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(Wissam Nassar / Maan Images)

Students take demand to rehire Salaita directly to Univ. of Illinois trustees

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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.

Student action

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:

Comments

Academics around the world are watching this case and if students, faculty and the rest of us maintain the fight to the end, university admin will think twice about overriding concerns about academic freedomm for the sake of the Israel lobby. Great work by the students as reported above!

Thanks for the coverage!!

--UIUC students

A properly constituted university board should investigate this matter, if necessary on an ad hoc basis. Professor Salaita and all others including Chancellor Wise should be invited to contribute their testimony and answer relevant questions. The discussions and contacts leading to the chancellor's decision ought to become a part of the public record, and she must defend her action in the light of international academic opposition and the university's own established procedures. In this instance, those procedures have been abrogated and Professor Salaita's employment (as well as constitutional) rights have been violated. It's time to shine a forensic light into the dark corners where Zionism maintains an informal but effective veto in academic matters at US colleges and universities.

It is Wise who should be fired. Salaita has a sound legal case against the university. I hope he gets good attorneys. It is an outrage against academic freedom and should be challenged in court.

students and lecturers should refuse to work with Wise, should conduct a go slow and civil disobedience until she resigns. She works With Corporates like Nike , she is tainted and unfit for the role she is in.

I personally agree with many of the stances taken by Salaita; that said I have a hard time standing behind him on this. http://legalinsurrection.com/2... is one of the more neutral (and earliest) articles I have read on this. From the title you can see they clearly have a bit of a bias towards the notion that the offer of employment being redacted had to do with the merits of his tweets and not the stance.
I can’t begin to speculate on the inner workings of the University so I don’t know if this was political or not. However, based purely on the merits of Salaita’s actions I can see a viable case for the University not bringing him on. As a professor at a well-known institution it would be his duty to encourage learning and scholarly discussion. The tweets he has chosen to post do not, in my opinion, promote an environment for productive discourse but rather incite closed minds towards those who hold different views.
Something such as the current conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip is charged, and I sometimes slip into anger and lose a logical/ pragmatic basis when discussing it. However, I would hope for that to be the difference between me a student and him the professor.
If he taught math or physics, wired lights, cooked at the dining hall, etc., I would still find his rants unbecoming of a professional, but irrelevant to the proper function of his role in the University. However, he teaches a social science and I feel the he has lost my respect as a scholar and maybe others.

The problems with your rationale are first that it comes after the fact and second that it is irrelevant, as your criteria are not the same as the university's or the department that hired him. But the first problem is the main one: you are defining a set of conditions after Salaita was both hired and fired. Your conditions were not the ones he was hired under. And he was fired for conditions that were transparently invented for his special case, in some cases invented after he was fired, and then were into a re-definition of university policy by the Chancellor and trustees, per dictat. None of this is permissible, and all of it can gravely damage our entire educational system, as a tactic such as this that succeeds is sure to serve as a precedent somewhere else. It might be the lone right-winger in a department who is fired, or the lone left-winger, or the lone woman, or the lone person of color.

I also don' t like the tone of Salaita's tweets, and unlike you, I do not agree with many of his positions. But this is irrelevant to this issue. He was hired by the university as the person he was. After being hired, the university had every right to speak to him if they felt that his postings were harming the educational community or his students. That's an entirely different battle. But the university is not entitled to change the rules on the fly. That harms not just Salaita, but every professor everywhere.

For someone who takes such a vital and consuming interest in academic life, Chancellor Wise manages to find plenty of opportunity to include corporate interests and activities in her busy schedule. She pulls down $300,000 annually from her position on the board of directors of Nike, a company with very dubious employment practices. Nike, by the way, has a substantial contract supplying athletic equipment to the university of which Phyllis Wise is chancellor- an apparent conflict of interest for her. She also sits on the board of directors of First Busey Corporation, a large holding company in the financial services sector, based in Champaign. There may be more such corporate top-ups to her $500,000 university salary and percs, but these came up immediately in a cursory google search. So if there's an issue here about suitable standards for a post, Wise's own financial position ought to be brought into the picture. Anyone who can be bought that many times and then protests that she only has the students' interests at heart has a few questions to answer.

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