More Votes of No Confidence, a Weird Ad, and a Declaration of a Non-Emergency

Tonight, the major news out of the University of Illinois is that two more departments have taken votes of no confidence in the leadership of the UIUC: the department of history (nearly unanimous, I’m told) and the department of Latino and Latina Studies. The latter’s announcement reads:

The faculty of the Department of Latina/Latino Studies (LLS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign met on Wednesday, September 3, 2014 to discuss the University’s revocation of an offer of employment to Dr. Steven Salaita. We concluded that this revocation and the subsequent public statements by Chancellor Phyllis Wise, President Robert Easter, and the Board of Trustees about Dr. Salaita’s appointment demonstrate a clear disregard for the principles of academic freedom, free speech, and shared governance, as well as for established protocols for hiring, tenure, and promotion. The faculty of LLS therefore declares that we have no confidence in the leadership of the current Chancellor, President, and Board of Trustees.

That means that six departments have now voted no confidence, two of them fairly large departments, representing a significant number of faculty in the humanities. Word is that we should be expecting at least four more votes of no confidence by the end of the week, for a total of ten.

Just a word on these votes. While it might seem from the outside to be an inconsequential, costless move by faculty, a vote of no confidence, in my experience, is a vote most professors are loathe to take. If for no other reason than that they fear retaliation from the administration: fewer lines, smaller budgets, no seat at the table. If faculty are willing to take such a vote, it means one of two things: either the administration has done something truly egregious or the faculty senses that the administration has lost control of the situation and is thus no longer in a position to exercise its usual political clout. At the UIUC, both seem to be true.

The American Comparative Literature Association has weighed in with a strong letter criticizing the UIUC decision. Its conclusion?

Given that Chancellor Wise has not only ignored numerous calls for her to reverse her decision but has also defended her action, with the strong backing of UIUC Board of Trustees Chairman Christopher Kennedy and University President Robert Easter (, we express our solidarity with UIUC departments and programs that have cast no-confidence votes in the university administration (

On a personal note, I was pleased to see that the letter was signed by the association’s president Ali Behdad. When I was a grad student writing my dissertation on the political theory of fear, I found an article of his on Montesquieu’s Persian Letters (“The Eroticized Orient: Images of the Harem in Montesquieu and his Precursors”) especially useful.

That brings the number of professional associations condemning the UIUC to six.actually, seven.

Law professor Jonathan Adler, who’s a fairly conservative sort of guy, blogs at The Washington Post today:

While I think a case could be made that some of Professor Salaita’s tweets could suggest he lacks the proper temperament to be an educator (and that any such case could be refuted by, for instance, reviewing his teaching evaluations, speaking with peers, etc.), this is something the university should have examined up front — before preparing to place his appointment before the Board of Trustees. As it happens, it appears the university had no problem with anything Salaita said or did until it became controversial, suggesting it was the content of Salaita’s opinions, and not legitimate concerns about his qualifications or abilities, that prompted the university’s actions.

Newly released university documents, as summarized on Crooked Timber, suggest the university’s about face was due to pressure from wealthy donors and alumni.  If so, this demonstrates the university’s lack of commitment to principles of academic freedom.  Again, while there may have been legitimate arguments for refusing to hire Professor Salaita, kowtowing to wealthy alumni and donors who find his ideas offensive is not among them.  These revelations would also seem to undermine whatever legal defense the university has planned and will only fuel the growing academic boycotts of the university.

For a look at what the other side is doing we turn to a group of, well, I’m not sure who (more on this in a second), who took out an ad today in the local newspaper in support of Chancellor Wise. They implicitly (well, not so implicitly) accuse Salaita of “speech which incites others to violence or to harm.” They write strange statements like “She wears many hats, and must ensure that each one fits as comfortably, fairly, and well as possible.” (How does a hit fit fairly?) And they express “grave concern” about “the escalating, often incendiary and sometimes extreme rhetoric regarding Chancellor Wise’s decision.”

New Rules: no incendiary or extreme rhetoric. Like this:

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

(The author of those words, by the way, founded a university. And one of the signatories to those words was the president of a university. Autres temps.)

So who are the signatories to this advertisement? The good people of Twitter have been crowd-sourcing it. It turns out that a fair numer of the signatories are administrative staff at UIUC, or donors and boosters. And some of the signatories are affiliated with the First Busey Corporation/Busey Bank, on whose board sits…Phyllis Wise. Of the many hats. Of the 139 signatories (remember, our side has over 17,000 on a petition), only ten are academics.

