Inside Higher Ed has gotten some of the preliminary documents on the back and forth between Chancellor Wise, officials at the University of Illinois (including a top person in charge of fundraising), and a high-level donor, before Wise made her initial decision to dehire Steven Salaita. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the external and internal pressure that went into this decision (though from my own experience with this issue I can only assume that that fear of external financial pressure was very very high on the part of the university’s administrators), and as the article notes, none of these emails tells us what ultimately prompted Wise to make the decision she did. Still, it’s telling that in the days leading up to her decision, she received 70 communiques (in one instance from a very high-level donor), regarding the Salaita hire, only one of which was urging her to keep him on board.
The communications show that Wise was lobbied on the decision not only by pro-Israel students, parents and alumni, but also by the fund-raising arm of the university.
For instance, there is an email from Travis Smith, senior director of development for the University of Illinois Foundation, to Wise, with copies to Molly Tracy, who is in charge of fund-raising for engineering programs, and Dan C. Peterson, vice chancellor for institutional advancement. The email forwards a letter complaining about the Salaita hire. The email from Smith says: “Dan, Molly, and I have just discussed this and believe you need to [redacted].” (The blacked out portion suggests a phrase is missing, not just a word or two.)
Later emails show Wise and her development team trying to set up a time to discuss the matter, although there is no indication of what was decided.
At least one email the chancellor received was from someone who identified himself as a major donor who said that he would stop giving if Salaita were hired. “Having been a multiple 6 figure donor to Illinois over the years I know our support is ending as we vehemently disagree with the approach this individual espouses. This is doubly unfortunate for the school as we have been blessed in our careers and have accumulated quite a balance sheet over my 35 year career,” the email says.
These revelations follow on the heels of the University’s announcement on Friday that it was sticking to its guns on the Salaita dehire. The basis of this decision, at least rhetorically, is this statement from Wise:
What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them. We have a particular duty to our students to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals.
It’s a strange and strained position, as many have noted. Particularly that tender if rather solicitous regard for protecting the feelings of “viewpoints themselves.” Notice that Wise’s statement does not make any distinctions between tenured, non-tenured, prospective faculty, or students. It’s simply a statement that “what we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are….words…that….” It’s a rather breath-taking assertion. In the words of University of Chicago professor Brian Leiter:
As a matter of well-settled American constitutional law, the University of Illinois must tolerate “words… that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.” The University has no choice, both as a matter of constitutional law and as a matter of its contractual commitment with its faculty to academic freedom. Scathing critiques of both viewpoints and authors abound in almost all scholarly fields; it would be the end of serious scholarly inquiry and debate were administrators to become the arbiters of “good manners.” More simply, it would be illegal for the University to start punishing its faculty for failure to live up to the Chancellor’s expectations for “civil” speech and disagreement.
In many of my courses, I teach Nietzsche, who heaped abuse on viewpoints and the individuals who expressed them. So did Marx and Hobbes, for that matter. On the chancellor’s standard, I or one of my counterparts at the University of Illinois should not be allowed teach Nietzsche, Marx, or Hobbes at the University of Illinois: too disrespectful of other viewpoints, too demeaning of those who hold them. And “what we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are….words…that….”
In the meantime, the boycott of the University of Illinois grows stronger. As of Saturday, we had over 3000 scholars declaring their refusal to engage with the University until Salaita is reinstated. If you want to join a specific pledge from a discipline (philosophy’s going like gang-busters; John Protevi emailed me after I came up with these numbers below saying that they’ve now got over 450 philosophers signed up) or wish to sign the general statement, here are the critical links:
- General, non-discipline-specific, boycott statement: 1402 and counting!
- Philosophy: 340. Email John Protevi at firstname.lastname@example.org or add your name in a comment at this link.
- Political Science: 174. Email Joe Lowndes at email@example.com.
- Sociology: 248.
- History: 66.
- Chicano/a and Latino/a Studies: 74
- Communications: 94
- Rhetoric/Composition: 32.
- English: 266. Email Elaine Freedgood at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Contingent academic workers: 210.
- Anthropology: 134
- Women’s/Gender/Feminist Studies: 54. Email Barbara Winslow at email@example.com.
The university is banking on the notion that more than 3000 scholars boycotting it are the end of the story; we have to make it the beginning of the story. If you’ve already joined the boycott, get someone else to join. If each one of you did that, we’d double our numbers in no time. And if you’re not an academic but want to tell the UI to reinstate Salaita, you can sign this petition. More than 15,000 have.
Most important, it looks like Salaita is now going to have file a lawsuit against the UI. The university has time and money. Salaita has neither. As his friends and colleagues who are organizing a campaign to raise money on his behalf note:
Salaita now has no job nor does his wife who quit her job in Virginia to support the family’s move, no personal home to live in, and no health insurance for their family, including their two year-old son.
So Salaita needs our financial support; we can give it to him. Even a little bit. His friends and colleagues have organized a page where you can donate money to his legal campaign. Please click on the Paypal link on the right-hand side of the page. I’ve made a donation; please make one, too.
Lastly, if you haven’t read Bonnie Honig’s letter to Phyllis Wise, do it now.