E-Mail the University of Illinois Board of Trustees (Updated)

This is part 2 of a two-part post. In the last post, I read through the Salaita Papers, which were released under Illinois’s Freedom of Information Act; in this one, I canvas the other events of the day.

First, last night’s report that Chancellor Wise would be forwarding Salaita’s appointment to the Trustees was wrong. Several members of the UIUC faculty met with her today. According to Michael Rothberg, chair of the English department:

Together with two colleagues I just met with Chancellor Wise, at her invitation. The main message from our discussion was that there is no change in the status of the case. It seems that the students were not accurate in their impression. She doesn’t know if the Board of Trustees will be voting on the case at their 9/11 meeting, but she indicated that she thought a reversal was very unlikely.

So status quo. I’ll come back to that 9/11 meeting at the end of this post.

Second, tonight, the English Department became the fourth department at UIUC to take a vote of no confidence in the leadership of the University of Illinois—the trustees, the president, and Chancellor Wise. From what I’m hearing, the departments of history, comparative and world literatures, and East Asian Languages and Cultures will be voting on similar motions sometime this week.

Third, the number of canceled events grows. We now have a second cancelled conference. Today, Columbia law professor Katharine Franke canceled series of lectures she was to give at the UIUC in late September. This was an especially nice touch:

I have long held the view that the use of boycotts as a tactic to protest an unjust practice by a state, business or academic institution may be appropriate in the right context, such as the current crisis at the UIUC, but that those who pledge to honor a boycott cannot rest their political commitments exclusively on a promise not to do something. Rather they should also pledge to affirmatively engage the injustice that generated the call for the boycott. For this reason, rather than merely boycotting your institution, I plan to travel to Urbana-Champaign in mid September at my own expense to participate in a forum (located off campus) with members of the UIUC community in which we will explore the manner in which the termination of Professor Salaita’s employment at UIUC threatened a robust principal of academic freedom.

I just found out that University of Nebraska philosophy professor Mark Van Roojen canceled a scheduled lecture as well. In fact, the list of canceled lectures and events seems to have exploded overnight. There’s now a poster listing all of the cancellations. John Protevi’s also keeping track over at his blog. If you’re cancelling something, please let him know.

Fourth, a group of graduate students has now organized its own boycott pledge. It’s one of the more powerful statements, as it dramatizes the real long-term costs of the Salaita dehiring.

As the rising generation of scholars and public intellectuals, we are troubled about what this signals about the work environments, hiring conditions, and the larger academe we are working to enter.

UI-UC’s actions have signaled to the graduate student community that in order to secure employment, we should stay silent on political questions, eliminate our online interactions with others in the public and in the scholarly community, and cease researching and asking tough questions that may displease those in authority. These conditions trouble us all, and will deter many graduate students from applying to faculty positions at UI-UC in the future.

We hold that the value of scholarly efforts must not be determined by how readily they appease the powerful or cater to the status quo; instead, such efforts must be weighed by their degree of due diligence and attention to the ethical pursuit of knowledge, as well as the imperative to voice righteous criticisms when necessary. To constrain our research and public engagement in such a way as to protect ourselves from the treatment Professor Salaita has received promises to strip the academy of all relevance to society as an institution that values intellectual debate.

If you’re a grad student, please sign it.

Fifth, the American Historical Association, the official professional body of historians, issued a scorching denunciation today of Chancellor Wise’s decision.

The First Amendment protects speech, both civil and uncivil. It does so for good reason. The United States made a wager that democracy can flourish only with a robustly open public sphere where conflicting opinions can vigorously engage one another. Such a public sphere rests on the recognition that speech on matters of public concern is often emotional and that it employs a variety of idioms and styles. Hence American law protects not only polite discourse but also vulgarity, not only sweet rationality but also impassioned denunciation. “Civility” is a laudable ideal, and many of us wish that American public life had more of it today. Indeed the AHA recommends it as part of our own Statement on the Standards of Professional Conduct. But imposing the requirement of “civility” on speech in a university community or any other sector of our public sphere—and punishing infractions—can only backfire. Such a policy produces a chilling effect, inhibiting the full exchange of ideas that both scholarly investigation and democratic institutions need.

If allowed to stand, your administration’s punitive treatment of Steven Salaita will chill the intellectual atmosphere at the University of Illinois. Even tenured professors will fear for their job security, persuaded that their institution lacks respect for the principles of academic freedom. The unhappy consequences for the untenured will be even more pronounced. A regimen of defensive self-censorship will settle like a cloud over faculty lectures and classroom discussions. Faculty will be inclined to seek positions elsewhere. This, surely, is not the future you wish for your historically great institution.

