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Salaita Supporters Say Would-Be Professor’s Case Is Far From Over

Supporters of Steven Salaita hold signs and chant outside the Academic Senate meeting on Monday.

Supporters of Steven Salaita hold signs and chant outside the Academic Senate meeting on Monday. Hannah Meisel/WILL

Supporters of a would-be University of Illinois professor say they're not going to stop protesting a week and a half after the Board of Trustees voted to not hire Steven Salaita. A few dozen of the professor's allies on campus showed up to rally and speak at an Academic Senate meeting Monday.

Fourteen academic departments – all within the humanities – at the U of I's Urbana campus have reaffirmed their votes of no confidence in the campus' chancellor, Phyllis Wise, after she took back Salaita's faculty appointment in August.

That decision was affirmed by the Board of Trustees earlier this month when they voted 8-1 not to approve Salaita's hiring. The administration says Salaita's criticism of Israel on his Twitter account this summer was 'uncivil' and is not welcome at the University.

But D. Fairchild Ruggles, a professor of landscape architecture, says Salaita's online rage was justified, taking into account the civilian casualties of the Israeli-Hamas conflict.

"It dismays me beyond belief that we can get so upset about freedom of speech and never mention 500 dead Palestinian children," she said at the meeting. "If someone cries about that and they cry from the heart, and it's forceful and it's angry and it's almost to the point of violence, I understand that as a mother."

One notable tweet of Salaita's read, "At this point, if (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?”

Supporters of Chancellor Wise's decision say it's comments like that which make it hard to believe Salaita's classroom would have fostered a two-sided discussion of the conflict in Gaza.

Ryan Brown, a senior studying business, says he would have felt unsafe in Salaita's classroom. But he also says the controversy surrounding Salaita's hiring has become too politicized. Brown says it's a matter of professionalism, and those seeking to reinstate Salaita to his job are creating an exception to rules most job-searching students adhere to when it comes to social media.

"He crossed the line with what he said and he was very unprofessional in how he did it," Brown said. "That is the reason he didn't get a job, not for any other reason you guys may think it."

Salaita is expected to file a lawsuit against the University in the coming weeks, and has also announced a speaking tour in Chicago for early next month.

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