More News on the Salaita Case

1. Thirty-four heads of departments and academic units at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign wrote a scorching letter to the University of Illinois’s new president. With some startling information about the effect the boycott is having on the University:

More than three-dozen scheduled talks and multiple conferences across a variety of disciplines – including, for example, this year’s entire colloquium series in the Department of Philosophy – have already been canceled, and more continue to be canceled, as outside speakers have withdrawn in response to the university’s handling of Dr. Salaita’s case. The Department of English decided to postpone a program review originally scheduled for spring 2015 in anticipation of being unable to find qualified external examiners willing to come to campus. Tenure and promotion cases may be affected as faculty at peer institutions consider extending the boycott to recommendation letters.

Most troubling of all, the ability of many departments to successfully conduct faculty searches, especially at the senior level, has been seriously jeopardized. While the possible negative effects on even junior searches remain to be seen, the Department of History has already abandoned a previously authorized senior search in U.S. history this year in recognition of the bleak prospects of attracting suitable applicants in the current climate. An open rank search in Philosophy attracted 80% fewer applicants at the rank of associate or full professor than a senior search in the same area of specialization just last year.

I had no idea about these canceled or crippled searches and the postponement of a program review. That is a major development, as anyone who’s ever been part of a search or program review knows, and it shows just how pervasive the opposition to the university’s handling of the case has been—or, if not outright opposition, how corrosive to the university’s reputation the case has been. What’s more, that sense of the university’s contamination shows no signs of letting up. If anything, it’s getting worse.

2. That 34 heads of departments and units are now signed on in opposition to the university’s handling of the case is also a big development. Back in the summer, it seemed as if we were hovering at about 15 or so departments. Clearly, far from diminishing, the controversy on campus has only expanded.

What’s even more amazing is where it has expanded: three of the signatories are chairs of the departments of chemistry, math, and statistics. The opposition has spilled beyond the walls of the humanities and social sciences. During the summer, lots of folks dismissed this story because the natural sciences weren’t involved. Well, some of them are now. (Cue the naysayers to say that chemistry is really just a branch of the English department.)

3. A major newspaper has finally run a lengthy, in-depth profile of Salaita. The profile not only gives him a chance to speak about his case and his opinions in his own words—and to speak at length—but it also gives him space to talk about his academic work. Long before he was a case or a cause, Steven Salaita was an academic, and it’s to this newspaper’s credit that it allows him to talk about that. Oh, the name of that newspaper? Haaretz. As with so many things in the Israel/Palestine debate, you find broader, more open discussion of the issues in Haaretz than you do in an American newspaper.

4. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we hosted Salaita for a great panel discussion with Katherine Franke at Brooklyn College. I moderated. We’ve got a video of the panel.

The video doesn’t show the Q and A. If you want to hear that, you can watch it here. I recommend that you do.

Our audience was diverse in every way—ideology, age, religion, ethnicity, class—and there were a fair number of difficult and contentious questions from pro-Israel members of the audience. Which was all to the good. Critics of the panel, like Michael Rubin at Commentary, can’t seem to fathom that there might be debate at such things (unlike the raucous agora he’s used to from his days at the Pentagon or at the American Enterprise Institute, where he hangs his hat now). But it’s pretty clear that that there is. Despite my agreements with Salaita and Franke, I pressed him on his tweets, and her on the question of civility, for example. And some in the audience were even harder on them. The whole thing is a great advertisement for Brooklyn College, if you ask me.

5. And, last, this story from Salaita himself:

After the event at the University of Michigan ended yesterday evening–a million thanks to the organizers–an older gentleman approached me.  He handed me a check with a business card attached by paperclip.  I was confused.  I instinctively told him to please keep his check.  I don’t have anything to do with donations to our legal/living fund (though I promise the fund is legit).  I’m far too uncomfortable accepting money, even in the best of faith.

He cut me off and introduced himself, pointing to the card as further verification of his seriousness.  Its bold header read:  “Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East.”  Beneath the header:  “Larry A. Cooper, President–Board of Directors.”

The check was for a small sum, but its value is infinite.  Mr. Cooper explained to me that he graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and every year since he’s offered a donation to his alma mater.  This year, however, he told the school he wouldn’t be able to contribute anymore and explained why.  His sense was that they’ve heard the same thing from numerous donors.  They put on a full-court press, as fundraising offices do, but he told them that this year he would be giving his annual donation to Steven Salaita.

The notes section at the lower left of the check says:  “’73 UI grad.”

Mr. Cooper, should you happen to read this:  I hope you won’t be angry or disappointed that I can’t bring myself to cash the check.  I’d much rather keep it as a memento of kindness and generosity to provide a smile when less principled humans occupy our ground.


