In an 8-to-1 vote, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign board of trustees voted Thursday not to reinstate Professor Steven Salaita in the American Indian Studies department, reports the Chicago Tribune. Salaita had appealed to the university for reinstatement in a press conference on Wednesday.
Salaita, a Palestinian-American scholar of colonialism, had been invited to join the department in October 2013. After his controversial anti-Israel tweets during the Gaza offensive brought pressure on the board, they rescinded the offer in August of this year. Meanwhile, he had given up a tenured postion at Virginia Tech to take the job in Illinois. Salaita’s attorneys have said they would pursue legal action against UIUC if he were not reinstated, in spite of the board’s offer of a financial settlement.
The board’s announcement to deny his appeal was met by protesters outside the meeting with shouts of “Shame on you.”
“I am disappointed in the majority of the trustees and the action they took today,” said Salaita in a press statement released after the vote. “I have offered to meet with both the board and the administration, but not one of them has spoken with me or ever heard my side of the story. They have no reason to doubt the high standard I have always maintained in the classroom. As I said in a less-notorious tweet, ‘I refuse to conceptualize #Israel/#Palestine as Jewish-Arab acrimony. I am in solidarity with many Jews and in disagreement with many Arabs.’ If they had cared to learn, they would have seen this and other tweets reflecting a similar sentiment. Given the board’s vote, I am speaking with my attorneys about my options.”
Maria LaHood, senior attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is representing him, said in a press release, “The board’s vote to terminate Prof. Salaita violates both the Constitution and his rights under contract law. Their failure to rectify the university’s actions today and reinstate Prof. Salaita is more than a personal hardship for him; it is a blow to principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech that will have far-reaching consequences for the future of scholarship and the First Amendment. Worst of all, it means that these principles … can be trumped by the whims of wealthy donors.”
LaHood was referring to speculation that the UIUC board was pressured by wealthy donors critical of Salaita’s anti-Israel position to rescind their offer.
According to the Tribune, board Chairman Christopher Kennedy -- a son of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy -- stated after the announcement that the university would not reinstate Salaita saying, “I assume the attorneys will reach out and work something out or understand their position more clearly. We are not looking to be held up. We want to be fair but we don’t want to be pushovers. Either they will sue or we will settle. It is hard to predict what another party will do."
Although support for Salaita was not unanimous, a considerable segment of the academic community has been on his side, including the Society of American Law Teachers, the Modern Language Association, the American Association of University Professors and the American Studies Association, who have come out against the university’s actions. Some scholars who had planned lectures at UIUC have canceled them, and a national conference that was set to take place at the university was canceled.