But it tells you something about the state of play. Clearly their side is rattled; in the battle for public opinion, they are losing. And so feel like it’s essential to mobilize the troops, such as they are.

Lastly, all throughout the day I received a flurry of emails from men and women writing to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. One of the strongest emails was posted on Facebook by University of Chicago professor Patchen Markell. He has kindly given me permission to reprint parts of it here:

My purpose in writing is less to urge you to approve the appointment than to offer you something that I sincerely hope will be of use to you: an account of how this situation, and your situation as decision-makers at a critical moment in the life of your institution, looks from the perspective of a deeply concerned observer who has spent a little time studying the history and politics of academic governance at other institutions and in other difficult moments.

This situation must feel like an emergency. How could it not? Chancellor Wise’s initial decision provoked criticism—and not just criticism but forceful action, in the form of petitions, appeals, statements of refusal, cancellations of appearances—on a scale and of an intensity that she surely did not anticipate. The Executive Committee’s affirmation of her decision did not quell the criticism, which only intensified when the Chancellor’s contacts with donors opposed to Salaita’s appointment were disclosed. Now you are approaching a meeting at which, one way or another, Steven Salaita’s case may appear on your agenda. And while I gather that in ordinary circumstances the Board of Trustees’ approval of appointments is routine, and doesn’t involve a fresh consideration of the appointees’ merits—that’s how it works at most schools I’m familiar with—this must feel like an exceptional situation, one of those rare moments in which big principles are at stake, and in which you therefore have no choice but to subject a controversial appointment to careful scrutiny, and to exercise your final authority with the eyes of the world upon you.

To cut to the chase, I think this is an extraordinarily dangerous way of thinking about the present situation; I think you have at least one option more than this picture suggests; and I think that the best course of action, both for principled and for pragmatic reasons, is for you not only to approve Professor Salaita’s appointment if you have (or can create) any opportunity to do so, but to treat it as a routine case, giving it no more and no less scrutiny than you would give to any other faculty appointment sent to you by the administration for your final approval.

This is the right decision for reasons of principle, not least because it affirms that judgments about the qualifications of scholars and teachers under consideration for appointment to the faculty are best made by the faculty, drawing on their own expertise and experience, and informed by the assessments of their colleagues at other institutions. And it is the right decision for pragmatic reasons, because it is the only decision that stands a chance of ending the controversy….

I have said nothing about the substance of Steven Salaita’s controversial tweets, about his scholarship, his teaching record, or anything else. I urge you to do much the same thing: to approve his appointment routinely, without comment on its merits, and without getting embroiled in the details of his case. This may seem like an abdication of your power and your responsibility in an emergency situation. But you also have the power to declare that this is not the emergency it appears to be…

So that’s your task for the night: write the Board of Trustees. Though Patchen went long (for good reason, as you can see), I, like Brian Leiter, recommend short.

Here are the email of all the trustees; I recommend emailing them individually if you can.

Christopher G. Kennedy, Chair, University of Illinois Board of Trustees:

Robert A. Easter, President:

Hannah Cave, Trustee:

Ricardo Estrada, Trustee:

Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Trustee:

Lucas N. Frye, Trustee:

Karen Hasara, Trustee:

Patricia Brown Holmes, Trustee:

Timothy N. Koritz, Trustee: or

Danielle M. Leibowitz, Trustee:

Edward L. McMillan, Trustee: or

James D. Montgomery, Trustee:

Pamela B. Strobel, Trustee:

Thomas R. Bearrows, University Counsel:

Susan M. Kies, Secretary of the Board of Trustees and the University:

Lester H. McKeever, Jr., Treasurer, Board of Trustees:

Update (11:30 pm)

I meant to post this but forgot. The graduate student boycott is going like gang-busters. They’ve already got over 400 signatures, which brings our overall number way above 4000. So more than 4000 scholars are now boycotting UIUC. If you’re a grad student and want to join the boycott, go here.

There’s also a statement being organized by Jewish students, faculty, and staff at UIUC, which some of you may be eligible to sign.

