SFSC Letter: Reverse firing of Prof. Steven Salaita

To: Dr. Phyllis Wise, Chancellor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

I write concerning your university’s firing of Prof. Steven Salaita in blatant violation of academic freedom and appeal to you to promptly re-instate his appointment, an act that would go a long way toward reassuring your university and scholars around the world that you value free speech and you mean to encourage the open discussion of political issues, no matter how contentious.

I write on behalf of the Seriously Free Speech Committee in Vancouver, Canada, an organization committed to freedom of expression on matters related to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Our organization has an international body of honourary members of notable reputation in academia, media, cultural and other spheres of accomplishment.

To go to the heart of the matter: your administration is presently under pressure, from advocates and defenders of Israeli government policies and practices, to silence the voices of those with whom they disagree. Unfortunately, these defenders of the state of Israel increasingly deploy the reprehensible strategy of equating support for Palestine with anti-semitism and employ personal attacks, charging a lack of “civility” or “collegiality” as a means to discredit Israel’s critics. From the information available to us, it appears that Prof. Salaita may well have been targeted because he was a proponent of an academic boycott of Israel – not because of intemperate or controversial language in a personal communication.

We agree with the American Association of University Professors position recently argued in a policy statement on academic freedom “that faculty comments made on social media, including Twitter, are largely extramural statements of personal views that should be protected by academic freedom. While Professor Salaita’s scholarship does appear to deal with the topic of Palestine, his posts were arguably not intended as scholarly statements but as expressions of personal viewpoint. Whether one finds these views attractive or repulsive is irrelevant to the right of a faculty member to express them. Moreover, the AAUP has long objected to using criteria of civility and collegiality in faculty evaluation because we view this as a threat to academic freedom. It stands to reason that this objection should extend as well to decisions about hiring, especially about hiring to a tenured position.”

Your university’s reputation is on the line and we urge you to repair the damage already done as soon as possible.

Anne Roberts for
Seriously Free Speech Committee

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