News Local/State

U of I Trustees Won’t Hire Prof. Salaita


Steven Salaita’s appointment to teach at the University of Illinois was formally rejected by the Board of Trustees, meeting Thursday on the Urbana campus.

Chancellor Phyllis Wise had held Salaita’s appointment back, after he became the center of controversy for tweets about Israel that some critics said were anti-Semitic. 

But trustees took up his appointment Thursday morning, rejecting it on an 8 to 1 vote.

University President Robert Easter summed up the administration’s position ---- that Salaita’s tweets were evidence of how he might conduct himself in the classroom.

"In our pluralistic society, it is increasingly obvious that forward progress is impeded by polarization, bigotry and hurtful dialogue that inhibits reasoned discourse," he said. "I have come to the conclusion that Professor Salaita’s approach indicates that he would be incapable of fostering a classroom environment where conflicting opinions could be given equal consideration, regardless of the issue being discussed."

Steven Salaita has threatened legal action if he doesn't get the job.  His attorneys have said if he isn't hired, they'll go to court to try to get an injunction to force the university to hire him.

His supporters in the audience at Thursday's board of trustees meeting shouted "shame on you,'' after the vote. 

The only vote in Salaita’s favor came from Trustee James Montgomery. He raised questions about freedom-of-speech issues, and whether the trustees’ rejected of an appointment approved by faculty violated the university’s adherence to principles of shared governance.

"There may be some serious concerns on the part of faculty on the issue of shared governance," he said, just before the vote was conducted.  "Shared governance, obviously, means that when we make decisions that affect the university that we need to have some consultation with the faculty."

Salaita was not at the meeting but said in a statement he was disappointed by the vote.
He was offered and accepted a job in October 2013 to begin teaching this fall in the university's Native American Studies Program after working at Virginia Tech University.

But after he wrote dozens of the sometimes-profane and, according to his critics, anti-Semitic tweets in July and August, Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Phyllis Wise informed him he wouldn't have a job.

U of I Trustees Chair Chris Kennedy addresses the media following the Board of Trustees meeting (photo by Hannah Meisel/WILL)

Salaita's hire hadn't been approved yet by the Board of Trustees. That was the final step in granting him tenure. His defenders say that the approval was a formality since professors regularly start work before the board OKs their appointments.

They believe he was already effectively employed and his speech protected by tenure.  Salaita had said he would still be comfortable working at the University of Illinois given he has some on-campus support.
Salaita's situation has led faculty in some university departments to approve votes of no confidence in Wise and has led academics from elsewhere to cancel several appearances at the university.