By Sheila Delany, SFSC Member, The Georgia Straight
Ever had the rug jerked out from under you? Had your life forced into a sudden 180 degree turn? Steven Salaita has. The young professor, author or editor of six books and numerous articles on indigenous peoples, colonialism, and Arabic culture, was a well-liked tenured teacher at Virginia Tech University. Over a year ago, in autumn 2013, he accepted another tenured position in American Indian studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He and his wife quit their jobs in Virginia, sold their house, moved north with their child, and Salaita began preparing classes.
Then in August, three weeks before classes were to start, came the surprise. Pro-Israel students and wealthy donors to the University of Illinois, some of them prominent Zionists, had monitored Salaita’s personal Twitter account, on which he had registered angry comments during Israel’s brutal attack on Gaza. Doubtless they also knew that he had been active in the BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—movement to pressure Israel into ending its occupation of Palestine, and particularly the academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions. They may have known that his parents are Jordanian and Palestinian.
Accusing Salaita of anti-Semitism and incivility, some donors contacted the chancellor of the university and threatened to withdraw funding if the hiring went through. It had, of course, been approved by the department and relevant administrators, and contractually agreed, but now the chancellor, Phyllis Wise, was motivated to interfere. She refused to send the hiring package on to the last step in the process, the normally pro-forma approval of the board of governors or board of trustees. In other words, the job offer was canceled, nullified, withdrawn, rescinded, revoked. This has been variously referred to in news articles as “de-hiring”, “un-hiring”, “reversal”, et cetera. Continue reading