Steven Salaita and UIUC Reach Settlement

by Corey Robin on November 12, 2015

Steven Salaita and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have reached a settlement. According to a press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights, which helped represent Steven, Salaita will receive $875,000 from UIUC. According to this press report, $275,000 of that amount is for legal fees. The UIUC has already spent $1.3 million in its own defense. All told, this effort to silence an outspoken critic of Israel has cost the university nearly two and half million dollars.

Many of us had hoped that a settlement would include Steven getting his job back. For his sake and ours: to vindicate principles we all hold dear. I would be less than honest if I didn’t say I was disappointed.

But while this was a major battle for principle, there was a person at the heart of that battle: Steven. Since he first got the news of his firing, he and his family have been through hell. A protracted legal battle would invariably have been long and difficult, its outcome uncertain. It’s all well and good for those of us on the sidelines to say he should keep fighting—and he himself might have wanted to do so—but Steven has a family to support and a life to live. If this settlement helps him do that, I stand with him. Firmly. Throughout this fight, he has had my firm support, respect, admiration, and affection; now that it is over, he has all those things even more.

I know many of you will wonder about the fate of the boycott: though different statements voiced the demand differently, many statements had insisted that the boycott would continue till Steven was reinstated. It’s difficult now to know how to proceed. Because there was never a formal body that called for the boycott, there isn’t a formal body to call it off. So I’m only going to speak for myself. The boycott, I think, has been tremendously successful in raising awareness, in turning what might have been a backdoor, behind-the-scenes legal case into a full-on battle for free speech in the 21st century; certainly the university was always very mindful of it and its effects. I’m proud of that. But I don’t see a point in continuing a fight when its chief protagonist has resolved it. I know the boycott has been tremendously hard on many departments at UIUC, particularly those departments that were most in support of Steven. For all these reasons, I see no reason to continue it. Others may reach different conclusions. I respect their decisions.

As I was finishing up this post, Steven responded to an email I had sent him with the following:

We fought hard.  I tried my very best to represent those invested in the issue with dignity and decency.  And I hope this sort of thing never happens to anybody else.

I would say that Steven did more than try his very best to represent those invested in the issue with dignity and decency. He actually did represent those invested in the issue with dignity and decency. And while I don’t have a crystal ball, I’d be surprised if any university ever tried to pull this kind of stunt again.



mds 11.12.15 at 6:06 pm

And all the recently-reawakened critics of political correctness and universities stifling free expression said, “AMEN!”


oldster 11.12.15 at 6:21 pm

I agree with everything that you said except this:

” And while I don’t have a crystal ball, I’d be surprised if any university ever tried to pull this kind of stunt again.”


milx 11.12.15 at 6:22 pm

Ultimately the university made a commitment to Salaita and they should have honored it. That said, he remains a mediocre scholar more notable for grinding a particular activist axe than furthering any cause of scholarship or thoughtfulness and the university will ultimately benefit from not having to employ him. In the future I hope they more carefully investigate the quality of their employees before offering them contracts.


mds 11.12.15 at 6:32 pm

In the future I hope they more carefully investigate the quality of their employees before offering them contracts.

Agreed. I hope that the faculty scholars in the department which conducted the original search have learned their lesson, and will no longer put everything off until the night before, only to desultorily Google a few search terms to come up with a candidate.


Kiwanda 11.12.15 at 7:12 pm

mds: “And all the recently-reawakened critics of political correctness and universities stifling free expression said, “AMEN!”

Supporting free speech, academic freedom, and Steven Salaita at the same time? Unpossible!


Tom Hall 11.12.15 at 7:23 pm

By any measure this is a victory for Steven Salaita and a stinging rebuke to supporters of Israel on campus- at least those whose notion of legitimate advocacy includes only their own position. I too would have preferred to see the initial offer of a post reinstated, but the financial settlement is completely in Professor Salaita’s favor. The University behaved so outrageously in its last-minute sacking of this distinguished scholar and subsequent slap-dash cover-up led by the Chancellor, that the Trustees were left with no option but to settle. The reverberations from this victory will be felt for years to come, and students and faculty will be strengthened in their determination to uphold Palestinian rights and tear down the walls of apartheid.


Nick 11.12.15 at 7:37 pm

Eh, most scholars are mediocre — there aren’t many fields where everyone excels . . . that doesn’t meant that the mediocre scholars don’t deserve the same protections that the amazing scholars receive, or benefit from the normal conventions that let them live their lives with a minimum of uncertainty.

