Steven Salaita broke his silence today for the first time since administrators at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) fired him from a tenured position in the American Indian Studies program more than a month ago.
He reaffirmed his commitment to teaching and called on the university to reinstate him. The video above shows the full press conference.
“I am here today at the University of Illinois to speak against my termination by the administration from a tenured faculty position because of the university administration’s objections to my speech that was critical of recent Israeli human rights violations,” Salaita said.
Salaita spoke before a packed hall at the University YMCA in Urbana, Illinois following a student walk-out demanding his reinstatement.
“The administration’s actions have caused me and my family great hardship,” Salaita added. “Even worse, the administration’s actions threaten principles of free speech, academic freedom and critical thought that should be the foundation of any university.”
Due to university administrators’ arbitrary decision, “my family has no income, no health insurance and no home of our own. Our young son has been left without a preschool. I have lost the great achievement of a scholarly career – lifetime tenure, with its promised protections of academic freedom,” Salaita said.
His full statement is available from the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Salaita had resigned from a tenured position at Virginia Tech and had been scheduled to begin teaching at UIUC in August, before UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise abruptly informed him that she had decided, with no consultation with faculty, not to forward his appointment to the board of trustees for what is typically rubber-stamp approval.
“I am here to reaffirm my commitment to teaching and to a position with the American Indian Studies program at UIUC,” Salaita said. “I reiterate the demand that the university recognize the importance of respecting the faculty’s hiring decision and reinstate me.”
“The university has violated the Constitution by terminating Professor Salaita’s appointment based on the content of his speech,” Maria LaHood, senior attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, told the gathering, according to a CCR press release. “It has also sent a chilling message to faculty and students everywhere that the First Amendment and basic principles of academic freedom will be ignored when it comes to speech that is controversial or critical of the Israeli government.”
Salaita is represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Anand Swaminathan of Loevy & Loevy in Chicago. Swaminathan said that Salaita was asking the university to reinstate him and hoped for that to happen in an amicable way, but was ready to go to court to pursue his rights if necessary.
Swaminathan said that litigation, if it proved necessary, would allow Salaita to question university officials on their roles in the affair and to seek discovery of university documents. He added that if indeed Salaita’s removal had nothing to do with the views of “certain wealthy donors,” then there should be nothing preventing Salaita’s reinstatement from going forward.
“Having watched this disaster unfold over the course of more than a month from up close, I am overjoyed that people now have the opportunity to hear the human and passionate voice of Steven Salaita, the scholar and man I have admired for many years,” said Professor Robert Warrior, director of the university’s American Indian Studies program, according to CCR.
Other speakers included Michael Rothberg, head of the English Department at UIUC, on behalf of the Modern Language Association and UIUC graduate students Eman Ghanayem and Rico Kleinstein Chenyek.
The mobilizations and expressions of support for Salaita’s reinstatement are expected to continue in the run-up to a meeting of the University of Illinois board of trustees in Urbana this Thursday.