug

Scholars from law schools at Columbia, Cornell, Berkeley, Georgetown, and other universities have come out with a very strong letter condemning the decision of the University of Illinois to dehire Steven Salaita. Here are some excerpts:

As scholars of free speech and constitutional law, we write to express alarm at your decision to revoke a tenured offer of appointment to Professor Steven Salaita to join the American Indian Studies program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on account of his statements on social media criticizing Israel’s conduct of military operations in Gaza.

In our view, the decision to withdraw an appointment to a prospective faculty member because of his statements on a matter of public concern raises serious concerns under established principles of academic freedom. Those principles are enshrined in Illinois law, in the U.S. Constitution, and in the written principles of the American Association of University Professors.

American universities have been the home of vigorous political debate and disagreement for many decades….In connection with these and other issues faculty, students and staff have engaged a range of tactics and strategies to express their political views including demonstrations and sit-ins, taking over university buildings, calling for divestment or boycott, and condemning public policies and laws. More recently, with the rise of social media, faculty and student expression on matters of public concern have taken place on Twitter, Facebook, and other internet fora.

What is more, the constitutional problem underlying the withdrawal of an offer of employment to Professor Salaita on account of his opinions on the Middle East affects not only him individually, but all current and prospective faculty at the University of Illinois insofar as it will have the predictable and inevitable effect of chilling speech–both inside and outside the classroom–by other academics. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s website currently lists 27 open academic searches. It is reasonable to conclude that any person considering applying for any of those positions would be very concerned about any opinions they might have expressed, either in their scholarship or in their private capacity, on the conflict in the Middle East or on other controversial questions. The University has sent a clear message to all prospective job candidates that their suitability for employment at the University of Illinois may turn on the views they have voiced on this or some other complex matter of public concern.

Tragically, the University of Illinois’s decision to rescind a job offer to Professor Salaita on account of his views on the Middle East evokes similarly unconstitutional litmus tests applied to educators in Illinois in the past when public officials sought to impose upon the academy a particular orthodoxy on a matter of public concern. As a website set up by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Student Life and Cultural Archival Program Illinois well documents, Illinois has unfortunately distinguished itself in its efforts over the years to purge from its teaching ranks faculty who held views that were deemed un-American or otherwise controversial.

The withdrawal of the offer of employment to Professor Salaita threatens to punish a colleague who has participated in a rich, and at times heated, climate of debate on the issue of justice in the Middle East, and it will surely chill debate by other scholars in the future.

 We recognize that universities may consider a wider range of factors in deciding whether to hire a potential faculty member than in deciding whether to dismiss a current faculty member. However, that principle is irrelevant here. Even as a technical legal matter, Professor Salaita was already a de facto member of the University of Illinois faculty under the principle of promissory estoppel as articulated by the Illinois Supreme Court. Moreover, the timing and manner of Professor Salaita’s dismissal strongly indicate the sort of viewpoint discrimination that would violate the First Amendment even at the hiring stage.

We urge you in the strongest of terms to submit to the University’s board of trustees the appointment of Professor Salaita to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s American Indian Studies program.

If you are a professor or scholar of law, please email Professor Katherine Franke at the Columbia Law School. Her email address is kfranke@law.columbia.edu.


Over 1500 Scholars to University of Illinois: We Will Not Engage With You!

14 Aug

1. As of 5 pm, 1518 academics have declared that they will not engage with the University of Illinois until it reinstates Steven Salaita. I have the specific details below. But first I wanted to highlight a report that came out yesterday.

2. The indefatigable Phan Nguyen has posted a monumental analysis of Salaita’s tweets and Cary Nelson’s treatment of those tweets. If I didn’t hate the phrase “game-changer” so much, I’d say this is a game-changer.

Nguyen shows that Salaita actually has a long history of not only denouncing anti-Semitism in general but also confronting specific instances of it on Twitter. Such as when the rapper Macklemore wore a disguise that was anti-Semitic. Among other statements, Salaita tweeted these four in response to Macklemore’s costume:

Macklemore wasn’t mocking Jewish stereotypes. He was performing them.

His costume, even if random (yeah right), IS a stereotype; stupidity doesn’t mitigate ignorance.

That particular look has been used to dehumanize Jews for many centuries, to nefarious ends.

It dredges up bad memories and people know how problematic the image is in Western history.

Equal rights for everybody, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, etc.

I refuse to conceptualize ‪#‎Israel‬/‪#‎Palestine‬ as Jewish-Arab acrimony. I am in solidarity with many Jews and in disagreement with many Arabs.

Seeing so many Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Hindus join to oppose sectarianism gives me great hope.