That said, it’s not that common that mediocre scholars move institutions, they tend not to have the credentials or support.


Lynne 11.12.15 at 7:39 pm

Corey, like you, I was disappointed he wasn’t reinstated, and I wonder whether he will be able to get a comparable job anywhere in the US. But if he is happy with the settlement, I will try to be happy with it, too.


Sebastian H 11.12.15 at 7:45 pm

From a systemic level getting him a reinstatement would have been useful. From a personal level he wouldn’t have liked the 1000 ways an employer who doesn’t like you can make your life hellish.


CJColucci 11.12.15 at 8:04 pm

I do these kinds of case — rarely this big — for a living. I don’t think this could have settled if reinstatement was involved, and getting reinstated even after a trial win would have been far from a slam dunk. Getting UIUC to settle for this much this fast is quite an achievement, and I would have advised taking it. What I’d really love to know is who the lawyers were who got UIUC to cough up this much this early in the case and how they did it.


Sebastian H 11.12.15 at 8:41 pm

I want to echo want CJ said, the fact that they put up this much this early strongly suggests that some Freedom of Information Act requests will turn up some nasty things…


Mike Schilling 11.12.15 at 8:44 pm

Silence him? Did they slap a gag order on him, or buy up and burn all of his books? What UIUC wanted is not to be associated with him, which they got, though it cost them. If they learned anything, it’s to vet people better before offering them jobs.

“Salaita: making ‘anti-Semitism’ profitable since 2015.” (Honestly, it’s irony.)


js. 11.12.15 at 9:15 pm

This is great news. Thanks for keeping us updated. And I agree with others that reinstatement might not have been worth the trouble.


David Steinsaltz 11.12.15 at 10:10 pm

Not that I’m likely to have reason to give a talk in Illinois — I’m based in the UK — but I’d be inclined to continue the boycott at least until the university issues a clear acknowledgement of its errors and institutes policies to prevent such outrages in the future. $600,000 doesn’t seem like much, if this whole scandal has made Salaita unemployable.


T 11.12.15 at 10:24 pm

Pretty much as predicted. Settlement and good riddance from the U of I. The censure will end and the boycott will end. The U of I will pour more money into STEM via the new medical school and the best engineering program in the country. There will be long memories all the way around. Universities across the country will change their hiring practices and grant trustee approval for hires, esp w/tenure, much closer to the date of the offer letter.

The U of I American Indian Studies Program now has just two core members including Robert Warrior, one of Salaita’s dissertation advisers and his key advocate, who was rumored to be looking to leave. The other is an assistant professor, Jenny Davis, winner of the 2014 Ruth Benedict Book Prize for “Queer Excursions: Retheorizing Binaries in Language, Gender, and Sexuality.”

The most distinguished affiliated faculty member is Joy Harjo, acclaimed poet and musician. Harjo was an artist in residence at Tel Aviv University in 2012. She declined an invitation to the White House during the W’s presidency for political reasons involving the war.

Corey is correct that the U will never pull that stunt again but he might be unhappy with the alternatives. My guess is the U thinks that was money very well spent.


T 11.12.15 at 11:15 pm

CJColucci @9
Perkins Coie represented the U of I in the fed case.


Timothy Scriven 11.13.15 at 12:01 am

Everyone is trying to out cynicism everyone else, as is usual for such threads.

I disagree. It seems to me the uni took a real beating. 600,000 is the tip of the iceberg. There’s legal fees, enormous bad publicity and something no one has yet mentioned here – the self-meltdown of a Chancellor (something that will weigh heavily on the minds of Chancellors and their equivalents elsewhere.)

You can bet uni governance teams took a clear message here- especially the chancellors among them – don’t assume the pro-Palestine movement is a pushover, no matter how agitated some rightwing donors may get.


geo 11.13.15 at 12:44 am

As between T@14 and Timothy@16, I’m with the cynics. High praise for Corey and others who championed Salaita, as well as to Salaita for his dignity and decency. But while it may have been a victory of sorts for him, it was hardly a stinging defeat for UIUC. The university stood to lose far more in donations than they’ve spent on the settlement and in legal fees. Chancellor Wise got a handsome settlement and will probably have no trouble finding another lucrative bureaucratic perch. The trustees and angry rich alumni got their way, and other trustees and angry rich alumni will take note. Salaita got put through the wringer, and other left-wing junior faculty will take note of that.

