How to Honor the Settlement Between UIUC and Steven Salaita

There’s a lot of Friday morning quarterbacking going on about whether Steven Salaita should have accepted his settlement or not. I can’t tell you how distasteful I find this conversation: people who never bore the sacrifices Steven has borne—and who, as far as I can tell, would never bear those sacrifices—are now lecturing him to play the part of the sacrificial lamb, to essentially do the work that they have not done so that they can continue not doing the work that they have not done. Such calls strain the bounds of political decency.

I was going to issue a pissy edict, something along the lines of: Before you criticize Steven Salaita for not being the martyr you want him to be, get yourself on a search committee—if you’re an academic, particularly an academic in a literature department—and hire him. You’ll kill two birds with one stone: maybe you’ll get him a job, and if you do, you’ll get to experience a small portion of the hurricane that he and has family (and the American Indian Studies Department at UIUC) have suffered through this past year.

But that’s just me being emotional.

Luckily, Lida Maxwell, a political theorist at Trinity who always seems to have the right words for the right occasion, had this to say on my Facebook wall:

When Dreyfus was granted a pardon by the French President in 1899, he had to admit guilt in order to be set free. Many Dreyfusards criticized him, but Emile Zola wrote in an open letter to Alfred’s wife, Lucie, “No matter how much I as a citizen may be in mourning, no matter how much painful indignation, how much rebellion and anxiety just souls may continue to feel, I share with you this exquisite, tearful moment when you hold the resurrected man in your arms. He has been raised from the dead! He has emerged from the tomb, live and free. Surely this is a great day, a day of victory and celebration.” In other words, we should be upset as citizens about a wrong that has not been fully righted, but we should also recognize that one individual (or one family) alone should not bear the burden of the fact that the wrong has not been righted.



  1. eschwitz November 13, 2015 at 3:17 pm | #
    • eschwitz November 13, 2015 at 3:18 pm | #

      Since the title isn’t previewing: Statement of Academics on the Settlement of Professor Steven Salaita’s Lawsuit Against the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

  2. J. Otto Pohl November 13, 2015 at 4:10 pm | #

    I definitely believe that Salaita did the right thing in taking a cash settlement that is including the $275,000 for expenses around 100 times my annual salary.

  3. Roquentin November 13, 2015 at 4:43 pm | #

    I bit my tongue yesterday because I’m not an academic and it wouldn’t be my place to say even if I was, but the deal doesn’t sound all that bad. He gets a few years salary and can do whatever he likes with his time. It could be a lot worse. Academia on the whole will suffer a little, because this sets legal precedence for buying off professors with controversial ideas. Still, I would have taken it if I were him. There’s that old adage about there being “no such thing as bad publicity.” In the end, the scandal could do a lot for his career as an academic through pure name recognition, provided he can find an institution which isn’t frightened to hire him.

  4. jonnybutter November 13, 2015 at 5:51 pm | #

    I would have taken it if I were him.

    It’s not about whether we think it’s a good deal for him or not. It’s his business and can only *be* his business. We can’t know anything germane to this about his life, and there’s no reason we should know.

    When I read this post, I found it hard to believe there were actually people who would presume to make a decision for Salaita. Then I went back and read the thread in the previous post, and there was one there. I’m glad sometimes that I lead a sheltered life: luckily, I haven’t come across the others. I really don’t want to, either. Ick.

    What I find almost as disturbing as the idea that others would presume to decide for him, is the idea floating around that this is a publicity stunt, whether it started out that way or not, and that all this will redound to his favor in the end, etc. That is just so wrong headed. I mean, I hope it *does* redound to his favor somehow, but, a.) it’s much less likely that those of you must think, and b.) this is not the world of celebrity and all that bullshit. Salaita was screwed over, and big time. That fact that this could happen, that his career could be shattered, because he expressed some common humanity, as a private citizen – should disturb the hell out of everybody. How he deals with his stolen career and his life is strictly his business.

  5. jonnybutter November 13, 2015 at 5:59 pm | #

    Let me just add that I am not singling out Roquentin here – he at least qualifies it with the acknowledgment that SS may have trouble getting hired.

    I’m thinking more about a comment in the last thread – actually concern trolling, I’d say – and I’ve see others. It’s kind of the Trump Effect: ‘Why should I cry over some guy losing his tenure?! Boo frikin’ hoo! I’m an adjunct and I can’t afford to get my teeth cleaned! I can’t afford to *have* a family!’ I saw someone else, on Twitter, hate on Salaita for even *accepting* tenure anywhere (including VA Tech).

    Just wow.

  6. Roqeuntin November 14, 2015 at 1:26 am | #

    I just want to clarify a couple of things. I don’t resent Salatia for a second. He deserves every penny of that money. He got fucked over by UIUC. I say that without any reservations. I don’t presume to tell him what to do either, much less judge him for it. I’m just saying I don’t fault him for taking the cash and admitting I’d probably have done the same. Nothing more and nothing less.

  7. Roqeuntin November 14, 2015 at 1:36 am | #

    One more thing, I don’t mean to make light of how hard it would be for an academic to get hired after openly supporting Palestine/opposing Israel. I almost mentioned Norman Finkelstein in that first post. He never really recovered from that push to deny him tenure. I sympathize. I really do.

  8. Andrew November 14, 2015 at 7:46 am | #

    I guess I kind of fall into the Friday quarterback group, though I never had anything but respect and compassion for Steven. I know how terrible the academic job market is normally; I can only imagine how hellish it must be when you’re the target of such a vicious smear campaign.

    I can only speak for myself (though I suspect my sentiments are common) but the dismay and sadness I felt on hearing the news was due to two main things: 1) this is a crappy deal; he deserved much better. 600k is no replacement for a lifetime appointment at an R1 institute and the fact that his court case seemed to be going so well only makes it feel all the more bitter. And 2) it kind of broke that very American myth that a wronged person with justice on his side and enough determination can overcome well-entrenched and seemingly undefeatable injustice. Of course in the real world, the house almost always wins. UIUC fought the lawsuit from a position of power; UIUC administration and their lawyers weren’t facing the prospect of unemployment, unpaid bills and years of professional uncertainty while the court case drags out. The Salaita family didn’t have that luxury and if any of us were to be targeted by the neo-McCarthyites, neither would we.

  9. UIUC Islander November 14, 2015 at 8:09 am | #

    Please consider following this post with some details of what UIUC academics inside and outside of the AIS program have endured during the boycott and Censure. Please talk about the brain drain of people of color from our campus. Please talk about the graduate students with minimal access to visiting academics during the boycott. Since Dr. Salaita’s settlement has been reached, please help the amazing staff, professors and students who have supported the fight to regain academic freedom and faculty-driven hiring decisions repair the damage done through guilty-by-association views of UIUC throughout this process. Please consider talking about how people stood up after they took jobs or accepted admission and then found themselves in their first year or semester steeped in a battle at an institution that was suddenly an academic island. Please talk about the things those amazing academics have done on campus to create lecture series, talks and seminars to continue to engage these questions of justice and support one another on our island during the drought of visitors.

    I’m relieved to see that the Salaita family can now move on to rebuild. They suffered specifically and horribly because of the UIUC administration’s actions. Everyone who stood up to fight from within UIUC needs support for continuing the incomplete process that the injustices they endured exposed on this campus. Please talk about the fact that the Administration is now implementing background checks for new hires. Please highlight the ways the administration has advanced their cause of eliminating academic freedom while drawing the battle with Dr. Salaita to a close.

    Writing from the island.

  10. George Munchus November 14, 2015 at 5:28 pm | #

    So what is the outcome?
    I have not seen anything in the Chronicle yet?

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