None of this changes the legal argument that Salaita should not have been fired for his tweets. But it sure does make those who tried to mount or defend the claim that Salaita’s an anti-Semitic hate-monger look kinda douchey irresponsible. (Wouldn’t want the foul-mouth police to get on me.)

3. Back to the campaign on behalf of Salaita. As I said, 1518 academics have declared that they will not engage with the University of Illinois until it reinstates Steven Salaita.

Here are the specific reports: This general statement, which is not discipline-specific, has 744 signatures. The philosophy statement has 108 signatures. The political science statement has 144 signatures. The English statement has 214 signatures. The sociology statement has 136 signatures. The history statement has 52 signatures. The women’s studies statement has 27 signatures. The rhetoric/composition statement has 20 signatures.

There are now two new statements of refusal.

The first is from communications scholars:

In a global context where we attend to the powerful role of social media as catalysts for democratic participation as witnessed in various parts of the globe, to censor a faculty member because of his social media posts is a reflection of authoritarian censorship that is antithetical to the fundamental notions of communication and democracy.

We request you to sincerely reconsider your decision and also change hiring practices so that future individuals may not fall victim to such discriminatory hiring practices. Until then, we will not engage in any relationship with the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

Make sure to sign that statement if you’re a professor or scholar of communications. Twenty-one people already have.

The second, and my personal favorite, is a statement to be signed by contingent academic workers, the academic precariat who work as adjuncts, part-timers, and generally insecure teachers.  The critical passage reads:

For us, in practice, this lack of academic security already compromises our teaching and scholarly endeavors, and we find it deplorable that Steven Salaita’s case might usher in an era of even stricter limitations on expression, for colleagues at any rank.

Our professional insecurity clouds even this moment; many of us do not feel we have the luxury of signing our own names or institutional affiliations to this petition, and/or the professional leverage to meaningfully participate in otherwise circulating calls to refuse our intellectual services to UIUC. Despite this, we simply demand, even if anonymously, that the decision to break a commitment to hire Steven Salaita be reversed.

If you’re a contingent academic worker, please sign. Even anonymously. Fifty-two people have already signed it.

4. The News-Gazette, the local paper for the University of Illinois and its surroundings, has posted several key documents in the case, including the UI’s offer letter to Salaita and their rescission email.

5. In yesterday’s post on that Chicago Tribune piece, I neglected to mention this quote from Cary Nelson:

A lot of people have been disturbed by the character of his social media because it is in the same areas that he does his scholarship. If it was a musician saying that global warming is a bunch of nonsense, who would care? It is because the tweets are an extension of his publication, they are central to his work…

This is a theme that Nelson’s been adumbrating all week. Since Salaita’s tweets are connected to Salaita’s research, says Nelson, they can be legitimately taken into consideration by the Chancellor when she hirefires him. If an academic publicly comments on political matters about which she has no expertise, says Nelson, that’s of no interest; it is protected by academic freedom and not subject to review. In other words, the more ignorant and ill-informed your speech, the more it is protected by academic freedom. Now I can see why Nelson in particular might hold that position, but surely the rest of us can see just how preposterous it is.

6. Word on the street is that a bunch of high-powered law professors are circulating a hard-hitting statement critiquing the University of Illinois’s decision. Stay tuned…

New Revelations in the Salaita Affair; Two New Statements of Refusal

13 Aug

The Chicago Tribune filed a public records request with the University of Illinois and has obtained the following revelations:

First, Salaita’s offer letter was dated October 3, 2013; he signed it six days later, on October 9.

Second, the offer letter, which was signed by the Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, states:

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers a wonderfully supportive community, and it has always taken a high interest in its newcomers. I feel sure that your career can flourish here, and I hope earnestly that you will accept our invitation.

Third, the job was originally slated to begin in January 2014, but the start date was postponed to August so that Salaita could finish spring semester at Virginia Tech.

In other news, we have a new statement of refusal circulating among scholars in women’s studies, gender studies, and feminist studies. It reads:

Dear Chancellor Wise:

As members of Women’s Studies/Women’s and Gender Studies/Feminist Studies departments and programs from around the world we are deeply concerned by the recent decision to prevent Steven Salaita from assuming his appointment to the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. We believe that the university’s revocation of an already accepted offer due to the tone and content of political statements on social media about recent events in Gaza is a violation of academic freedom and sets a very negative precedent for intellectual diversity in academia. Until such time as the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign decides to allow Dr. Salaita to take the position he was offered and accepted we refuse to participate in any events on its campus including academic conferences. Listed institutions are for identification purposes. The individual scholars signing this petition represent only their own personal views and not those of their employers.

If you are a professor or scholar of women’s studies, gender studies, or feminist studies, and would like to sign the statement, please email Professor Barbara Winslow at bwpurplewins@gmail.com.