In the same way, the Indochina War wasn’t really a defeat for the US. A society that wanted to exit the US-run international economy got put through the wringer. Other societies — the important ones, like Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, South Korea, Brazil, Argentina, Chile — and in particular their business and military elites, took note. They were reassured that popular movements aiming at democracy and national economic autonomy could be repressed with the encouragement and cooperation of the US. So they repressed, hard, with the encouragement and support of the US.


Omega Centauri 11.13.15 at 1:28 am

Unfortunately I largely agree with geo. Its unclear how much donor cash the U would have lost if it hadn’t caved into said RW demands. Its also unclear how much they’ve lost due to the soft-power of reputation (which was hurt, and will probably experience some hysterisis [not recovering to previous trend]).

Basically, from a strictly rational cost/benefit analysis, the error bars are too high to know which way an amoral actor should act in a similar case. Basically once mega-donors start making unreasonable demands, you are in a lose-lose situation.


Corey Robin 11.13.15 at 1:55 am

The more I think about this, the more I think the cynical reading is wrong. I didn’t start out the day with that view, but reading the comments here and throughout the internet, I’ve come to think the cynicism is closer to what C. Wright Mills called crackpot realism.

Let’s review some facts.

As of August 3 of 2014, the UIUC had fired Steven Salaita and thought that was the end of the story. Phyllis Wise was the chancellor, Chris Kelly was the president of the UI system.

Steven Salaita and the rest of us who were active in this campaign — some 5000 academics across the globe, not to mention countless number of students and other supporters — put that university administration through a year of living hell. I’m never quite sure around here how many of the commenters are actually academics or not, but if you are (and even if you’re not), just imagine being the subject of daily obloquy throughout the international community of which your institution is a part. Just imagine your institution becoming a rogue state throughout the world. Just imagine your institution being thought of as a serial violator of every value that the international community of which it is a part holds dear.

We at Brooklyn College have some sense of this because for a few weeks a few years ago we were almost in exactly the same situation. I can tell you from firsthand experience: the entire institution was brought to a halt. That’s pretty much what UIUC has endured, not for a few weeks but for an entire year and then some.

How do I know this? Because virtually every professor who’s there — whether they were pro-Salaita or anti-, whether they were pro-boycott or anti- — has told me so. As have multiple reports both internal and external to that institution.

Oh, and there’s this: those two major leaders of the institution, Phyllis Wise and Chris Kelly. Where are they today? They’re gone. Wise was ushered out in a case of striking public humiliation and ignominy (remember that hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonus money she lost?), Kelly just ushered out. And not it’s not b/c anyone thought they handled anything of this particularly well.

Now, as I said in the OP, Steven didn’t get his job back, and that really does suck. Obviously that would have been the ultimate victory. But the way everyone here is acting as if the next university administrator will simply tally up the costs and make the same calculation that Wise or Kelly did, I just think that’s insane. For a few reasons.

First, there’s the year of business being ground to a halt. Even the UI’s own administrators will tell you that the public campaign took a tremendous toll on them and their administrations. If you think another university is just going to do that all over again, well, I guess we have different understandings of university administrators. I think of them as very timid and risk averse. Increasingly the bite of the pro-Israel forces is becoming less and less potent. We see this everywhere (most recently with Obama and the Iran deal). The bite of the pro-academic freedom (and yes, anti-Israel) forces is becoming stronger and stronger. I think you’re vastly underestimating how nervous university administrators are, and that a simple balance of forces calculation could lead them to bend the right way.

Second, the money. The university wound up spending over 2 million dollars on this. Here’s where our conflation of the American academy with roughly 50 or so elite universities (Ivy League and very good state universities like Michigan or Wisconsin or UIUC) gets us into trouble. You guys act as if two million dollars is chump change. I’m at a university where we’re squeezing every last dollar out of the adjunct budget in order to make up a 5.5 million dollar budget shortfall, just this year alone. The notion that a university administrator would just walk into this thinking, okay, we’ll lose two million, but what the hell, let’s do this — again, it’s ludicrous. Maybe at more elite universities, but not at the bulk of the institutions where most of us do our work.

Third, there’s us. Again, not sure how many of you are academics, but we’re acting as if we’re not actors here, people with agency. We’re the ones who pounded the shit out of UIUC this whole year. We’re the ones who made Wise and Kelly take the toll that they did. I don’t get the sense of powerlessness and passivity that I find here — and not just here but throughout the internet. I mean I get it: we all often feel this way. But we had a major impact. Again, think back to where things stood on August 3, 2014.

Did we get what we ultimately wanted? Obviously not. And I’d be a fool if I said we did. But we exacted a tremendous cost on the university. In the future we can exact even a higher cost. Or at least we should do our damn best to try.

