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):
Political Science: 169
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)
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.