No deal with professor fired for Israel views is on Univ. of Illinois trustees’ table

Steven Salaita

A Monday meeting of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees did not consider any settlement proposal regarding the case of Steven Salaita and was not prompted by any discussions Salaita or his lawyers are part of, The Electronic Intifada has learned.

Salaita was fired by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) earlier this month, weeks before he was due to start teaching in a tenured position in the American Indian Studies Program.

Neither the university nor Salaita has commented publicly.

Trustees meeting

Last week, the university announced a meeting of the executive committee of its Board of Trustees for Monday, “on the call of the chair.”

The official agenda stated that in “closed session, the executive committee will consider university employment or appointment-related matters, and pending, probable, or imminent litigation against, affecting, or on behalf of the university.”

While the agenda does not mention Salaita by name, the unusual meeting gave rise to speculation that the trustees might be considering a settlement with Salaita.

However two sources familiar with the case separately confirmed that there has been no discussion of a settlement and no proposal of a settlement from either the university or from Salaita.

Both sources asked not to be identified as neither is authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

“There are a number of issues being discussed,” university President Robert Easter told central Illinois newspaper The News-Gazette after the Monday meeting, but, he added, the trustees are “not at a place where I can say” if resolution is close.

He declined to talk further because it was a closed session about personnel, the newspaper said.

Monday’s meeting included Easter, Christopher Kennedy, the Board of Trustees’ chairperson, and trustees Pam Strobel and Ed McMillan, university lawyers, UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise and Ilesanmi Adesida, the university’s provost. Two other trustees also participated.

“No action was taken,” The News-Gazette reported.

The university announced on Wednesday another executive committee meeting for tomorrow Friday, but the official agenda does not provide any detail about its purpose.

Records show that it is rare for two executive committee sessions to be held in such quick succession. The next regular meeting of the whole board is scheduled for 11 September.

University identified Salaita as “employee”

While defenders of the university contend that Salaita was never hired, but only had a job offer “revoked,” it has been noted that the university publicly identified Salaita as both a member of faculty and an employee.

In July, when Salaita was facing right-wing media criticism for tweets condemning Israel’s ongoing massacre in Gaza, the university initially defended him.

Its spokesperson told media (emphasis added): “Faculty have a wide range of scholarly and political views, and we recognize the freedom-of-speech rights of all of our employees.”

Growing campaign

While the university has remained tight-lipped, its firing of Salaita continues to draw growing condemnation and a snowballing boycott.

As Corey Robin reports, more than 2,400 scholars have now publicly pledged not to engage with UIUC until the decision to fire Salaita over his views is rescinded.

The American Studies Association executive committee added its voice with a statement declaring that the “university’s actions constitute a clear violation of the principles of academic freedom, contravene the university’s self-proclaimed valuing of diversity, and suggest an intolerable anti-Arab bias.”

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Please join our twitter campaign to publicize the unethical action of UIUC to fire prof. Salaita, and to exert influence on involved people, in order to reinstate Prof. Salaita.
We have identified targets for the campaign including: UIUC Alumini assoc., various UIUC HR, organizations & management, Local TV/media personnel, local politicians, etc.
Here is how you can participate:
- Go to Twitter account: @TalebHekmeh
- For every tweet on this subject, either Retweet, or Quote/retweet, or Favorite.
This will re-send the message to target recipients.

It is simple & powerful.
Thank you.

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Is there a way to set up an Academic Freedom Escrow Account to address this issue nationally, locally, and vocally at the same time?

Every school competes with a favorite rival. Donations for a stated reform could be posted on the internet and a year's worth of contributions awarded publicly to whichever one of the two colleges excelled in the designated category that year, perhaps just before Commencement.

Donors could direct money to a specific case or to a particular issue such as medical insurance for Adjuncts' families in our "Land of the Free": Many colleges are associated with medical schools.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.