But what we should really stop doing is acting as if we’re not a part of this story, as if they write the entire script. They don’t.

There’s a wonderful writer who often says just these things. So I’m not being original and can’t take the credit. His name is George Scialabba. You should check his stuff out.


John Protevi 11.13.15 at 2:23 am

Hear, hear (Corey at 19)


Val 11.13.15 at 2:34 am

As someone who was once sacked from a mildly high profile job and took action (a much tinier case than this, but one with some public significance), I disagree with the people saying it’s not worth it/not feasible to try for reinstatement.

I’m not making a judgement on what Steven Salaita wishes, that’s of course up to him and I wish him well in whatever he does. However the widespread acceptance that it is no use trying to get your job and the legal position about ‘the relationship having broken down’ (that’s what they say here in Aus and probably there’s a similar line in the US) is ethically wrong as far as I’m concerned. If what theemployer did to us is wrong, why can’t we expect it to be put right? Why can’t we get the job back and they have to bite the bullet and treat us decently?

I’ve heard all the arguments about how difficult this is to enforce this, so I would prefer if people didn’t run them again, if that’s Ok. In my view if an employer has done something wrong, it’s not unreasonable to expect them to do the right thing. If not then the views of the cynics are somewhat justified – employers may have to pay out, and they may have to suffer some opprobrium, but in the end if they really want to get rid of someone they can, regardless of whether it’s legal or not – and that’s not right.

I didn’t get my job back either, and after two years of legal action I was sick of the whole thing. Even if I had got it back, I might not have lasted long then, since I was pretty disillusioned with the other parties by then. But I still think it should have been a possibility instead of lawyers just telling people that it’s not going to happen/not worth it etc.


Bruce B. 11.13.15 at 2:53 am

Corey, I’m very happy to have the term “crackpot realism” – I knew the phenomenon but not such a handy label for it. Off to do some supplemental reading.


geo 11.13.15 at 2:56 am

Corey, of course I recognize your far greater acquaintance with the facts on the ground. And I agree that the enormous efforts you and others made on Salaita’s behalf — and on behalf of academic freedom and simple justice — were admirable and invaluable. I certainly couldn’t have wished anything done differently, and I certainly don’t doubt that important ground was gained.

On the other hand, the costs you cite — to administrators and faculty, and even to Kelly and Wise — were costs incurred not by those who made the decision — that is, the trustees and the wealthy donors who threatened to withdraw support — but by their employees. Those decision-makers got what they wanted, at a cost they themselves — as opposed to those who actually operate the institution that they control — very likely consider well worth it. Their authority (that is, their institutional right to veto faculty appointments) was not diminished, or even challenged.

Like all other ruling elites, university trustees cannot afford to be completely indifferent to community or worker opposition. And the university is intrinsically far more democratic than most workplaces, in that, despite the large reserve army of unemployed PhDs, the faculty cannot easily be dismissed and replaced. Because of your (and others’) efforts during this episode, it will be less difficult in future to mobilize academics in solidarity against undemocratic initiatives like this one. But, thanks to UCIC’s efforts and Salaita’s tribulations, it may also seem more daunting for young academics to take the same risks in future — which, I would say, is how we should measure how much of a victory we’ve won in this case.


Timothy Scriven 11.13.15 at 3:38 am

I come from Australia. Maybe we have a very different setup, but here the VC is supreme and totally overawes University Councils. To add to Corey’s comments then, I suspect commentors suggesting that Phyllis & Chris were thrown under the bus by the big cheeses might be missing something- these two are big cheeses. In normal times Boards of Trustees and their equivalents are only modestly efficacious. Maybe it’s different here- I don’t know.


js. 11.13.15 at 4:01 am

What Corey said.

Also, Timothy Scriven is right—Wise and Kelly were totally the big cheese.


Marshall Peace 11.13.15 at 4:33 am

Once I got fired from a computer startup when one lab manager threw me out personally on the spot. When the president got involved a couple of days later he said he would have patched it up but now it was too far gone, which at this distance I guess so. At the time it was just confusing. So I whistled a happy tune as I hit the bricks, which does feel pretty good for a little while anyway if they give you a decent severance.


geo 11.13.15 at 4:34 am

Others can — and I hope will — say more authoritatively, but I think in the US, the trustees have final authority. At least in private universities, they hire and (in very rare cases, since they’ve hired them in the first place) dismiss university officials. In public universities, a government body or education secretary may have that authority.

