James Montgomery Votes for Salaita: A Trustee With Honour

Trustee Montgomery

University of Illinois Trustee James D. Montgomery

UPDATE: the great, visionary trustee on YouTube:

On this date, September 11, 2014, the viewpoint-cleansing mob of  the University of Illinois Board of Trustees voted to fire Professor Steven Salaita by a vote of 8-1. James Montgomery cast the sole no vote. Who is this man that wears a badge of courage and is willing to defy his corporate, anti-academic freedom peers on the board? Who is this person that refused to go along with the vicious, illegal and immoral contract reversal that was executed on August 1?

Mr Montgomery taught at the University of Chicago Law School from (1994-1996; 2000-2006). He graduated from the University of Illinois and received his law degree from the University of Illinois School of Law. He has a distinguished career as a practicing attorney, scholar and lecturer. He was initially appointed by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to the Board of Trustees in 2007. This is an appointment that the persecuted and I believe unfairly imprisoned former governor can be proud of and perhaps take some comfort in as he languishes in prison. Governor Pat Quinn reappointed him for another six-year term last year.

What is interesting is that on August 22, he did support Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise’s firing of Salaita that has triggered international condemnation of the action. Yet a month later,  demonstrating a willingness to listen and remain flexible in his thinking, he stated why free speech is not merely the protection of popular speech. This is revealing in the News-Gazette quotation of Trustee Montgomery during today’s Board of Trustees academic lynching and egregious silencing of a tenured professor:

Trustee James Montgomery expressed regret over signing a letter of support for Wise from Aug. 22. He is not saying he doesn’t support “our great chancellor.” He reflected on his challenging time on campus back in the ‘60s. Montgomery (a lawyer) said, “What makes this a great country… I can stand on a rooftop and call anybody an S.O.B.”

Boycotts, he said, are a concern. “We’ve had some bad miscues at UI in recent yrs, made some bad choices. I don’t think we need to add to that.”

His vote today to accept the appointment of tenured, associate professor Steven Salaita reminds me somewhat of the courageous intervention of John Peter Altgeld after the Haymarket Martyrs’ execution. He was a governor–with his name on a building on the Urbana campus–that pardoned the Haymarket survivors after so many were executed in 1887 for a crime they did not commit: a bomb blast in the Haymarket Square on May 4, 1886. Four were hanged for defying the union busting actions of Cyrus McCormick, advocating workers rights at the McCormick Reaper Works plant and a critique of unbridled capitalism. Altgeld never was elected again but was willing to stand for principle in an act of rare political dissent from the prevailing elite narrative that workers are expendable as are their supporters..

I am sure Mr Montgomery will not be reappointed, perhaps even be shunned by the conformist trustees that seek to preserve power and influence over principle. Perhaps Mr Montgomery will be asked to speak at student and faculty protest events to explain why he voted to accept the legal, and binding faculty and Liberal Arts and Sciences contract proffer to Steven Salaita last October. He stands alone now as a trustee who is an advocate for academic excellence and toleration of critical thinking. While his bravery and commitment to academic due process and academic freedom are in stark contrast to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign administration, let those of us who seek academic freedom and shared governance extend our praise and thanks for his vote today.

Roll Call:

Ricardo Estrada: no
Karen Hasara: no
Patrick Fitzgerald: no
Patricia Brown Holmes: no
Christopher Kennedy: no
Timothy Koritz: no
Ed McMillan: no
James Montgomery: yes
Pam Strobel: no
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