Group votes to cen­sure Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois af­ter hir­ing de­ci­sion


A lead­ing aca­demic group voted Satur­day to cen­sure the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois’ flag­ship cam­pus over its de­ci­sion not to hire a pro­fes­sor fol­low­ing his anti-Is­rael Twit­ter mes­sages, a vote the uni­ver­sity’s chan­cel­lor said will have reper­cus­sions and is be­ing taken se­ri­ously.

In a voice vote, the membership of the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Uni­ver­sity Pro­fes­sors af­firmed the cen­sure at the group’s an­nual meet­ing in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

The de­ci­sion came in re­ac­tion to the uni­ver­sity re­scind­ing Steven Salaita’s job of­fer fol­low­ing his posts on Twit­ter con­cern­ing Is­rael and the West Bank.

The vote hinged on the prin­ci­ple of aca­demic free­dom, said Anita Levy, an as­so­ci­a­tion staff mem­ber in­volved with the group’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the mat­ter. A re­port by the group de­scribed Salaita’s tweets as ex­pres­sions of “out­rage in strong lan­guage over the war in Gaza.”

Re­ject­ing the pro­fes­sor’s ap­point­ment “vi­o­lated Pro­fes­sor Salaita’s aca­demic free­dom and cast a pall of un­cer­tainty over the de­gree to which aca­demic free­dom is un­der­stood and re­spected” at the school, Levy said, read­ing from a state­ment af­ter Satur­day’s vote.

The aca­demic as­so­ci­a­tion cur­rently has 56 in­sti­tu­tions on its cen­sure list.

Uni­ver­sity spokes­woman Robin Kaler said the school has an “unyield­ing com­mit­ment to the prin- ciples of aca­demic free­dom.”

And, in an email sent to fac­ulty on Satur­day, Uni­ver­sity Chan­cel­lor Phyl­lis Wise said the de­ci­sion was “dis­ap­point­ing, but not un­ex­pected.”

“We take this de­ci­sion by the AAUP se­ri­ously,” Wise said in the email. “We un­der­stand that it will have reper­cus­sions on the schol­arly ac­tiv­i­ties of many in our com­mu­nity, and we in­tend to ad­dress both the cen­sure and the un­der­ly­ing con­cerns through our es­tab­lished pro­cesses of shared gov­er­nance.”

An AAUP cen­sure is a rel­a­tively rare con­dem­na­tion that can dam­age a uni­ver­sity’s rep­u­ta­tion in the aca­demic world. Some fac­ulty mem­bers at the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois have said they be­lieve it might lead job hun­ters work­ing at other schools to choose not to work at the Ur­bana-Cham­paign cam­pus, though other fac­ulty mem­bers have dis­counted that idea.

The uni­ver­sity re­scinded Salaita’s job of­fer af­ter some donors com­plained his tweets were anti-Semitic. He has since sued the school. The cen­sure vote came one day af­ter a judge or­dered the uni­ver­sity to turn over thou­sands of pages of doc­u­ments sought by Salaita.

On Satur­day, his at­tor­neys is­sued a state­ment call­ing the cen­sure “a se­ri­ous blem­ish on the uni­ver­sity’s record.”

In Oc­to­ber 2013, Salaita was of­fered a pro­fes­sor’s job in the uni­ver­sity’s Na­tive Amer­i­can Stud­ies Depart­ment, start­ing in Au­gust 2014. He ac­cepted and quit his job at Vir­ginia Tech Uni­ver­sity.

But in the sum­mer of 2014, Salaita, whose fa­ther is from Jor­dan, wrote a long se­ries of Twit­ter mes­sages com­plain­ing about Is­raeli mil­i­tary ac­tion in Gaza. Some of those mes­sages in­cluded pro­fan­ity and a few were con­sid­ered an­tiSemitic by uni­ver­sity donors who wrote to Wise.

“Zion­ists: trans­form­ing ‘ an­tiSemitism’ from some­thing hor­ri­ble into some­thing hon­or­able since 1948,” he wrote in one mes­sage.

His law­suit claims he had al­ready been hired. The uni­ver­sity coun­ters that the board of trustees had not yet ap­proved his hire, a step re­quired for all tenured fac­ulty mem­bers.

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