In any case, I wouldn’t exactly say that Wise and Kelly were thrown under the bus. What probably happened is that the trustees, like politicians or corporate executives, recognized in the face of large-scale protest that a price had to be paid and a mistake (professedly) acknowledged, so they persuaded the most visible official(s) associated with the contested decisions to take the fall, assuring them nonetheless that they had done the right thing and that like-minded boards of trustees in other universities would understand this, so that it would hardly make them less employable — on the contrary. As in business and government, diligent hacks fail upward. Ruling elites know how to take care of their loyal upper servants.


Timothy Scriven 11.13.15 at 4:53 am

In Australia it is also true, on paper, that the Council, Senate or Board have supreme power. In practice the VC is their boss- so I don’t think the theory matters so much here as the de facto arrangements.


Mike Schilling 11.13.15 at 6:33 am

just imagine being the subject of daily obloquy throughout the international community of which your institution is a part. Just imagine your institution becoming a rogue state throughout the world. Just imagine your institution being thought of as a serial violator of every value that the international community of which it is a part holds dear.

OK. Now I’m even more sympathetic to Israel than I was to begin with.


Dipper 11.13.15 at 8:01 am

In corporate life when things go wrong there is something that a colleague has termed a “give up game”. If a department X hasn’t delivered something your department demands that a responsible person is fired. If department X allows that to happen they are diminished in power which can be a bad thing mainly because successful organisations require different departments to work together on an equal footing, and this will result in an imbalance. So department X puts some of the blame back on you and demands one of your people has to go too.

It seems something similar is going on here. The authorities want to get rid of someone. You have to make sure there is a cost to them of doing it. Otherwise tomorrow they will come back with a long list of people they want to fire, and ultimately the authorities will have more power but the institution will be diminished.


kidneystones 11.13.15 at 8:18 am

I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade and I’m certainly not happy when faculty are sacked. However, it’s hard to see this as a victory for anyone but the establishment.

I don’t know much about the individual in question, but I find little to admire, frankly, in ‘activist’ scholars. I get the sense, perhaps wrongly, the activists bend their findings to serve their individual or collective causes.

I have no respect for any non-democratic state and very much respect any democracy that can survive an onslaught of multi-state sanctioned hatred, bigotry and violence.


Ebenezer Scrooge 11.13.15 at 11:37 am

To add to CJColucci@10:
I sometimes get involved with employment cases, and some of them are very public. This was a weird case. Continuing it would have hurt both parties. Salaita had gotten a new job, so his damages would have been limited–probably under $600K. (Ginormous tort damages aren’t that common.) UI would have gotten (deservedly) further smeared in the press. Neither of them had any self-centered reason to continue, and you can’t demand anybody to engage in altruistic punishment.
It’s the best of a bad situation, but litigation is almost always a bad situation.


David Steinsaltz 11.13.15 at 12:38 pm

Thanks to #33 for pointing out that Salaita has an academic job now. That substantially weakens the concerns I had expressed in #14 (assuming it’s a job that he finds attractive — apparently, it’s in Beirut, which wouldn’t be the first choice of many American academics). If UIUC had managed to completely derail his career, any settlement without reinstatement would seem to me a defeat for academic freedom. As it is, I agree with Corey that the pain suffered by UIUC, together with the symbolic value of the damages paid, is probably sufficient to persuade autocracy-curious university administrators to keep pretending, at least, to support traditional academic values.


T 11.13.15 at 1:17 pm

The U of I requested a $4.5 billion budget for FY15. The U is spending $2.5M to buy out the contract of the athletic director for losing too many football games. On the other hand, the Indian Studies Program is a mess. What’s its future? And Salaita spent a year out of work and is currently employed in Beirut. Yes, that Beirut, the academic garden spot where faculty far and wide search for that hard to get visiting professorship during the sabbatical year. Win for team Corey. Yeah.


T 11.13.15 at 1:19 pm

The U of I requested a $4.5 billion budget for FY15. The U is spending $2.5M to buy out the contract of the athletic director for losing too many football games. On the other hand, the Indian Studies Program is a mess. What’s its future? And Salaita spent a year out of work and is currently employed in Beirut. Yes, that Beirut, the academic garden spot where faculty far and wide search for that hard to get visiting professorship during the sabbatical year. Win for team Corey. Yeah.


Lynne 11.13.15 at 1:40 pm

Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Salaita’s current job is for one year only. Is he really likely to find work in the US after that? I’m not an academic but I don’t feel optimistic about that.


jdkbrown 11.13.15 at 4:25 pm

Lynne is right: Salaita’s job is a one-year appointment.


js. 11.13.15 at 4:45 pm

The American University of Beirut is a totally good university, actually—probably competitive with lower-half R1 places in the U.S.