Finally, there is another statement of refusal being circulated. It’s not a discipline-specific statement, so any academic can sign it. The critical part of it reads:

We, the undersigned faculty and staff, will not give guest lectures or provide public speeches at The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. We encourage all signatories of this statement to use their own judgment as to what other forms of protest and boycott they wish to employ on a case-by-case basis. We ask that faculty and administrators honor the boycott until Professor Steven Salaita is made a formal and binding offer of employment with tenure, exactly the same offer that has been revoked. We furthermore demand that the University vow that no retaliation or other negative actions, explicit or implicit, direct or indirect, be visited upon Professor Salaita or any of his supporters amongst the faculty or student body at UIUC.

Its many signatories include Eddie Glaude, Cristina Beltran, Timothy Brennan, Elliott Colla, Matthew Frye Jacobson, Robin Kelley, Eric Lott, Nikhil Singh, Gayatri Spivak, and more.

If you wish to sign the statement, you can do so here, or email frederick.moten@ucr.edu.




More Than 275 Scholars Declare They Will Not Engage With University of Illinois

13 Aug

In the last 24 hours, sociologists and scholars of composition and rhetoric have organized two new statements of refusal regarding the Steven Salaita affair.

1. The sociology statement reads as follows:

Dear Chancellor Wise:

We are members of Sociology departments from around the world who write, regretfully, to inform you that we will not engage with the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign as speakers, or as participants in conferences or other events at Illinois, until you rescind the decision to block Professor Steven Salaita’s appointment to the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Many prominent academics have written eloquently about the chilling effect your decision will have on the free expression of dissident ideas by academics; legal scholars have argued that it is a violation of academic freedom and more fundamentally, of freedom of speech.

Diverse and discordant voices, voices that some find “difficult,” are key to the survival of our schools as living institutions. Critical thinking of the kind that can lead directly to political dissent is exactly what any faculty in any college or university worthy of the name must teach.

Please reconsider your decision. Until then, we will not engage with a university we otherwise admire in so many ways.

If you are a sociologist, and wish you to add your name to this statement, you can sign it here.

2. The composition and rhetoric statement is being organized by University of Arizona professor Matthew Abraham. It reads as follows:

Whereas academic freedom is an essential aspect of academic life and campus climate;

Whereas UIUC’s has violated the academic freedom of Professor Steven Salaita and the UIUC faculty who served on the hiring committee which approved his appointment;

Whereas parties external to the University of Illinois have influenced the administration’s disposition toward Professor Salaita’s appointment by bringing in irrelevant considerations, such as the content and tone of his Twitter messages, at the last minute and at the conclusion of the academic process;

Whereas the right to free expression as enshrined in the First amendment extends to all US citizens;

We the undersigned will not step foot on UIUC’s campus until Professor Salaita’s appointment is reinstated and Salaita is issued a public apology by you, the Chancellor.

If you are a scholar or professor of composition and rhetoric, and you wish to sign the statement, please email Professor Abraham at matthew.mabraha2@gmail.com.

3. In the meantime, we now have nearly 150 103 signatures on our political science statement, including William Connolly, Bonnie Honig, Adolph Reed, Vijay Prashad, Jacob Levy, Arang Keshavarzian, and many more. If you wish to add your name, please email Joe Lowndes at jelowndes@gmail.com.

4. We have 122 signatures on our English statement, including Michael Bérubé, Priscilla Wald, Lisa Lowe, Bruce Robbins, and Moustafa Bayoumi. If you are an English professor and wish to add your name to the statement, please email Elaine Freedgood at ef38@nyu.edu.

5. We have 46 signatures on our philosophy statement, including Judith Butler, Jason Stanley, Hartry Field, Jennifer Saul, Paul Boghossian, Johanna Oksala, and Tamsin Shaw. If you are a philosopher and wish to add your name to the statement, please email John Protevi at protevi@lsu.edu.

As of now, more than 275 scholars have publicly declared their refusal to engage with the University of Illinois, in a variety of ways, until the university reinstates Steven Salaita.

Update (12:30 pm)

We finally have a statement organized by historians. Here it is:

As members of history departments from around the world we are deeply concerned by the recent decision to prevent Steven Salaita from assuming his appointment to the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. We believe that the university’s revocation of an already accepted offer due to the tone and content of political statements on social media about recent events in Gaza is a violation of academic freedom and sets a very negative precedent for intellectual diversity in academia. Until such time as the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign decides to allow Dr. Salaita to take the position he was offered and accepted we refuse to participate in any events on its campus including academic conferences. Listed institutions are for identification purposes. The individual scholars signing this petition represent only their own personal views and not those of their employers.

If you are a historian and wish to sign it, please email Otto Pohl at jopohl@ug.edu.gh or leave a comment on his blog post.


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