September 9, 2014, Urbana-Champaign, IL – Prof. Steven Salaita spoke today for the first time about his termination from a tenured faculty position at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (UIUC) over personal tweets regarding the situation in Gaza this summer.
“As hard as this situation is on me personally, the danger of the University’s decision has farther reaching implications. Universities are meant to be cauldrons of critical thinking; they are meant to foster creative inquiry and, when at their best, challenge political, economic, or social orthodoxy,” said Prof. Salaita at a press conference today. “Tenure – a concept that is well over a hundred years old – is supposed to be an ironclad guarantee that University officials respect these ideals, and do not succumb to financial pressure or political expediency by silencing controversial or unpopular views.”
The press conference was held following a student walkout in protest of Salaita’s termination.
Salaita used his Twitter account in July to denounce Israel’s latest military onslaught on civilians in Gaza. “My twitter messages are no doubt passionate and unfiltered; they reflect my deep dismay at the deaths of more than 2,000 innocent Palestinians, over 500 of them children,” said Salaita, who is Palestinian-American.
Emails recently released under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act revealed pressure by major donors – including one who referred to himself as “a multiple 6 figure donor” – on Chancellor Phyllis Wise to terminate Salaita’s appointment after the tweets.
The case has galvanized many in the academic community, including the Modern Language Association, the American Association of University Professors, and the American Studies Association, who have come out strongly against the University’s actions. Numerous departments at UIUC have cast votes of “no confidence” in the Chancellor, and many faculty are boycotting the University – several scholars have already cancelled lectures at UIUC, and a national conference to be hosted there was cancelled.
“Having watched this disaster unfold over the course of more than a month from up close, I am overjoyed that people now have the opportunity to hear the human and passionate voice of Steven Salaita, the scholar and man I have admired for many years,” said Prof. Robert Warrior, Director of the University’s prestigious American Indian Studies Program, which Salaita had been set to join.
“The University has violated the Constitution by terminating Professor Salaita’s appointment based on the content of his speech,” said Maria LaHood, senior attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is representing Prof. Salaita. “It has also sent a chilling message to faculty and students everywhere that the First Amendment and basic principles of academic freedom will be ignored when it comes to speech that is controversial or critical of the Israeli government.”
"The unhiring of Professor Steven Salaita endangers the University’s diverse community because it is producing an environment that is now avoided and boycotted by scholars, artists, and our fellow students worldwide, but also an environment where speech is only permissible when empty of indigenous, ethnic, and racially specific narratives and controversial politics,” said two students at the university, Eman Ghanayem and Rico Kleinstein. “We are supporting Professor Salaita not because we want to destroy the University and its administration, but because we want to save it from destroying itself. We encourage our peers, colleagues, and community members to join us in persuading our Chancellor and the Board of Trustees to reinstate Professor Salaita and to defend our University.”
Prof. Salaita is represented by Maria LaHood and Baher Azmy of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Anand Swaminathan, Gretchen Helfrich and Jon Loevy of Loevy & Loevy in Chicago.
For the full text of Prof. Salaita’s remarks, click here.
For more information and documents on the case, visit CCR’s website here.