We, Jewish students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, are writing to object in the strongest possible terms to the firing of Professor Steven Salaita. As Jewish members of this campus community, we insist that you do not speak for us in your unjust actions. In no way do Professor Salaita’s words, tweets, or presence on campus make us feel unsafe, disrespected, or threatened, as your public letter indicated.

…By conflating pointed and justified critique of the Israeli state with anti-Semitism, your administration is effectively disregarding a large and growing number of Jewish perspectives that oppose Israeli military occupation, settler expansion, and the assault on Palestine….

It is unfortunate that Professor Salaita’s critique, anger, dissent, and very existence on this campus have made some, donors or otherwise, within the UIUC community uncomfortable. However, there is nothing comfortable (or civil, for that matter) about Israeli war or occupation. While you pontificated over whether or not some comments made on social media were anti-Semitic, the U.S. sponsored Israeli military systematically murdered thousands of Palestinians. Now our campus has been denied an invaluable scholarly voice to help lead this community in a conversation about why as well as how to stop this from ever happening again.

The firing of Professor Salaita is the Israeli attack on Palestine coming to our campus….


  1. September 3, 2014 at 10:56 pm | #

    An open letter to chancellor Wise and the board of trustees from the Jewish community of UIUC! Please sign and circulate! >

    • Bor September 4, 2014 at 11:30 am | #

      That letter is hysterical.

      • Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant September 4, 2014 at 11:32 am | #

        If by “hysterical” you mean brilliant, trenchant, well reasoned, and factually accurate — then yes it is “hysterical”. We should all be that kind of “hysterical”!

      • bor September 4, 2014 at 2:11 pm | #

        Open a dictionary and your confusion will be alleviated.

        • Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant September 4, 2014 at 2:17 pm | #

          “bor: (BORE) [noun] (1) a hasbarist; (2) someone unable to make a good case for censoring a professor that criticizes Israeli policy; (3) a tiresome person”

          Hey, you’re right! My confusion has been alleviated!!

      • bor September 4, 2014 at 3:06 pm | #

        Thanks for demonstrating the powerful effect what I’ve written has had. In my experience, when the anti-Israelis pull out the “hasbara” word, it’s because they’ve lost the argument.

        Do you need help finding a dictionary?

  2. Elliott Prasse-Freeman September 3, 2014 at 11:22 pm | # is bouncing back undeliverable (for me at least)

  3. Lulu September 3, 2014 at 11:57 pm | #

    Great coverage of this story since it first broke over at Mondoweiss


    Seems Illinois State Government needs a wake-up call (comment by Pixel at MW)

    Can you, me, we help change this?


    Given that this is taking place in Illinois and mucho state tax dollars go to the University, I just called the Office of Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn to ask what the governor was doing to resolve the issue and ensure that Salaita we rehired.

    The young man (in Constituent Affairs) who answered the phone said that he (and the Governor on whose behalf he was speaking), had never heard of it.

    Really. Really?

    Hmmmmm… (The young man said he was googling info. as we spoke.)

    It seems like the Illinois Governor would benefit from a little “higher education” on the issue, right now. Sooooooo, I invite anyone and everyone, whether living in Illinois or not, who cares about this to contact the Governor’s Office. Enlighten him with a short “lesson” and encourage him to create a “lesson plan” for action.

    Pass the word:

    Office of the Illinois Governor
    (Patrick Quinn)
    207 State House
    Springfield, IL 62706
    Phone: 217-782-0244
    TTY: 888-261-3336

    Email (online webform)

    link to”

  4. Michelle Fehsenfeld September 4, 2014 at 12:02 am | #

    The Cultural Studies Association has also released an open letter/statement. So that brings the total number to 7. Here is a link to the statement:

  5. P.M.Lawrence September 4, 2014 at 12:36 am | #

    But that “He has plundered our seas … totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation” is evidence against your position, since the author of those was both wrong as to the facts and in what he was seeking to achieve by putting that statement out. Just as he was engaging in rhetorical trickery, using that against people who benefit from the continuing effects of that author’s wrongful achievements is itself rhetorical trickery, since they would be hard put to it to point out that the original of your quotation was both wrongful and inaccurate.

  6. Mark LeVine September 4, 2014 at 1:08 am | #

    it seems no more than 10 of the signers of that letter supporting wise are professors. all the rest are administrators or mostly donors. and all the professors are in the hard sciences it seems…

  7. Bill Strutz September 4, 2014 at 4:28 am | #

    “Loath” to take, rather than “loathe” to take. In this special sense of the word “loath,” I would even be tempted to go back to the somewhat more antique form, “loth.” (Quick! Somebody call in the English Department and tell them that it’s an emergency!)

