Students at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign sit in a hallway outside a board of trustees meeting, 22 August, to demand reinstatement of Steven Salaita.(Rico Kleinstein Chenyek)
On Friday, students took their protest against the firing of Steven Salaita directly to the board of trustees of the University of Illinois.
The students are demanding the “immediate reinstatement” of Salaita, who was fired by university administrators from a tenured position in the American Indian Studies Program at the university’s Urbana-Champaign campus, following a media campaign targeting him because of his criticism of Israel.
Students are planning another action on Tuesday.
With mounting outrage at the firing of Salaita and a rapidly snowballing national and international boycott of UIUC, supporters have set up a website (supportstevensalaita.com) to provide information about Salaita’s case, offer links to relevant articles, suggest actions and to raise money for his defense.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Chancellor Phyllis Wise yesterday claimed she fired Salaita for a lack of “civility,” a vague standard invoked to censor other critics of Israel in the past.
Faculty vote “no confidence” in chancellor
Meanwhile, the American Indian Studies Program faculty have cast a vote of no confidence in Wise.
“Our sentiment is based on Wise’s decision to effectively fire Prof. Steven Salaita, whose de facto hire had been properly vetted by the unit and approved by the college through standard academic procedures,” says a statement on the program’s website.
The statement adds that the faculty believe Wise’s decision “was in fact made in response to external pressures that sought to block Prof. Salaita’s hire, coupled with her objection over the content and tone of his personal and political tweets over the subject of Israeli bombing of Palestine.”
“With this vote of no confidence, the faculty of UIUC’s American Indian Studies program also joins the thousands of scholars and organizations in the United States and across the world in seeing the Chancellor’s action as a violation of academic freedom and freedom of speech,” the statement adds.
As the university board of trustees’ executive committee met on Friday afternoon, the students first entered the room and demanded to be heard.
The students were then required to leave as the meeting went into closed session. They staged a sit-in in the hallway outside the meeting room hoping to encounter participants as they left.
However, the participants in the meeting apparently used a private exit to leave the meeting room, not passing through the same hallway.
Nonetheless the students entered the meeting room and made this video of them reading their demands:
Their full statement, posted on Facebook, includes the following calls:
The immediate reinstatement of Dr. Salaita as a tenured faculty member in the Department of American Indian Studies.
Full and fair compensation to Dr. Salaita for time missed during which he would otherwise have been working.
Immediate increased transparency in the faculty hiring process – as a public university, UIUC has the responsibility to make public all intended faculty changes as well as take public comment in regards to any change.
The students also call for specific mechanisms to guarantee more transparent and inclusive governance and oversight and “a full revision of the UIUC Resolution on Diversity Values Statement ensuring that political beliefs are explicitly protected by the university.” They also advocate that “any political statements made by UIUC community members will not in any way be considered grounds for termination, suspension, revocation of offered employment, or any other disciplinary action.”
Rico Kleinstein Chenyek, one of the students who took part in the action, told The Electronic Intifada that the university’s firing of Salaita was another example of the use of “a multiculturalist ‘Inclusive Illinois’ imagined narrative, rather than to promote diversity, to actually regulate diversity and the dissent of minoritized people, and in this particular case, that of Palestinian people.”
In her statement justifying Salaita’s dismissal, Chancellor Phyllis Wise had argued that the move would protect the ability of students to express “diverse ideas.”
Here are additional videos of the students’ action: