Chancellor Wise Expresses Regret Over Salaita Case
The chancellor of the University of Illinois Urbana campus expressed regret on Thursday about the way she came to a decision to withdraw a job offer to a professor who posted inflammatory comments on Twitter – a decision she said was “pretty unilateral.”
Chancellor Phyllis Wise said members of the Board of Trustees told her in July that they likely would not approve the appointment of Professor Steven Salaita. A week later, Wise sent a letter to Salaita rescinding the job offer.
“The judgment I made in writing him was to convey the sentiment of the Board of Trustees, it was not mine,” she said. “And I did it because I thought I was doing something humane for him.”
Humane, she said, because she didn’t want Salaita to move his family to Urbana only to learn his appointment was not approved.
Asked if she was taking the fall for the Board of Trustees, Wise said, “no,” she was sharing the responsibility. Wise said she regretted not consulting more people before sending the letter and promised to examine her process to avoid mistakes in the future. Last month, the board, U of I President Robert Easter and other top-level administrators publicly backed the chancellor.
Wise said she sent Salaita’s appointment to the board last Fall with her recommendation to approve it. She said Salaita pushed back his start date and when the Tweets came out, she said people starting looking closer at his record.
Wise spoke at an assembly of College of Media faculty on campus, and was repeatedly challenged about the decision and whether it violates principles of free speech and academic freedom. She promised to begin a campus-wide conversation about what that freedom means on a modern college campus.