Salaita Updates

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.

4 thoughts on “Salaita Updates

  1. Statement approved by a strong majority of the faculty of the Anthropology Department of UIUC this afternoon (Thursday, September 4, 2014)

    The faculty of the Department of Anthropology has watched with increasing concern as details of Chancellor Phyllis Wise’s decision to withdraw an offer of employment to Professor Steven Salaita have come to light. It is now clear to us that the Chancellor violated established procedures for hiring, and that she acted without consulting other academic leaders at the unit and college level. Subsequent statements by the Chancellor, President Robert Easter and the Board of Trustees call into question their commitment to academic freedom and the principles of faculty governance that are at the core of a research university. The repercussions of these actions have already affected us in multiple ways, including our interactions with national and international colleagues. This expanding controversy will undoubtedly undercut our ability to recruit and retain top faculty in our field. We are no longer confident that the continuing leadership of our current Chancellor, President and Board of Trustees is in the best interest of the University of Illinois. Therefore we join other departments on campus in registering our vote of no confidence in Chancellor Phyllis Wise, President Robert Easter and the Board of Trustees.

  2. Also, letter emailed to UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise from AAA President Monica Heller:

    Dear Chancellor Wise,
    We write as officers of the American Anthropological Association regarding your decision to rescind an offer of employment to Dr. Stephen Salaita. The AAA does not normally make statements about internal matters of hiring, tenure or promotion when institutional procedures are respected. We have in the past, however, expressed our deep concern when factors other than scholarly merit, teaching excellence, and community service are given inappropriate weight (as for example our statement regarding an attempt to use an on-line petition to influence a tenure decision in Anthropology at Barnard College). While the case of Dr. Salaita does not directly affect an anthropologist, it does concern the broad values of shared governance and academic freedom that make all university-based disciplines possible. We therefore consider that it is relevant to us as a discipline-based association.
    We have two concerns. The first is that it appears that a hiring process which respected all usual procedures was overturned without consultation with the involved parties. We understand that this undermines trust and threatens the ability of faculty and students to feel able to make such crucial decisions as hiring according to agreed-upon principles and practices. The second is that the reasons given for overturning the decision related to discourse in the realm of social media and were not pertinent to any judgment of Dr. Salaita’s work as a scholar and a teacher. It seems essential to us that the work of faculty and students in a university should be judged on its merits and not on any perception of political position.
    Now that the normal hiring process has been breached, we urge you to do your utmost to repair it and to respect the recommendations it produced.

  3. The African American Studies department at UIUC has just posted the following statement, linking the Salaita case to Michael Brown’s murder: I hope Kerim can address this connection, especially as I became aware of this statement as a result of reading this week’s ‘Sunday Reading’ over at The New Inquiry, where Kerim contributes a weekly list of must-read articles. Moreover, the statement from the UIUC African American studies department ‘connects all the dots’ which anthropologists were urged to connect, last year on the AAA blog (, in the aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict.

    While I connected these proverbial dots in responding to comments on my “On Being Fed-Up” post, as well as ‘connected the dots’ in numerous other comments which I have posted to this site, this dot-connecting seems not to happening as much as it could or should on Savage Minds, despite the explicit admonitions from the AAA Blog and past-president Leith Mullings. (An SM post on why this is is certainly worth considering.) I raise the issue of dot-connecting–which is really a matter of intersectionality (v. race theory into which one must be ‘initiated’)–because it also relates to two other topics, also discussed in this week’s list of recommended Sunday Reading: (1) the issue of ‘civility’, especially as recently raised by UC Berkeley Chancellor and anthropologist Nicholas Dirks, and (2) the issue of campus sexual assault/sexual harassment and the pattern of universities covering up Title IX violations/complaints (an issue I accurately, legitimately, and presciently–one might even say ‘prophetically’–raised multiple times in comments on this site, including in discussion with David Graeber in relation to academic habits of fear and conformity, and for which I have been continuously retaliated against, while being reprimanded for being ‘uncivil’; raising the very issue of free speech, legitimate dissent, whistleblower retaliation, and punishment for unpopular critiques of racism that make powerful university entities uncomfortable [yes, directly relevant to this post on Salaita]; and issues raised by present responses, such as Katherine Franke’s and David Palumbo-Liu’s, to Dirks’ calls for ‘civility’–i.e. that such appeals to civility are actually a way for the powerful to censor, silence, and squelch actual free speech and threaten genuine academic freedom).

    While I think it is wonderful that AAA is speaking out against Salaita’s unhiring, given how the issues his case raises are not separate from the other issue discussed above (i.e. anti-Black racism and the militarized response to legitimate nonviolent dissent in Ferguson; calls for ‘civility’ as a way to curtail academic freedom and keep marginalized individuals and groups from critiquing structural inequalities; universities covering up Title IX violations and gagging female students from speaking about abuse they experience and/or viciously retaliating against students who expose the cover-ups), I do wonder why anthropologists and the AAA aren’t doing a better job of (continuing to) ‘connect(ing) the dots’, including being more critical of both Nicholas Dirks and Jim Kim, as anthropologists who are/were top university administrators of schools now being investigated by OCR for Title IX violations and for Dirk’s questionable ‘civility’ email. What kind of message is truly being sent when Dirks and Kim are praised as anthropologists to look up to when the policies of the universities they preside(d) over are often abusive, repressive, and unscrupulous?

    Finally, how does the current critique of ‘civility’ relate to the objections that were made back when Savage Minds instituted its moderation policy? What is the standard for ‘civility’ after all? (And yes, will more people listen when a White male like Aaron Bady points out what I did when critiquing the use of the word civility: that it is a cognate of ‘civilization’ with all its associated connotations of the White Man’s Burden and ‘civilizing non-White savages’?) When are legitimate comments been censored not because they are abusive, but because they raise questions (about White/male privilege) that make those with more power uncomfortable? I have found it interesting that the empathy for Salaita that Corey Robin discusses on his blog, in relation to understanding how Salaita was responding personally to racialized dispossession as a Palestinian American (i.e. he was legitimately outraged and fed-up over racial discrimination), doesn’t always make it over to this site, amidst calls for ‘civility’ by the Savage Minds moderation policy. Perhaps a careful consideration of the links between Salaita’s case and events in Ferguson, as raised by the UIUC Af Am department, could help to change this contradiction, instead of encouraging ‘talking past’ and over some but not others?

Comments are closed.