More than 3000 Scholars Boycott the University of Illinois!

Yesterday, Phyllis Wise, Chancellor of the UIUC, and the UI Board of Trustees reaffirmed the chancellor’s decision to dehire Steven Salaita. The basis of this decision, at least rhetorically, is this statement from Wise:

What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them. We have a particular duty to our students to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals.

It’s a strange and strained position, as many have noted. Particularly that tender and solicitous concern for protecting the feelings of “viewpoints themselves.” In the words of University of Chicago professor Brian Leiter:

As a matter of well-settled American constitutional law, the University of Illinois must tolerate “words… that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.” The University has no choice, both as a matter of constitutional law and as a matter of its contractual commitment with its faculty to academic freedom. Scathing critiques of both viewpoints and authors abound in almost all scholarly fields; it would be the end of serious scholarly inquiry and debate were administrators to become the arbiters of “good manners.” More simply, it would be illegal for the University to start punishing its faculty for failure to live up to the Chancellor’s expectations for “civil” speech and disagreement.

In many of my courses, I teach Nietzsche, who heaped abuse on viewpoints and the individuals who expressed them. So did Marx and Hobbes, for that matter. On the chancellor’s standard, I or one of my counterparts at the University of Illinois should not be allowed teach Nietzsche, Marx, or Hobbes at the University of Illinois: too disrespectful of other viewpoints, too demeaning of those who hold them. And “what we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are….words…that….”

Or consider this: Anti-Semitism is a viewpoint; anti-Semites hold it. Wise’s rules would mean that no one can carry a sign around on the UIUC campus saying, “Anti-Semitism sucks.” Disrespectful toward anti-Semitism. And anti-Semites. Like I said: strange and strained.

In any event, what’s most important about this decision is not the Chancellor’s or the Trustees’ words (sorry, does that mean I’m demeaning their words?) but the decision itself. The University has doubled down on its error, hoping that all of us will be so demoralized by this assertion of raw power—what else would you call so intellectually addled (there I go again: demeaning and abusive) a move?— that we sink into despondency and despair. So let’s not.

There is a boycott on: individual scholars have canceled their lectures, entire groups have canceled their conferences, and we now have 3094 scholars (not all my numbers are updated) who have publicly declared that they are officially boycotting the UI. The university is banking on the notion that more than 3000 scholars boycotting it are the end of the story; we have to make it the beginning of the story.

If you want to join a specific pledge from a discipline or wish to sign the general statement, here are the critical links:

  1. General, non-discipline-specific, boycott statement: 1402 and counting!
  2. Philosophy: 340. Email John Protevi at or add your name in a comment at this link.
  3. Political Science: 174. Email Joe Lowndes at
  4. Sociology: 248.
  5. History: 66.
  6. Chicano/a and Latino/a Studies: 74
  7. Communications: 94
  8. Rhetoric/Composition: 32.
  9. English: 266. Email Elaine Freedgood at
  10. Contingent academic workers: 210.
  11. Anthropology: 134
  12. Women’s/Gender/Feminist Studies: 54. Email Barbara Winslow at
  13. Library and Information Science: 94.
  14. Natural sciences [New]

If you’ve already joined the boycott, get someone else to join. If each one of you did that, we’d double our numbers in no time.

And if you’re not an academic but want to tell the UI to reinstate Salaita, you can sign this petition. More than 15,000 have.

Most important, it looks like Salaita is now going to have file a lawsuit against the UI. The university has time and money. Salaita has neither. As his friends and colleagues who are organizing a campaign to raise money on his behalf note:

Salaita now has no job nor does his wife who quit her job in Virginia to support the family’s move, no personal home to live in, and no health insurance for their family, including their two year-old son.

So Salaita needs our financial support; we can give it to him. Even a little bit. His friends and colleagues have organized a page where you can donate money to his legal campaign. Please click on the Paypal link on the right-hand side of the page. I’ve made a donation; please make one, too.