  1. Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant December 5, 2014 at 3:20 pm | #


    In the news tonight, a Long Island atheist finds cause to gives thanks!

    *happy dance performed on the heads of the hasbaristas*

  2. sadbillionaire December 5, 2014 at 3:33 pm | #

    Excellent roundup of some encouraging developments. Wanted to highlight also this excellent piece from The New Yorker:

  3. jonnybutter December 5, 2014 at 3:48 pm | #

    Welcome back!

    So glad to hear that this issue is not going away. So important that Worldly Wisewoman et. al. be on the receiving end of the mother of all backlashes. It’s depressing that they have so little respect for their own institution, and I can’t see that changing; consider how, not just craven and immoral, but stupid their behaviour has been.

    But it can’t be cost-free to them. If this affair had just ended with a whimper, imagine how much worse would be the onslaught of tassled loafer-ism in across the country. Tassled Unbound.

  4. David December 5, 2014 at 4:15 pm | #

    free speech is controlled in the US by those whom it affects, critiques and exposes in direct opposition to the 1st amendment

  5. David Green December 5, 2014 at 4:16 pm | #

    One of the UI students who has helped organize a local JVP chapter mostly as a consequence of the Salaita affair has a nice post on Mondoweiss:

  6. George M Munchus III December 5, 2014 at 6:20 pm | #

    What is the status of the law suit filed by Dr. Salaita as agitation, litigation, and education is as American as apple pie?


    George Munchus,PhD
    Professor of Management
    Faculty Affirmative Action Officer
    School of Business/Graduate School of Management
    University of Alabama at Birmingham
    Business-Engineering Complex
    1150-10th Ave. South
    Birmingham,Alabama 35294
    (205) 934-8895 (phone)

  7. Anthony Burke December 5, 2014 at 8:37 pm | #

    Reblogged this on Global Theory.

  8. yuliy December 5, 2014 at 10:43 pm | #

    What makes you think that the signature of a department chair indicates the position of the department? Or, rather, why do you want your readers to think so (as you certainly know better)?

    Just kidding. We know, why.

    • Corey Robin December 5, 2014 at 11:44 pm | #

      In my experience — and I’m now a department chair — most department chairs are pretty loathe to stake out positions, and sign onto statements as chairs, that are well out in front of their departments. It’s a sure-fire way to getting yourself in hot water with the department. We try to stay within the zone of consensus.

      • yuliy December 6, 2014 at 1:16 am | #

        Perhaps this is so in humanities. I don’t think it’s because the chairs are more cowardly there, but just because the faculty squabble more.

  9. Steve Hohensee December 6, 2014 at 4:48 pm | #

    Q. What happens when you turn state universities over to businessmen?

    A. They cut the budget for teachers, increase the budget for executive offices and hiring new administrators, put all their redneck cronies into admin positions and newly-decorated corner offices, and then fire professors who criticize them or Israel.

    Free markets at work with your tax dollars, follks.


    • J. Otto Pohl December 7, 2014 at 10:02 am | #

      But, criticizing or supporting Israel has nothing really to do with business. It has to do with an ideology, Zionism, that has never really liked liberal capitalism. Its leftwing branch being outright socialist in the 1940s and it rightwing branch being close to European nationalist movements like Italian Fascism. In fact given the much larger population and resources, particularly oil of the Arab states one would expect a for profit globally orientated business to be anti-Israeli. That didn’t happen in the US, but it was not because unrestricted libertarian style capitalism prevailed in the US to convince businesses that there were bigger markets, resources, and opportunities for unrestricted buying and selling in Israel than in the Arab world.

      • Andrew Miller December 7, 2014 at 12:13 pm | #

        “But, criticizing or supporting Israel has nothing really to do with business.”

        Yes, it does. The neoliberal model of education creates close ties between education and the wealthy elite; universities are more and more dependent on wealthy donors and their raison d’être is no longer to create critical thinkers but to produce well-paid professionals ready for the business world. And the business world and the wealthy elite in general in the US are fiercely pro-Israel for a variety of reasons.

        “Its leftwing branch being outright socialist in the 1940s and it rightwing branch being close to European nationalist movements like Italian Fascism”

        This may have been true in the past, but no longer. Most of the right-wing parties, including Likud, are neoliberals. Israel’s safety net is much closer to the US’ than Europe’s; the heavy level of state spending is largely due to the military.

        ” In fact given the much larger population and resources, particularly oil of the Arab states one would expect a for profit globally orientated business to be anti-Israeli.”

        Although most Gulf states will speak ill of Israel in public, in reality, they’re mostly allies with strong economic and military links. Being pro-Israel won’t bar you from doing business in the Arab world(with some exceptions recently with companies like 4G that are heavily invested in israeli apartheid.)

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