The AHA joined the Modern Languages Association, the professional organization of literature and language scholars, and the American Studies Association, in putting the weight of a major disciplinary organization behind Salaita’s case. I hope American Political Science Association, the American Sociological Association, and other disciplinary organizations join in soon.

It has become clear from various UIUC faculty I’ve spoken with that the trustees are now the main focus of our campaign. Between now and 9/11, we have to bombard them with emails and phone calls urging them to do the right thing. Unfortunately, we don’t have all of their contact information, but Thanks to John Protevi’s heroic efforts (and a little angel who came to my aid after this post went live), we have most all of them. Here they are (plus a few others that are relevant).

If you’ve already joined a boycott, signed the petition, and emailed Chancellor Wise, I want to ask you—all of you, in the tens of thousands now—to rattle the trustees with your voices. As John says: “Be polite but firm, open, frank, forthright, unapologetic, and exigent when writing these folks.”

Christopher G. Kennedy, Chair, University of Illinois Board of Trustees: chris@northbankandwells.com

Robert A. Easter, President: reaster@uillinois.edu

Hannah Cave, Trustee: hcave2@illinois.edu

Ricardo Estrada, Trustee: estradar@metrofamily.org

Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Trustee: patrick.fitzgerald@skadden.com

Lucas N. Frye, Trustee: lnfrye2@illinois.edu

Karen Hasara, Trustee: hasgot28@aol.com

Patricia Brown Holmes, Trustee: pholmes@schiffhardin.com

Timothy N. Koritz, Trustee: timothy.koritz@gmail.com or tkoritz@gmail.com

Danielle M. Leibowitz, Trustee: dleibo2@uic.edu

Edward L. McMillan, Trustee: mcmillaned@sbcglobal.net or mcmillaned@msn.com

James D. Montgomery, Trustee: james@jdmlaw.com

Pamela B. Strobel, Trustee: pbstrobel@comcast.net

Thomas R. Bearrows, University Counsel: bearrows@uillinois.edu

Susan M. Kies, Secretary of the Board of Trustees and the University: kies@uillinois.edu

Lester H. McKeever, Jr., Treasurer, Board of Trustees: lmckeever@wpmck.com


  1. strawberryrevolution September 3, 2014 at 1:56 am | #

    E-mailed. Do you want a copy? If so I’d advise setting a separate email account for that purpose so that you don’t end up with your normal email jammed by hundreds CCs and Bccs.

    • Elizabeth September 3, 2014 at 10:19 am | #

      If you use facebook, I would recommend posting your own letter on facebook to inspire your friends to also write in. Or just email it to colleagues. People will be more likely to take the time to write when they see that their friends and colleagues are doing it.

  2. escott September 3, 2014 at 10:13 am | #

    Judging by all said in this Blog, I believe Salaita a top academic and not anti-Semitic. His tweets show he’s human, sometimes getting frustrated and angry.

    If Moses were a modern academic UIUC would have better cause for dehire. What kind of man dashes the tablets G-d himself gave to him?

    And if someone said “ ISIS has made anti-Islamism honorable” couldn’t we discern his meaning without being anti-Islamic.

    • Ligurio September 3, 2014 at 11:43 am | #

      Well, especially if “anti-Islamic” were put in scare quotes–that is, to show that one is NOT anti-Islamic, one is anti-ISIS. Suppose a bunch of well funded ISIS supporters started claiming that to oppose ISIS is to be anti-Islamic. That’s the context for the scare-quoted “‘anti-Semitism'” reference in Salaita’s tweet. In other words, if being anti-Zionist/ISIS means being “anti-Islamic/Semitic”, then it’s a good thing, right? (In the tone of ironical sarcasm.) I’m sorry for sounding pedantic about this, but even Cary Nelson claims to have a hard time understanding the meaning of Salaita’s tweets. (In his latest bit of agit-prop, he appeals to the undecidability of linguistic meaning in tarring Salaita with the charge of de facto anti-Semitism. He is a disgrace to the profession.)

    • Robin Messing September 3, 2014 at 9:58 pm | #

      Escott, Smashing tablets was hardly Moses’s most egregious offense. UIUC would have had an even greater reason to dehire him because after he destroyed the tablets God gave him, he and his band of merry thugs, apparently on direct order from the Big Guy above, murdered 3,000 of his own people for disobeying God. This was, of course, shortly after God gave Moses the tablet saying “Thou shalt not murder”.