  1. VL August 23, 2014 at 8:12 pm | #

    As you and others have noted, the Chancellor’s rationale is strange and self-contradictory: the only person, or viewpoint, who/which currently feels unwelcome at UIUC is Prof. Salaita. I cannot help wondering if part of the reason for the rejection of Salaita is that he looks so much like the Arab youth who are regularly associated in our media with suicide bombings, etc. I.e., if he were freckled with a full mane of red hair, would he have been treated like this?

    In any case, since it looks like the Chancellor and Board are not inclined to be moved by our collective paeans to academic freedom, I would think that the most practical thing other faculty could do would be to find Prof. Salaita a new tenured post somewhere, and soon. Are there any signatories with clout who have open searches going on? At the very least, multiple invitations to come give talks and interview at other campuses would be of practical benefit to Salaita but also stimulate the kind of live discussion in multiple places that would allow the salient issues to be discussed and understood by a broader public.

    For that matter, Salaita should be making the rounds on the news media, and showing those gifts that made him a beloved teacher at Virginia Tech. The suppression of thoughtful discourse on touchy topics very much needs to be exposed; people can carry guns in Krogers and depict Obama being lynched, but let someone question America’s support of Israel’s actions in Gaza and suddenly an employer can take illegal action to silence him.

  2. illuminatingmanuscripts August 23, 2014 at 8:51 pm | #

    Belated thought: it would be a wonderful show of solidarity, and probably personally meaningful to Prof. Salaita, if those UIUC colleagues who enthusiastically lobbied to hire him would now invite him as a seminar speaker (with honorarium) in as many venues as possible. Just because he’s technically not on faculty at UIUC for the time being doesn’t mean he can’t speak there, does it?

  3. Sharon L. Younkin August 24, 2014 at 11:19 am | #

    This is such terrible news for the academic community. I am hopeful that the public response will prompt the Chancellor to change his decision.

  4. Veena Chatti August 26, 2014 at 9:31 pm | #

    I agree with the idea, it was senseless to de-hire the guy. But donate money to him? He was in a cushy, bourgeois profession, earning a decent salary, before he decided to quit to go to a probably better-paying position at Illinois, right? And his wife decided to quit her job to follow him there. If you want to support people financially, support the exploited ones- there are people working for free for months and years on end in universities and labs across the country, and unpaid internships are almost the norm in our economic and academic funding climate. Where’s the outrage for this? And forget these people, pay for people who are starving in our low-income neighbourhoods, or in countries where poverty is a problem, or to abandoned elderly widows in patriarchal societies. Don’t, for pity’s sake, send money to the bourgeois in any land, even if, like me, you agree that it isn’t right to de-hire him. Salaita and wife can afford to feed their two year old son and keep him in good health, the kid isn’t about to starve. Send money where it’s needed, not to an upper-middle class family. This shouldn’t be Salaita’s meal ticket. He holds several advanced degrees, and I’m sure if not Illinois, there are other campuses that would want a passionate individual or one with strong opinions on their faculty. If I were him, I’d be thanking my stars I wouldn’t have to go to such a narrow-minded environment for my own academic growth.

  5. g2-5025c25d216007413bc8820109a67c1b August 27, 2014 at 3:50 pm | #

    Please add this list of librarians, archivists and other LIS professionals and academics to the ones above:

    • Barry Freed August 27, 2014 at 3:53 pm | #

      That was weird, that was me. Please delete that user name and substitute the correct one instead of that weird string, thanks.

  6. Sidney Sisk August 30, 2014 at 4:44 pm | #

    I really do not fully know what this unfortunate mess is about. If you want a comment on Architecture or City Planning I am capable of definitive and deep thoughts. However there seems to be a new trend to bash Israel hidden in all kinds of messages. Two close friends of mine belong to organizations (Quakers / Presbyterians) who have a BDS agenda. It is necessary to translate into “real language”. This means do not buy from the Jews. Being in my 80’s I remember when Adolf Hitler and the Germans said the same thing in 1928. One can cloak this message in many ways but it amounts to that simple statement.

    • martinmackerel September 6, 2014 at 6:57 pm | #

      Sidney, you appear to be demeaning and abusing a viewpoint (that of BDS). Such behavior cannot be tolerated in a free society.

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