Piling On: Wise Firing of Salaita Backed by Administration {Updated}

I think it reasonable to assume that the August 1 letter of dismissal that University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Phyllis Wise and Christophe Pierre, Vice President for Academic Affairs, sent to Steven Salaita was vetted by the executive committee of the board of trustees, the president or some significant third parties. It is almost certain that Chancellor Wise’s firing of Steven Salaita for tweets during the time of significant civilian casualties in Gaza, was not a unilateral decision but was either mandated by or was in consultation with senior administrators and board members.

Note the dismissal letter contained no explanation for the refusal to submit the appointment to the Board of Trustees. I presume that Professor Salaita has yet to be notified why he was fired. Press releases and mass e-mails do not constitute a professional and legitimate notification to an academician why dismissal and the violation of one’s continuous tenure were effectuated. Honourable administrators directly communicate to professors the reasons why a reversal of a job offer, however illegal or misbegotten, is taken.

It is revelatory that the purpose of this statement is to support Chancellor Wise and buttress her declining reputation as chancellor, despite her assault on the basic premises of the tenure system and academic freedom. It is clear their letter, with not one dissenter, is defencive in nature–a circling of the wagons, as it were, to defend their collective authority to engage in viewpoint cleansing at the University of Illinois campus. It is obvious this was a staged, choreographed roll out of oppression.

First arrived the chancellor’s letter to the faculty, then the follow-on letter from the president, board chair and other viewpoint-cleansing collaborators. Their claim that they are the great defenders of students rings hollow since students are also victimized. The purpose of higher education is the search for the truth. If the truth is defined through heavy handed, brutal administrative diktat, then students will receive an education shorn of critical thinking, much less exposure to antiwar protest of civilian bombardment in one of the world’s most significant areas: the Middle East.

In this specific case, students are denied a pedagogy that apparently outside pressure groups and Israel-lobby partisans were determined to suppress. Other victims are colleagues in the American Indian Studies Program who exercised due diligence in conducting a national search and submitting the appointment recommendation to the administration. They have courageously voted no confidence in the chancellor’s capacity to carry out her duties. Additional casualties of viewpoint cleansing are the tenure system, academic freedom and, in particular, American Association of University Professors (AAUP) guidelines that UIUC claims as its basic principles. So they say. Actions speak louder than printed statements in statutes and enclosures of iconic AAUP documents with contract offers.

Here is the full statement from President Robert A. Easter, Board Chairperson Christopher G. Kennedy and other University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign officials as published in the News-Gazette of Urbana-Champaign:

Earlier today, you received a thoughtful statement from Chancellor Phyllis Wise regarding the university’s decision not to recommend Prof. Steven Salaita for a tenured faculty position on the Urbana-Champaign campus.

In her statement, Chancellor Wise reaffirmed her commitment to academic freedom and to fostering an environment that encourages diverging opinions, robust debate and challenging conventional norms. Those principles have been at the heart of the university’s mission for nearly 150 years, and have fueled its rise as a world leader in education and innovation.

But, as she noted, our excellence is also rooted in another guiding principle that is just as fundamental. Our campuses must be safe harbors where students and faculty from all backgrounds and cultures feel valued, respected and comfortable expressing their views.

We agree, and write today to add our collective and unwavering support of Chancellor Wise and her philosophy of academic freedom and free speech tempered in respect for human rights – these are the same core values which have guided this institution since its founding.

In the end, the University of Illinois will never be measured simply by the number of world-changing engineers, thoughtful philosophers or great artists we produce. We also have a responsibility to develop productive citizens of our democracy. As a nation, we are only as strong as the next generation of participants in the public sphere. The University of Illinois must shape men and women who will contribute as citizens in a diverse and multi-cultural democracy. To succeed in this mission, we must constantly reinforce our expectation of a university community that values civility as much as scholarship.

Disrespectful and demeaning speech that promotes malice is not an acceptable form of civil argument if we wish to ensure that students, faculty and staff are comfortable in a place of scholarship and education. If we educate a generation of students to believe otherwise, we will have jeopardized the very system that so many have made such great sacrifices to defend. There can be no place for that in our democracy, and therefore, there will be no place for it in our university.

Chancellor Wise is an outstanding administrator, leader and teacher. Her academic career has been built on her commitment to promoting academic freedom and creating a welcoming environment for students and faculty alike. We stand with her today and will be with her tomorrow as she devotes her considerable talent and energy to serving our students, our faculty and staff, and our society.

We look forward to working closely with Chancellor Wise and all of you to ensure that our university is recognized both for its commitment to academic freedom and as a national model of leading-edge scholarship framed in respect and courtesy.

Sincerely,

Christopher G. Kennedy, Chair, University of Illinois Board of Trustees

Robert A. Easter, President

Hannah Cave, Trustee
Ricardo Estrada, Trustee
Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Trustee
Lucas N. Frye, Trustee
Karen Hasara, Trustee
Patricia Brown Holmes, Trustee
Timothy N. Koritz, Trustee
Danielle M. Leibowitz, Trustee
Edward L. McMillan, Trustee
James D. Montgomery, Trustee
Pamela B. Strobel, Trustee

Paula Allen-Meares, Chancellor, Chicago campus, and Vice President, University of Illinois
Susan J. Koch, Chancellor, Springfield campus, and Vice President, University of Illinois

Donald A. Chambers, Professor of Physiology and Biochemistry; Chair, University Senates Conference

Jerry Bauman, Interim Vice President for Health Affairs
Thomas R. Bearrows, University Counsel
Thomas P. Hardy, Executive Director for University Relations
Susan M. Kies, Secretary of the Board of Trustees and the University
Walter K. Knorr, VP/Chief Financial Officer and Comptroller
Christophe Pierre, Vice President for Academic Affairs
Lawrence B. Schook, Vice President for Research
Lester H. McKeever, Jr., Treasurer, Board of Trustees

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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