Chancellor Wise “Defends” Decision to Fire Salaita {Update}

 

Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign  has just released this statement on the blacklisting of Dr. Steven Salaita for tweeting against Israeli military actions in Gaza. It comes after these preambular comments on this outrage and cruelty toward a faculty member. While she denies this is viewpoint discrimination, the facts are clearly otherwise. We have seen this before. In the Finkelstein case, it was the case of violating Vincentian values in writing books that upset readers and other academics. Here we have a similar accusation based on tweets that Dr. Salaita does not tolerate disparate views. What evidence is there that he is intolerant of different opinions?

As with the Finkelstein tenure travesty, outside groups and individuals pressured a university to destroy a career of an academic due to viewpoint discrimination on the Middle East. This is the state of play in Illinois and elsewhere. It is a state of play that must be resisted in order to preserve a century of tenure in this country and the academic freedom that buttresses it. Without it, we will devolve into an academic community without passion, risk taking and inspiring our students in search of the truth. It is our students whom we serve: not powerful interests that wish to replace the independent professoriate with a consensus ideology to preserve a monolithic narrative none dare challenge!

The chancellor then alleges that students in Dr. Salaita’s classes would be discriminated against or even more libelous, abused:

“A Jewish student, a Palestinian student, or any student of any faith or background must feel confident that personal views can be expressed and that philosophical disagreements with a faculty member can be debated in a civil, thoughtful and mutually respectful manner.”

Illinois AAUP Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, that I chair, was very clear that an institution must not draw inferences about quality of teaching based on extramural utterances. Chancellor Wise has done that in a gratuitous, indefensible manner that is vindictive and discriminatory against those very viewpoints she claims are not being purged from the university. This is an excerpt from Illinois Committee A on the unacceptable linking of extramural utterances with classroom teaching:

[I]n the AAUP 1964 Committee A Statement on Extramural Utterances it states in reference to the 1940 Statement:

[An] administration may file charges in accordance with procedures outlined in the Statement if it feels that a faculty member has failed to observe the above admonitions and believes that the professor’s extramural utterances raise grave doubts concerning the professor’s fitness for continuing service…

Furthermore, there is nothing in the Salaita statements about Israel or Zionism that would raise questions about his fitness to teach. These statements were not made in front of students, are not related to a course that is being taught, and do not reflect in any manner his quality of teaching. What one says out of class rarely, in the absence of peer review of teaching, confirms how one teaches. Passion about a topic even if emotionally expressed through social network does not allow one to draw inferences about teaching that could possibly rise to the voiding or reversal of a job appointment.

One must not conjecture about a link between extramural statements and the quality of classroom teaching, absent an unmistakable link that would raise issues of competence. None exist here. Indeed, we affirm that fitness to teach can be enhanced with conviction, commitment and an engagement with the outside world.

CHANCELLOR WISE’S STATEMENT Received on August 22, 2014

Dear Colleagues: 

As you may be aware, Vice President Christophe Pierre and I wrote to Prof. Steven Salaita on Aug. 1, informing him of the university’s decision not to recommend further action by the Board of Trustees concerning his potential appointment to the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.Since this decision, many of you have expressed your concern about its potential impact on academic freedom. I want to assure you in the strongest possible terms that all of us – my administration, the university administration and I – absolutely are committed to this bedrock principle. I began my career as a scientist challenging accepted ideas and pre-conceived notions, and I have continued during my career to invite and encourage such debates in all aspects of university life.

A pre-eminent university must always be a home for difficult discussions and for the teaching of diverse ideas. One of our core missions is to welcome and encourage differing perspectives. Robust – and even intense and provocative – debate and disagreement are deeply valued and critical to the success of our university.

As a university community, we also are committed to creating a welcoming environment for faculty and students alike to explore the most difficult, contentious and complex issues facing our society today. Our Inclusive Illinois initiative is based on the premise that education is a process that starts with our collective willingness to search for answers together – learning from each other in a respectful way that supports a diversity of worldviews, histories and cultural knowledge.

The decision regarding Prof. Salaita was not influenced in any way by his positions on the conflict in the Middle East nor his criticism of Israel. Our university is home to a wide diversity of opinions on issues of politics and foreign policy. Some of our faculty are critical of Israel, while others are strong supporters. These debates make us stronger as an institution and force advocates of all viewpoints to confront the arguments and perspectives offered by others. We are a university built on precisely this type of dialogue, discourse and debate.

 

What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them. We have a particular duty to our students to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals.

As chancellor, it is my responsibility to ensure that all perspectives are welcome and that our discourse, regardless of subject matter or viewpoint, allows new concepts and differing points of view to be discussed in and outside the classroom in a scholarly, civil and productive manner.

 

A Jewish student, a Palestinian student, or any student of any faith or background must feel confident that personal views can be expressed and that philosophical disagreements with a faculty member can be debated in a civil, thoughtful and mutually respectful manner. Most important, every student must know that every instructor recognizes and values that student as a human being. If we have lost that, we have lost much more than our standing as a world-class institution of higher education.

As a member of the faculty, I firmly believe that a tenured faculty position at the University of Illinois is a tremendous honor and a unique privilege. Tenure also brings with it a heavy responsibility to continue the traditions of scholarship and civility upon which our university is built.

 

I am committed to working closely with you to identify how the campus administration can support our collective duty to inspire and facilitate thoughtful consideration of diverse opinions and discourse on challenging issues.

 

Sincerely,

Phyllis M. Wise
Chancellor

contact: kirstein@sxu.edu  I chair the American Association of University Professors Illinois Conference Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure that issued the first comprehensive statement on this matter.

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