Follow the Money at the University of Illinois

Inside Higher Ed has gotten some of the preliminary documents on the back and forth between Chancellor Wise, officials at the University of Illinois (including a top person in charge of fundraising), and a high-level donor, before Wise made her initial decision to dehire Steven Salaita. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the external and internal pressure that went into this decision (though from my own experience with this issue I can only assume that that fear of external financial pressure was very very high), and as the article notes, none of these emails tells us what ultimately prompted Wise to make the decision she did. Still, it’s telling that in the days leading up to her decision, she received 70 communiques (in one instance from a very high-level donor), regarding the Salaita hire, only one of which was urging her to keep him on board.

The communications show that Wise was lobbied on the decision not only by pro-Israel students, parents and alumni, but also by the fund-raising arm of the university.

For instance, there is an email from Travis Smith, senior director of development for the University of Illinois Foundation, to Wise, with copies to Molly Tracy, who is in charge of fund-raising for engineering programs, and Dan C. Peterson, vice chancellor for institutional advancement. The email forwards a letter complaining about the Salaita hire. The email from Smith says: “Dan, Molly, and I have just discussed this and believe you need to [redacted].” (The blacked out portion suggests a phrase is missing, not just a word or two.)

Later emails show Wise and her development team trying to set up a time to discuss the matter, although there is no indication of what was decided.

At least one email the chancellor received was from someone who identified himself as a major donor who said that he would stop giving if Salaita were hired. “Having been a multiple 6 figure donor to Illinois over the years I know our support is ending as we vehemently disagree with the approach this individual espouses. This is doubly unfortunate for the school as we have been blessed in our careers and have accumulated quite a balance sheet over my 35 year career,” the email says.


  1. Roquentin August 25, 2014 at 9:29 am | #

    Like the Leninist slogan, “кто кого?” Who is doing what to whom? Who benefits?

  2. Anthony Alessandrini August 25, 2014 at 9:41 am | #

    I wonder how we would go about trying to organize a boycott of donors and potential donors in response to Salaita’s firing–sadly, this would probably speak more loudly than our own pledges to boycott the university.

  3. toh han shih August 25, 2014 at 11:29 am | #

    it is not surprising that some pro-israeli lobbies are using financial pressure. the danger and problem is this pro-israeli financial lobby can be confused with anti semitic stereotypes of evil jewish bankers causing the world’s problems.

  4. jonnybutter August 25, 2014 at 10:53 pm | #

    The business of America is business. And the business of education is also business. The business of everything is business. Welcome to post-intelligent USA.

    At my last institution of ‘higher learning’, I used to argue at length (like a fool) against the idea of running schools ‘like a business’. It’s not very hard to show rationally what a stupid and terrible idea it is, but that isn’t the point, is is?

    I was not very successful, to put it mildly. It reminded me of the scene in ‘Spinal Tap’ when the rejoinder to a rational argument is ‘..but..[long pause to drool, glassy-eyed]………it goes up to eleven.’ Drooling indifference, in the present case to the ethical suicide of one’s own institution/profession. Appalling.

  5. Robin Messing August 26, 2014 at 6:33 am | #

    Phyllis Wise wrote:

    “Wise wrote:

    “”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.”

    Soooo, Wise would fire any faculty member who is critical of the Hamas charter (which has a viewpoint) because this might hurt the feelings of Hamas members. Of course, since the Hamas Charter advocates the destruction of Israel and, ultimately, the killing of Jews, Wise’s decision to protect the Hamas Charter from criticism would be anti-Semitic. And we can’t have that. So Wise must do the right thing and fire herself.

  6. Robin Messing August 26, 2014 at 6:45 am | #

    I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not sure if this is relevant. But if I were Salaita I would be having a good long talk with my lawyer about suing the rich donor who threatened to withhold funds if his appointment went through for tortious interference of contract.

  7. Glenn August 26, 2014 at 10:39 pm | #

    I haven’t seen any reference to it, but has Salaita sought help from an attorney?

    He will suffer severe economic consequences due to his reliance upon the offer he accepted.

    An attorney I spoke to thinks this case may have merit.

    Does anyone know an attorney who works in this area of the law to recommend to him?

    • Robin Messing August 27, 2014 at 7:25 pm | #

      I don’t know him but I did tweet to him the suggestion that he should speak to an attorney about tortious interference of contract. He didn’t respond. In fact, with the exception of a general thank you tweet to his supporters on Aug. 11, he hasn’t tweeted since Aug. 2.

      I take this as a sign he has probably spoken to a lawyer and the lawyer told him the best thing he could do if he wanted to take any sort of legal action would be to stop tweeting. At least, that’s what I would advise him if I were his lawyer. No point for him to give his opposition anything that could be used in court. Again, I have no knowledge of what he is doing, but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t already have legal council.

      • Glenn August 27, 2014 at 8:07 pm | #

        Thanks, Robin.

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