M.L.A. Supports Salaita: Endorses AAUP Position

The Modern Language Association (M.L.A) is one of the largest academic organisations in the world. It consists of teachers of language and literature and has supported Steven Salaita in his struggle for justice, following the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign violation of his academic freedom. Its executive committee sent the following letter to Chancellor Phyllis Wise who refused to submit his appointment for board approval, ten months after Salaita returned a written contract. This is an organisation that resists the New McCarthyism that has gripped American post-secondary education for several decades. It represents a growing awareness in post-secondary education that the right to speak for the oppressed, the downtrodden, the colonised, the occupied without coercion, suppression and blacklisting is worth defending:

Letter to the Chancellor of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

The Executive Council approved the letter to Chancellor Wise in August 2014.

15 August 2014

Dear Dr. Wise,

The members of the Modern Language Association’s Executive Council strongly urge you to reconsider your decision to revoke Professor Steven Salaita’s appointment to a tenured position in the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. According to the facts reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education on 7 August 2014 (http://chronicle.com/article/Denial-of-Job-to-Harsh-Critic/148211/) and Inside Higher Ed on 6 August 2014 (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/08/06/u-illinois-apparently-revokes-job-offer-controversial-scholar), your decision seems to abrogate long-established principles of academic due process and to violate the principles of academic freedom of expression to which your university expressly adheres (see art. 10, sec. 2, at http://www.bot.uillinois.edu/statutes). We urge you to submit Professor Salaita’s appointment to the board for confirmation or to allow your university’s Faculty Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure to review your decision.

Professor Salaita held a written offer from the university with the common stipulation that final approval of his appointment would be subject to the decision of the university’s board. With the encouragement of the faculty and administration at UIUC—including a written acknowledgment that he had signed your university’s contract—he resigned his tenured position at Virginia Tech and made plans to move his family so that he could begin an appointment with a starting date of 16 August 2014. You informed him in a letter dated 1 August 2014 that his appointment would not be submitted to the board, but your letter did not give a reason. Members of the UIUC faculty with varying positions on this case have observed that the abrupt withdrawal of the offer directly followed publicity over Professor Salaita’s comments on social media about Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

The members of the MLA Executive Council join with the American Association of University Professors, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and many other groups and individuals in viewing the rescinding of Professor Salaita’s offer as a troubling response to his expression of views about a significant and controversial topic. The MLA is on record as believing that “[w]hen academic freedom is curtailed, higher education is compromised,” and the MLA has for years called on “college and university administrators and faculty members to support a culture of academic freedom for all teachers, regardless of rank and status” (http://www.mla.org/academic_freedom_2009). Believing that the right to express unpopular views on important issues in various media is critical to the health of our democratic society and to its institutions of higher education, we call on you to redress what seems an unjustified decision.

Yours sincerely,

Margaret W. Ferguson, MLA president

Roland Greene, MLA first vice president
I have added for the convenience of the reader the relevant Article and section that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign claim within their statutes support academic freedom and tenure. While Emerson wrote: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” in this case consistency is sorely lacking and should be adhered to:
Article X Academic Freedom and Tenure

Section 2.              Academic Freedom

a.       It is the policy of the University to maintain and encourage full freedom within the law of inquiry, discourse, teaching, research, and publication and to protect any member of the academic staff against influences, from within or without the University, which would restrict the member’s exercise of these freedoms in the member’s area of scholarly interest.  The right to the protection of the University shall not, however, include any right to the services of the university counsel or the counsel’s assistants in any governmental or judicial proceedings in which the academic freedom of the staff member may be in issue.

b.       As a citizen, a faculty member may exercise the same freedoms as other citizens without institutional censorship or discipline.  A faculty member should be mindful, however, that accuracy, forthrightness, and dignity befit association with the University and a person of learning and that the public may judge that person’s profession and the University by the individual’s conduct and utterances.

c.       If, in the president’s judgment, a faculty member exercises freedom of expression as a citizen and fails to heed the admonitions of Article X, Section 2b, the president may publicly disassociate the Board of Trustees and the University from and express their disapproval of such objectionable expressions.

d.       A staff member who believes that he or she does not enjoy the academic freedom which it is the policy of the University to maintain and encourage shall be entitled to a hearing on written request before the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the appropriate campus senate.  Such hearing shall be conducted in accordance with established rules of procedure.  The committee shall make findings of facts and recommendations to the president and, at its discretion, may make an appropriate report to the senate.  The several committees may from time to time establish their own rules of procedure.

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