  3. Ayman Fadel September 3, 2014 at 2:22 pm | #
  4. Ayman Fadel September 3, 2014 at 2:46 pm | #

    I’ve written a letter, and I’ve posted it at a blog entry. In the blog entry, I’ve included a link that launch your e-mail client to write to the e-mail addresses Professor Robin listed here:


  5. James Hoff September 3, 2014 at 2:58 pm | #

    Letter sent! Thanks for staying on top of this Corey and for sifting through all of those documents. Follow the money as they say.

  6. Neil Schipper September 3, 2014 at 3:10 pm | #

    I tried posting the following yesterday on the “Breaking News! Wise to Forward Salaita Appointment to Trustees! Updated” post at Crooked Timber. It appears to have not passed moderation. I don’t know if this reflects Corey Robin’s personal decision on what constitutes acceptable speech on Crooked Timber, which is a group-run blog, so I am trying again here.

    There have been so many comments on prior Salaita related threads with in-depth explorations of esoteric legal questions, and I’m anticipating a lot of complex strategic analysis just now.

    Why bother with all the complicated, nuanced, intricate argumentation? (And are blog comments even the appropriate medium for communicating the main ideas?)

    Far better to presume, with total self-righteousness, that everyone that’s good and smart agrees with your POV entirely. Then, you can issue effective commentary, in continuous short bursts, like this:


    I hate waking up only to realize that the UIUC Board of Trustees still exists.

    While Salaita’s future hangs in the balance, the UIUC BoT are engaged in protracted struggle over who can buy the biggest yacht.

    The UIUC spokesperson receives money to justify, conceal, and glamorize the firing of professors. Goebbels much?

    Supporting UIUC puts you in company of Republicans with sexual fantasies about killing Muslims. Enjoy your new buddies, promissory estoppel theory deniers.

    I don’t give two fucks what the “UIUC” policy says. The BoT ALREADY destroyed academic freedom and is destroying Salaita right now.

    Chancellor Wise fires tenured hires and blames it on her Board. Psychiatry hasn’t yet accounted for this sort of derangement.

    The trustees dislike it when people call UIUC devoid of integrity. It must really anger them when somebody describes water as translucent.

    Instead of whining–which, to be fair, is Chancellor Wise’s oxygen–trustees should be glad I called them “trolls,” the kindest word I can muster.

    Do you have to visit your physician for prolonged erections when you see pictures of fired professors from UIUC?

    What do you say to the children of the professors you have fired?

    The logic of “contract law denialism” deployed by UIUC, if applied in principle, would make pretty much everybody not a sociopath a “contract law denialist.”


    (The above pseudo-tweets are based on approx. half of the tweets by Steven Salaita on the single day July 16.)

    So, you just keep firing out message like these every day. (Actually, they’re quite fun to compose.)

    Then, you win.

    • Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant September 3, 2014 at 3:52 pm | #

      Stop having fun!

      • Neil Schipper September 3, 2014 at 4:22 pm | #

        We pursue activities of personal interest after we’ve done our homework.

        Donald, you’ve got some homework to do:

        Assess the following claim:

        It is well known by Palestinians that anytime one of them enters or exits Israel, regardless of nationality, he or she will likely undergo an anal or vaginal probe.

        No marks are given without proposing a numerator and a denominator guesstimated from publicly available information, and then using those values to calculate the approximate rate of body cavity probes carried out by Israelis on Palestinians.

      • Bor September 4, 2014 at 11:34 am | #

        Well, it is a propaganda site. If you aren’t able to critically discern between valid sources and invalid ones, I can’t help you. The point remains that Salaita was not only demonstrably wrong but that what he wrote was hateful.

        Now you may proceed to dance around the facts.

  7. Ayman Fadel September 3, 2014 at 9:27 pm | #

    Another interesting name in the Board of Trustees is Patrick Fitzgerald. According to stopfbi.net, he’s been active in prosecution of anti-war and Palestinian solidarity activists. http://www.stopfbi.net/search/node/patrick%20fitzgerald

  8. ovitt September 3, 2014 at 10:14 pm | #

    Imagine if “tens of thousands” of academics, eager to do the right thing–and they are doing the right thing by defending academic freedom–had been as vocal, boycotted as many events, spoken out as loudly, felt as much indignation when Israel began its latest offensive in the Gaza. If academic freedom is an important concept, justice for Palestinians is even more important, as I suspect Salaita himself would agree.

  9. Corey Robin September 4, 2014 at 11:40 am | #

    “demonstrably”: Reminds me how people now use the word “literally” when they mean “metaphorically.”

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