UPDATE: Read comments for statements from the AAA and the UIUC anthropology faculty and graduate students.
UPDATE 2: Here is the official AAA blog post with the letter that was sent to UIUC.
In the week since Rex’s post on the Salaita case things have been moving fast. So fast that (unlike Corey Robin) I have a hard time keeping up. As of today, six departments at UIUC have taken votes of no confidence in the university leadership, with the number expected to rise to ten by the end of the week. Add to that seven academic associations which have issued letters condemning the university’s handling of the case, as well as numerous talks, conferences, and other events which have been canceled by scholars boycotting the university, and it is safe to call this a “movement.”
If you want to understand why, I strongly recommend reading this letter by the AAUP [PDF]. It addresses a number of claims by the university, such as the one that Salaita wasn’t really hired in the first place (and so wasn’t “fired”):
On October 9, Professor Salaita wrote to Interim Dean Ross accepting the appointment and returning a copy of the signed offer letter. With the interim dean’s concurrence, he states, he amended the effective date to August 16, 2014, in order to enable him to complete the academic year at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, where he was then serving on the faculty as a tenured associate professor. After accepting the appointment, Professor Salaita resigned his tenured position. Shortly thereafter, and throughout the spring and early summer, he engaged in e-mail correspondence with incoming AIS program director Professor Robert Warrior and the program assistant regarding matters related to his fall 2014 course assignments, schedule preferences, and book orders. Toward the end of January, Professor Salaita wrote to Professor Byrd about scheduling a visit to Urbana-Champaign in order to make arrangements for a place to live for him and his family. He states that they visited the area in March and subsequently initiated the purchase of an apartment, including payment of “earnest” money, which was subsequently forfeited when the agreement was voided following the abrupt notification regarding his appointment. During this visit, the AIS faculty hosted a dinner for him and his family to welcome him to the faculty. In early April he was notified of his fall teaching assignment, and he finalized his course book orders in mid-summer.
Or the grounds for his dismissal, which had nothing to do with his academic performance:
we sharply question whether they meet the standard, set forth in Regulation 5a of the AAUP’s Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure, that cause for such actions “be related, directly and substantially, to the fitness of faculty members in their professional capacities as teachers or researchers.”
Even more disturbing are new revelations summarized here suggesting that “the university’s about face was due to pressure from wealthy donors and alumni.”
And this letter from the Jewish community at UIUC raises the very real possibility that it was the content, not the tone, of Salaita’s comments which are responsible for his firing:
Furthermore, we insist that you not minimize the context within which Professor Salaita’s firing has taken place. It is within Palestinian right and that of us all to express opposition to the brutality to which we are and have been bearing witness in Gaza and all of Palestine, and to do so with sharp interrogation and anger. To brand this opposition as uncivil or unsafe enough to warrant the dismissal of a faculty member is not only a violation of academic freedom, it is a clear devaluation of Palestinian existence and personhood, with implications for others whose lives similarly have been and continue to be systematically attacked through state-sanctioned violence.
Where are anthropologists in all this? While I’m sure a lot of you may have already signed this petition, or written to the school, it would be nice to see more sign the discipline-specific petition by anthropologists and for the American Anthropological Association to issue a statement akin to what seven other associations have done.
Finally, for some perspective, I’d like to end with this quote from this labor day blog post by Corey Robin:
It’s easy to forget, in all the back and forth about academic freedom, that Salaita’s situation is actually all too typical of at-will employees across the country. The only difference is that Salaita, being an academic, may have a chance in court—and has been the recipient of a certain kind of internet and now media attention that non-academics almost never get.
But readers of this blog know all too well that American employees are routinely punished by their employers for speaking out, controversially or uncontroversially, on political issues (and for a great many other things). As I’ve argued many times, this is a distinctly American mode of political punishment and repression: outsource to the private sector (or the workplace) the coercion that a liberal state is constitutionally forbidden to do, a feature of our system noticed by everyone from Tocqueville to DuBois that nevertheless continues not to get enough play.
(Also see this post from last year which featured Corey’s writings on faculty privacy.)
UPDATE: Fixed some of the language for clarity.