Steven Salaita is a Palestinian-American scholar and author of several books, including Israel’s Dead Soul, Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom, and Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine.
In 2014, Dr. Salaita was a tenured English professor at Virginia Tech University whose scholarship focused on colonialism, militarism, and occupation. It was on the basis of his excellent scholarly record and stellar teaching credentials that the University of Illinois offered Dr. Salaita a tenured position in the University’s American Indian Studies Program, which he accepted. Based on this contract, Dr. Salaita and his wife resigned from their jobs and prepared to move. Dr. Salaita was due to start working in two weeks when he received a terse letter from Chancellor Phyllis Wise and Vice President Christophe Pierre, summarily informing him that his appointment was terminated. It offered no reasons why.
University officials subsequently acknowledged that their decision was based on Dr. Salaita’s tweets that were critical of the Israeli government's assault on Gaza in 2014, tweets they viewed as “uncivil.” Firing Dr. Salaita because some were offended by his personal tweets violated the First Amendment and principles of academic freedom, as well as his due process rights. University documents obtained through our FOIA lawsuit included letters and emails from several wealthy donors to Chancellor Wise openly stating that they would withdraw financial support from the University if it did not fire Dr. Salaita.
CCR and co-counsel Loevy & Loevy filed a complaint in federal court on behalf of Dr. Salaita against the University and its officials in January 2015 for violations of his constitutional rights to free speech and due process, as well as breach of his employment contract. In August 2015, the federal court rejected the University’s effort to dismiss the case, finding that Dr. Salaita clearly had a contract with the University, and that Dr. Salaita’s tweets “implicate every ‘central concern’ of the First Amendment.” Chancellor Wise resigned a few hours after the decision was issued. The next day it came out that she and other University officials didn’t turn over private emails in response to FOIA requests, and that they had been inappropriately using their private email because of the threat of litigation. The Provost resigned a few weeks later. Dr. Salaita’s case was settled in November 2015 in a victory for free speech and for Palestinian rights advocacy.
Dr. Salaita’s termination gathered national and international attention, and drew widespread criticism. More than 5,000 academics from around the country, including Dr. Cornel West, pledged to boycott the institution, resulting in the cancellation of more than three dozen scheduled talks and conferences at the school. Sixteen academic departments of the University voted no confidence in the University Administration, and prominent academic organizations, including the American Association of University Professors, the Modern Language Association, and the Society of American Law Teachers, publicly condemned the University’s actions. A public petition for Dr. Salaita's reinstatement garnered over 19,000 signatures. For more information, see Dr. Salaita's op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, "U. of I. destroyed my career," his op-ed in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Why I Was Fired," and the factsheet on his case against the University.
In 2015, Dr. Salaita joined the board of the American Studies Association (ASA). In December 2013, the ASA had held a vote on a resolution to join the academic boycott of Israel as part of the global campaign for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel in response to violations of international law and the denial of Palestinian rights. Participation among ASA members was the highest in the organization's history, and 66% of members voted to endorse the resolution. In April 2016, four ASA members filed a suit, claiming that the vote violated the ASA's by-laws and that the ASA officers breached their fiduciary duties. In March 2018, plaintiffs amended their complaint to add several new defendants, including Dr. Salaita, who did not join the ASA board until two years after the vote. CCR is currently representing Dr. Salaita in the lawsuit.
Statements of Support for Professor Salaita and Critical of University of Illinois's Actions
Letters from Legal Organizations
Statements and Open Letters from Academic Organizations
Letter from American Anthropological Association (AAA)
Letter from American Association of University Professors (AAUP)
Statement by American Association of University Professors (AAUP)
Letter from American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA)
Letter from American Historical Association (AHA)
Letter from American Political Science Association (APSA)
Letter from Arab American Studies Association (AASA)
Statement by American Studies Association (ASA)
Letter from California Scholars For Academic Freedom
Statement by the Executive Committee of the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Statement by Cultural Studies Association (CSA)
Letter from Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA)
Letter from Modern Language Association (MLA)
Statement by Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA)
Statement by Society of American Law Teachers
Letters from Faculty
Letter from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign executive officers to incoming president Dr. Timothy Killeen
Letter from Constitutional Law and Free Speech Scholars
Letter from English and Literature Department Faculty
Letter from Scholars Committed to Advancing Critical and Open Perspectives on the Israel-Palestine Conflict
Letter from Scholars Who Have Traveled in Palestine
Letter from Bonnie Honig
Letter from Katherine Franke
University of Illinois Jewish Community Letter in Support of Our Professor Steven Salaita
Petitions and Academic Boycott Announcements
The US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) Condemnation
Scholars Petition Boycotting University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
List of Over 5000 Scholars Boycotting the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by Department
Public Petition Demanding Reinstatement