T 11.13.15 at 5:28 pm

geo @28
Of course. As for Phyllis Wise, she’s in the UIUC Department of Animal Sciences reportedly earning $298,926.


Joshua W. Burton 11.13.15 at 7:32 pm

Maybe now it’s finally time for a book event?


Fuzzy Dunlop 11.13.15 at 7:41 pm

T @35 “that Beirut, the academic garden spot where faculty far and wide search for that hard to get visiting professorship during the sabbatical year”

Look at you people. You read the name of a city outside the anglophone world and immediately picture them grubbing in the dirt. AUB is, as js noted, very prestigious and Beirut is from what I’ve heard a nice place to live, if a bit expensive–the main drawback for most Americans would be the language barrier, which is not going to be an issue for Salaita and probably not so much for his family either.

geo @24 “On the other hand, the costs you cite — to administrators and faculty, and even to Kelly and Wise — were costs incurred not by those who made the decision — that is, the trustees and the wealthy donors who threatened to withdraw support — but by their employees.”

Sure–and it seems likely that future Phyllis Wises will not be so quick to do the wealthy donors’ bidding. The donors and their ilk might not care all that much about this lost leverage, but that’s another matter.


T 11.13.15 at 9:16 pm


Hi Fuzzy — Tell me about your last trip to Beirut. It’s a wonderful city — Paris of the Mediterranean and all — but it really does depend on the political environment at the time.

Dr. Wise knew exactly what the trustees, the governor, and the Illinois public wanted — and she delivered. (The current governor explicitly went after Salaita and supported Wise during the state-wide election campaign.) She didn’t do it particularly well in this instance which is why she has to temporarily suffer her tenured 300K job in the Animal Science Department. I think the lesson learned is very different than what you suggest. Meanwhile, its my understanding that several American Indian Studies profs have disaffiliated with the program and went back to their original departments. Salaita is gone for good. Even Corey is for lifting the boycott. The censure will be lifted by AAUP. UIUC admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement as accepted by Salaita, a typical outcome. The Big 10 football season is in full swing and basketball is just about to start up. UIUC needs a new AD after they paid him the $2.5M buyout. And a new football coach.

The biggest change that will come from this affair is moving forward the trustee vote on new hires. And the cynic in me says that a not small part of the academic reaction to this incident was the retraction of the offer after Salaita gave up his former tenured position, sold his house, and moved to UIUC. I think that’s a mess everyone wants cleaned up. As for the next biggest change? Administrators will learn to do what Wise did better in serving the wishes of the trustees, governor and public rather than not to do it in the first place. My takeaway is similar to geo’s (please correct me if I’m wrong) — there are new limits to how you can go about the task, but no change in the task at hand.


geo 11.13.15 at 9:36 pm

T@41: My takeaway is similar to geo’s (please correct me if I’m wrong) — there are new limits to how you can go about the task, but no change in the task at hand.

Couldn’t have put it better. On the other hand, I also think (and perhaps didn’t make it sufficiently clear) that the mere fact of a strong showing of organized support for Salaita is enormously important. Always and everywhere, the first, hardest, and most important thing is just to engage the attention and attract the support of the citizenry (or constituency or workforce or whatever), who can and must ultimately supply the pressure from below that is the only thing that can ever bring about fundamental change. Corey et al have taken a first step — which will doubtless have to be taken again hundreds or thousands of times on the academic as well as the political terrain — and kudos to them.


Oxbird 11.14.15 at 3:11 am

Agreed. What happened to Salaitia was outrageous.

That being said, for OP to jump from that perspective to “The bite of the pro-academic freedom (and yes, anti-Israel) forces is becoming stronger and stronger” strikes me as over the top. I guess I missed the proof of, or arguments establishing the identity between those who are pro academic freedom and those who are anti-Israel.