  8. Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant September 4, 2014 at 9:31 am | #

    From the Statement of UIUC’s Jewish Community on campus: “The firing of Professor Salaita is the Israeli attack on Palestine coming to our campus.”



    You guys ROCK!!!

    If the readers of this post have not read it — FOR GOD’S SAKE DO SO!

    • Sam September 22, 2014 at 10:18 am | #

      Please help us re-circulate! The letter is now open for signatures from Jewish people anywhere. You can click the same link in the original article. The following addendum has been added to the letter:

      **Addendum added 9/20/2014, after the 102nd signature**

      Given the recent decision on September 11th of the Board of Trustees not to approve Professor Salaita’s hire, and given the continued effort to control the conversation over Israel and Palestine by wielding accusations of anti-Semitism, we are now expanding the original message of this letter. We are also adding President Robert Easter to our list of recipients (see the recent news of his direct involvement in the firing of Professor Salaita: The implications of the board’s decision reach far beyond the UIUC campus into a larger context of corrupt U.S. academic institutional support for Israel. Therefore, we invite all Jews who agree with the original spirit of this letter to sign below. We invite all Jews to stand with us in our continued opposition to the administration’s claim that it’s actions protect us. We invite all Jews to join us in our continued pledge to ensure that others do not conflate Judaism and Zionism or anti-Semitism with critique of the Israeli state. We invite all Jews to organize with us in support of our Professor Steven Salaita.

  9. Will G-R September 4, 2014 at 2:50 pm | #

    The paragraph of the Jewish faculty/student/alum/etc. statement that begins with “Your decision to fire Professor Salaita is in fact what threatens us as Jews” doesn’t go nearly far enough. The notion that individual Jews bear a responsibility to identify with the Israeli state, and to identify criticism of the Israeli state as criticism of themselves, is itself anti-Semitism on a far more profound level than anything of which Salaita stands accused. In today’s world we generally accept that it was, is, and would be illegitimate (and indeed a marker of bigotry) to hold all people of German/Japanese/Russian/etc. descent and heritage innately responsible for the actions of the German/Japanese/Russian/etc. state. Why should Jews out of all other peoples be considered responsible, regardless of any individual political commitments, for the actions of a particular nation-state that claims to be committing atrocities in their name?

    The equivalent situation would be someone trying to resist anti-Japanese bigotry after Pearl Harbor, not by arguing that Japanese-Americans shouldn’t be held accountable for the actions of the Japanese state, but by arguing that there is in fact an innate connection between Japanese-Americans and the Japanese state and that we should therefore refrain from criticizing the Japanese state altogether. Regardless of any claims by Japanese state that it acts on behalf of Japanese-Americans in attacking the US state, taking it at its word rather than acknowledging the individual political commitments of Japanese-Americans is racism plain and simple.

    • Will G-R September 4, 2014 at 2:52 pm | #

      (Ironically enough, BTW, this is exactly the point that Salaita in his most controversial and oft-misquoted Tweet was actually trying to make.)

  10. David Green September 4, 2014 at 3:44 pm | #

    These 138 individuals who signed the ad in the paper on Sunday are largely well-known as the local movers and shakers of our fair community in CU. Bankers, lawyers, landlords, developers, etc. Boosterism runs wild around here, and it’s obviously not of an innocent nature.

  11. Neil Schipper September 4, 2014 at 4:59 pm | #

    Both of the following can be simultaneously true:

    1. UIUC’s Salaita decision was executed and timed badly and with poor justification.

    2. That Salaita is thought to be a meritorious scholar and polemicist by peers in the academy is evidence of advancing idiocracy, civilizational decline and the flight from reason, all of which foretells enormous pain for many, many dwellers of this planet.

  12. David Ross September 9, 2014 at 7:17 pm | #

    I don’t in any way support Chancellor Wise’s actions (which I think have seriously damaged a university I visit often and love), but isn’t it a little obnoxious to single out university supporters for expressing their opinions in this way? I’m a professor at a state university as well as a frequent donor to both my own campus and the ones where I was a student, I’d be very upset if these facts were highlighted on a document being circulated as if they were bad things.

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