Steven Salaita Update

Credit: Jeffrey Putney

Credit: Jeffrey Putney

Protests, Press Conference and Board of Trustees meeting at UIUC This Week

The saga at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) over the revocation of Steven Salaita’s tenure appointment because of his tweets on Gaza continues this week.  The pressure remains high on the university, but last week, all indications were that the Chancellor and the Board were digging their heels even further into the heart of faculty speech rights. This week promises to be an interesting one, as students organize a walk-out on Tuesday, September 9, in protest of the Salaita affair.  The walk-out will conclude with a press conference featuring Salaita himself, in his first public comments since the story broke in early August.  Also speaking at the press conference will be Salaita’s legal representatives, including from the Center for Constitutional Rights, along with Professors and students who are organizing to support him.  See CCR's media advisory here.

Faculty and students are also organizing to have a presence at the Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday, September 11, where they expect Salaita’s case to be discussed.

There have been several developments in the last couple of weeks as well.  Over 5,000 UIUC scholars in at least fourteen academic departments have taken votes of no confidence in UIUC’s Chancellor Wise, and over a dozen academics have canceled their planned appearances at UIUC as part of a boycott by thousands of academicsColumbia Law Professor Katherine Franke wrote a letter explaining her decision to cancel a planned engagement at UIUC this month, and instead participate in an off-campus forum to talk about the academic freedom issues that this case raises.

A number of pieces were published in the local and national media, and elsewhere online about the case as well.  On September 2nd, the local News Gazette released nearly 300 pages of documents showing the extent of pressure placed on the university about Salaita’s appointment by high-level donors.  On September 7, the News Gazette also published a profile of Salaita, providing a more intimate view of Steven than the attacks on him have allowed.  University of Chicago Law Professor Brian Leiter provided an important legal analysis of the case in the Huffington Post College Blog, and on the Chicago Tonight show, concluding that UIUC has without question violated Salaita’s First Amendment rights, and is in legal hot water in this case.

In a post Monday, Ali Abunimah connected the growing call for “civility” by university administrators when it comes to expressing views supportive of Palestinian rights to Israel advocacy groups’ push to use “civility” as a tactic to silence Palestinian rights activism on campuses.  He compared the civility justification used by the administration in the Salaita case with other examples, including the recent denunciation by the President of Ohio State University of the student senate president who, rather than taking the “ice bucket” challenge, took the “rubble bucket” challenge to highlight what Palestinians are going through.  PSLS has documented many other similar cases in which universities have tried to repress student activism on Palestinian rights by calling for "civility." For example Northeastern University required Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) to write a "civility statement" as punishment for organizing a walk-out of an Israeli soldier speaking event. The Chancellor at the University of California Los Angeles recently couched a statement condemning SJP's activities in similar terms with the title "The Importance of Civil Discourse."

For other recent updates, follow CUNY Political Science professor Corey Robin’s regular blogs on the Salaita case, which provide new information on faculty opposition to UIUC’s actions, on the university’s inept bungling of and contradictory statements about the case, and the scope of the procedural violations that are at issue.

See PSLS, CCR and other letters to Chancellor Wise and the Board of Trustees here.

See CCR’s Salaita Case Page here.