T 11.14.15 at 4:17 am

Yep. The fact that UIUC is a public institution meant that Salaita had zero chance from the beginning. The general public is pro-Israel by a wide margin (and Saliata’s tone would not appear professorial to the public so he was given no benefit of the doubt.) The governor knows that (campaigning as anti-Salaita/pro-Wise), the trustees know that, and so did Wise. This is not the case of mysterious rich-guy money overturning the popular will. It’s the case of the popular will overthrowing effete academics. (Which is why Salaita would have had a much better chance at a private university where a board not ultimately beholden to the public would have made the decision.) The question for the majority of the Illinois public was never “was this guy’s speech rights violated?” but rather “how did this jackass get offered a job in the first place?” The fact that an anti-Israeli academic that writes about the Middles East was offered a job in the American Indian Studies Program only confirmed the public’s suspicions.


geo 11.14.15 at 5:06 am

T@46: Whoa. My understanding is that the issue only arose because a donor (or donors) threatened to withhold a gift (or gifts) if the appointment went through. Wise and the trustees acceded to this pressure, and their decision was widely contested, as a result of which the issue came to the attention of the public. The politicians, entirely uninterested in academic freedom, saw no reason to try to explain the principles at stake to the public, and instead took the easy way out, supporting the trustees against Salaita. But if the trustees had ignored the wealthy donors in the first place, as they ought to have done, it would never have come to the attention of the public or the governor. So the prime mover was indeed “mysterious rich-guy money,” even though, as you say, the public agreed with the donors’ improper interference and the trustees’ cowardly accommodation.


Fuzzy Dunlop 11.14.15 at 2:55 pm

OT, but I was stunned last night by the perverse prescience of T’s words @43 about Beirut being the Paris of the Middle East. I suspect few people realize the attack in Beirut was extraordinary, certainly people didn’t seem to notice it or grieve on the level that they’re doing for Paris. I could understand not being shocked when these things happen in Baghdad, because Iraq has been at war, but Lebanon has not been, not anymore than France has (maybe less, even).


AcademicLurker 11.14.15 at 3:54 pm

Fuzzy Dunlop@48: I don’t know about elsewhere, but in the United States Beirut and Lebanon are never mentioned in the news except in the context of war or terrorist attacks. So people whose entire knowledge of the region comes from major news outlets are probably under the impression that war and terrorist bombings are the normal state of things there.


T 11.14.15 at 4:31 pm

geo @ 47

The original report before the committee of academic freedom at U of I explicitly found no evidence of donor influence on the Chancellor’s decision (p.6) although she received emails protesting the appointment (Appendix C, Document 10)

More documents were released under a FOIA request. The release of the latter FOIA docs is here:
For those that like to see the sausage made, take a look. Nothing I saw about outside donors, but lots on administrator’s disgust with the tweets. It’s also clear that Wise was acting on behalf of the Board when she refuses to submit Salaita for approval. She takes genuine offense that that decision was hers as found in the some of the faculty reports. And the discussion also reveals the huge split between academics in the humanities and the general public. To Wise, the Board, and much of the public, Salaita’s lack of fitness to be a professor was self-evident, rightly or wrongly.

I don’t think you need “donor influence” given the nature of the tweets. They are repeatedly referred to by the administrators and their correspondents (including Native American academics) as vile. Given the pro-Israeli sentiment generally and the language of the tweets, they elicited the expected response.

I find no small irony in the fact that certain pro-Salaita supporters (read the CT threads) just knew that this whole episode was a plot by unnamed Jewish donors pulling strings behind the scenes.


T 11.14.15 at 4:54 pm

Fuzzy — From what I’ve read, ever since Hezbollah entered the Syrian war on the side of Assad as an Iranian proxy, the situation in Lebanon has been volatile especially at the border with the influx of refugees and the Hezbollah attacks on ISIS and anti-Assad forces. The January bombing in Tripoli Lebanon is another example.


geo 11.14.15 at 5:52 pm

T@50: Thanks for those links.


T 11.14.15 at 7:47 pm


Hi geo — I think it’s important that you either stand by your @47 post or withdraw it based on any new information you review. Is @47 still your understanding?


mbw 11.16.15 at 4:00 am

It’s late to be commenting, especially given the events of the last few days, but I did think that some of Corey’s ‘facts” are so wrong they need to be pointed out.

The “Chris Kelly” to whom he repeatedly refers is Chris Kennedy. He’s a jackass, but the apparent reason why he’s gone is that the new Republican governor wanted his own guy, not a Democrat.

Some departments were pretty much on hold this year because of the Salaita conflict. The big science and engineering departments, for better or worse, went about their business scarcely affected. I don’t think most students even recognize Salaita’s name. What has affected us is the absence of a state budget as the fanatical billionaire Republican governor butts heads with the corrupt old Democratic legislative leadership.

So I get the feeling that Corey doesn’t really know what he’s talking about with regard to what’s happening here.

That said, I really hope that the statements of Wise and Kennedy’s Trustees that amounted to renouncing academic freedom in favor of an exaggerated “civility” code are explicitly reversed. It’s hard to see how the AAUP censure can be ended until that happens.


geo 11.16.15 at 5:52 am

T@53: I didn’t get around to reading those documents. If they say what you say they say, then yes, I withdraw my comment @47.


