Professor Steven Salaita

 Steven Salaita

Steven Salaita is a Palestinian-American professor of indigenous studies who was fired from a tenured position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign following pressure from donors who did not like some of his personal tweets criticizing the Israeli government’s bombing of Gaza in 2014. CCR and co-counsel Loevy & Loevy filed a lawsuit on Professor Salaita's behalf in 2015, arguing that his termination in retaliation for his protected speech on an issue of public concern violates the First Amendment and principles of academic freedom, as well as his due process rights.  

Professor Salaita was a tenured English professor at Virginia Tech University whose scholarship focused on colonialism, militarism and occupation and who had written well-regarded books studying Arab-American literature and criticizing Zionism.  It was on the basis of his excellent scholarly record and stellar teaching credentials that the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offered Professor Salaita a tenured position in the University’s American Indian Studies Program.  Based on the contract he had with the University of Illinois, Professor Salaita and his wife resigned their jobs at Virginia Tech University, where he was tenured, and prepared to move their family to Illinois.  Professor 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 have since acknowledged that their decision was based on Professor Salaita’s tweets that were critical of Israeli government atrocities in Gaza, which they viewed as “uncivil.”  Firing Professor Salaita because some were offended by his personal tweets violates the First Amendment and principles of academic freedom.  Moreover, Professor Salaita has consistently received stellar student evaluations, including in the category of “concern and respect for students.”  University documents obtained through a FOIA lawsuit include 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 Salaita.
CCR and co-counsel filed a complaint in federal court on behalf of Professor 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.

Professor Salaita’s termination has gathered national and international attention, and drawn widespread criticism. More than 5,000 academics from around the country, including Dr. Cornel West, have 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 have 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, have publicly condemned the University’s actions. A public petition for Professor Salaita's reinstatement has garnered over 19,000 signatures. For more information, see Professor 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 this case.

Statements of Support for Professor Salaita and Critical of University of Illinois's Actions

Letters from Legal Organizations

Letter from Center for Constitutional Rights
Letter from Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, CAIR-Chicago and NLG-Chicago

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

Last modified 

October 7, 2015