The Modern Language Association (M.L.A) is one of the largest academic organisations in the world. It consists ofÂ 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 Associationâ€™s Executive Council strongly urge you to reconsider your decision to revoke Professor Steven Salaitaâ€™s appointment to a tenured position in the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. According to the facts reported inÂ The Chronicle of Higher EducationÂ on 7 August 2014 (http://chronicle.com/article/Denial-of-Job-to-Harsh-Critic/148211/) andÂ Inside Higher EdÂ 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, atÂ http://www.bot.uillinois.edu/statutes). We urge you to submit Professor Salaitaâ€™s appointment to the board for confirmation or to allow your universityâ€™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 universityâ€™s board. With the encouragement of the faculty and administration at UIUCâ€”including a written acknowledgment that he had signed your universityâ€™s contractâ€”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 Salaitaâ€™s comments on social media about Israelâ€™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 Salaitaâ€™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 â€œ[w]hen academic freedom is curtailed, higher education is compromised,â€ and the MLA has for years called on â€œcollege and university administrators and faculty members to support a culture of academic freedom for all teachers, regardless of rank and statusâ€ (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.
Margaret W. Ferguson, MLA president
Roland Greene, MLA first vice president
Section 2.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Academic Freedom
a.Â Â Â Â Â Â 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 memberâ€™s exercise of these freedoms in the memberâ€™s area of scholarly interest.Â The right to the protection of the University shall not, however, include any right to the services of the university counsel or the counselâ€™s assistants in any governmental or judicial proceedings in which the academic freedom of the staff member may be in issue.
b.Â Â Â Â Â Â As a citizen, a faculty member may exercise the same freedoms as other citizens without institutional censorship or discipline.Â 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 personâ€™s profession and the University by the individualâ€™s conduct and utterances.
c.Â Â Â Â Â Â If, in the presidentâ€™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.Â Â Â Â Â Â 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.Â Such hearing shall be conducted in accordance with established rules of procedure.Â The committee shall make findings of facts and recommendations to the president and, at its discretion, may make an appropriate report to the senate.Â The several committees may from time to time establish their own rules of procedure.