T 11.16.15 at 10:08 am

Fuzzy & AL @48,49 —

I found this NYTs article interesting. It focuses on the absence of outrage about Beirut as you both noted compared to Paris.

Geo – I apologize if I came on too strong, but the last things the Salaita affair needs is the rumor of secret money-men and secret cabals without proof. I think once the tweets were noticed by the administration — Wise herself was surprised it took her so long to find out given their tone — the natural politics would run their course.

Pauline Kael was purported to say that she couldn’t understand how Nixon won since none of her friends voted for him. Plainly this whole episode was a much bigger deal among the faculty than the students and in the humanities than the sciences. And, as you note, you have to understand a bit of Illinois politics to understand the big picture. A lot of the Salaita discussion on CT assumed the only stakeholders were the faculty and ignored the alumni and taxpayers (via the Board, gov, and legislature.) And it was the views of the later that drove the result.


Mike Schilling 11.17.15 at 8:29 am

The bite of the pro-academic freedom (and yes, anti-Israel) forces is becoming stronger and stronger.

Hold on: the pro-Salaita forces were anti-Israel? And here I thought this was all about ethics in academic journalism.


milx 11.17.15 at 5:26 pm

Salaita in the Nation:

“Israel occupies imaginative in addition to physical geographies. Zionism therefore reproduces with great efficiency the cultures of recrimination in North America. It is necessary to connect this Zionist presence with the suppression of all radical ideas.
Palestinian human-rights activism, which often challenges Zionism, is firmly located in spaces of the political left, particularly among minority communities. Support for Israel, in contrast, exists in sites of authority, often an omnipresent but invisible accoutrement to swivel chairs, mineral water, and mahogany tables.

“It’s not merely ideological Zionism that leads upper administration to support Israel—or, to be more precise, to entertain and normalize Zionist activism. Palestine solidarity represents democratization, grassroots organizing, anti-racism, and decolonization; it’s deeply involved in ethnic studies and other subversive fields. An upper administrator needn’t be amenable to West Bank settlement to understand the value of Zionism in his line of work.

“Zionism is part and parcel of unilateral administrative power. It lends itself to top-down decision-making, to suppression of anti-neoliberal activism, to restrictions on speech, to colonial governance, to corporatization and counterrevolution—in other words, Zionism behaves in universities precisely as it does in various geopolitical systems.”

You’re not a free speech advocate until you advocate for someone w/ sick views but hopefully everyone (including Corey) realizes that dude is legit a psychotic anti-semite.


Lynne 11.17.15 at 6:03 pm

@58 to be against Zionism does not equal being against Jews.


milx 11.17.15 at 6:16 pm

Being against Zionism does not necessitate being against Jews. However, replacing the word Jew with the word Zionist in your hysterical assertion of conspiratorial, omnipresent exploitation + suppression does not mean you’ve fooled anyone. Anti-Zionism of the kind Salaita practices maintains all of the old problems of leftist anti-Semitism; it uses Zionists as the pivotal explanation for the ills of this world (imperialism, colonialism, capitalism). It is not neoliberalism for Salaita that suppresses anti-neoliberal activism, but Zionism itself. This conspiracy of hidden subversive power controlling the levers of power is the classical anti-semitic trope. This is an excellent book that can be read entirely online that you might be elucidating:


Hal 11.17.15 at 8:48 pm

As I see it, there are three separate issues: free speech in general, Salaita’s speech in particular, and Salaita’s employment.

I am strongly in favour of the first (I would have supported the ACLU’s stand on the Skokie march by neo-Nazis), divided on the second (supportive of Salaita’s right to speak his mind on social networks, not off-topic in a classroom), and narrowly supportive on the third (he was the wrong man for the job but once he was invited he acquired certain rights).

But many of Salaita’s views on a host of topics, as I have become acquainted with them, are ignorant and highly bigoted. Not to say worse.


Tom 11.17.15 at 9:35 pm

I am with Corey on all of this but just a side note here.

AFAIK, in the discussion of this case, nobody has mentioned that former trustee Christopher Kennedy (not Kelly as someone pointed out above) is the son of Robert F. Kennedy, who was shot dead in 1968 by a young Palestinian because of RFK’s support for Israel.

I believe that Chris Kennedy should have recused himself from discussing anything regarding Salaita’s case as he could not have been – maybe understandably so – objective.

Comments on this entry are closed.