Professors from within the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have called on the college to rescind its firing of Steven Salaita over the academic’s Palestine solidarity activities.
As reported previously on The Electronic Intifada, revelations from various sources have strongly suggested that the University of Illinois was lobbied by Zionist groups opposed to Salaita’s hiring as an associate professor in the Department of American Indian Studies. The sacking was condemned in an open letter by senior professors from around North America, and by the American Association of University Professors.
Now, in a statement sent to members and posted as a PDF file on its website, the executive committee for the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (CSAMES) at the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign has spelled out its opposition to its own management’s actions.
The statement — which is reproduced in full below — makes it clear that Salaita’s new department was not consulted on his firing, and calls the move “a breach of the principles of shared governance and academic freedom.” It warns of:
instances on our campus and elsewhere in which ardent supporters of Israel have engaged in malicious and unethical actions in order to suppress criticism of Israel and public revelation of the realities of its policies in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank, policies that violate international law and outrage moral conscience.
The statement then adds that “The University of Illinois must resist political pressures to silence voices of legitimate outrage” and warns of the potential repercussions for the academic life of the university of being seen to have taken a political decision on hiring and firing staff.
An email message accompanying the statement, addressed to “faculty, friends and students of CSAMES” and signed by the center’s director, Valerie Hoffman, read:
You have probably all heard about Chancellor [Phyllis] Wise’s decision to cancel the contract of Dr. Steven Salaita, who was to join the Department of American Indian Studies as an associate professor this month. A number of faculty members affiliated with CSAMES have protested this decision, as has the Illinois branch of the American Association of University Professors. CSAMES’ executive committee, which consists of four members elected by our affiliated faculty (two representing the Middle Eastern studies and two representing South Asian studies), has decided to issue a statement on the matter.
The statement in full:
Statement by the executive committee of the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies on the firing of Dr. Steven Salaita
We are dismayed and disturbed over the unilateral revocation of Steven Salaita’s contract by the university administration, without consulting the Department of American Indian Studies, in which he was to be appointed, apparently on the basis of his open opposition to Israel’s military onslaught against the civilian population in the besieged Palestinian Gaza Strip. This action is a breach of the principles of shared governance and academic freedom, and its implications are alarming. Irrespective of one’s position on the conflict between Israel and Gaza, it is essential to affirm academic freedom as the cornerstone of our scholarly vocation, without which true critical inquiry ceases to exist. We are deeply concerned about what such decisions will do to free and frank scholarship on the Middle East on our campus in these critical times.
Political views and comments expressed as a private citizen have nothing to do with one’s competence and qualifications as a scholar. There is nothing anti-Semitic in Dr. Salaita’s comments on Twitter; the targets of his criticisms are Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, the illegal and unethical assault on Gaza, and those who support it. There have been instances on our campus and elsewhere in which ardent supporters of Israel have engaged in malicious and unethical actions in order to suppress criticism of Israel and public revelation of the realities of its policies in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank, policies that violate international law and outrage moral conscience. The University of Illinois must resist political pressures to silence voices of legitimate outrage.
The firing of Steven Salaita has aroused indignation among academics around the world. At least one senior scholar considered cancelling plans to visit our campus, lest that visit be construed as an endorsement of the university, and specifically of the firing of Dr. Salaita. This indicates the potential repercussions of the university’s action for its standing among academics worldwide. For upper administration to rescind an offer that had been approved by an academic unit and college sends a clear message: that the chancellor’s office is willing exert its power to suppress work valued by expert faculty. This administrative oversight of opinion cannot but have a chilling effect, sending a clear message that professional recognition on this campus is contingent upon the expression of permissible thought. It is also in direct opposition to the administration’s frequent proclamations that diversity is a major value informing campus policy.
We call on the university to take the ethical and courageous stance of affirming the principles of academic freedom and shared governance by honorably reinstating Professor Salaita as associate professor in the Department of American Indian Studies, ensuring that the key principle in recruiting for our wonderful campus is not political views but academic qualifications.