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Chancellor issues campus-wide email explaining Salaita decision (Update: Trustees and officials support)

Chancellor issues campus-wide email explaining Salaita decision (Update: Trustees and officials support)

“The decision regarding Prof. Salaita was not influenced in any way by his positions on the conflict in the Middle East nor his criticism of Israel.”

Prior to a few minutes ago, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had not commented publicly about the reasoning behind the decision not to complete the hiring process for Professor Steven Salaita.

There was a lot of protest, including a petition and academic boycotts, meant to pressure the university into changing its mind.  That does not appear to be happening, from the latest news report. That, of course, does not preclude some sort of financial settlement, which might take into account that Salaita resigned his prior tenured position at Virginia Tech before learning his contingent offer from UI-UC would not be approved.

The Urbana-Champaign News-Gazette now reports that Chancellor Phyllis Wise has sent a campus-wide email:

In her first public statement about Professor Steven Salaita, University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise said her decision to not forward his appointment to trustees for formal approval was not influenced by his criticism of Israel.

The university, she said, cannot tolerate “personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.”

“We have a particular duty to our students to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals. A Jewish student, a Palestinian student, or any student of any faith or background must feel confident that personal views can be expressed and that philosophical disagreements with a faculty member can be debated in a civil, thoughtful and mutually respectful manner. Most important, every student must know that every instructor recognizes and values that student as a human being. If we have lost that, we have lost much more than our standing as a world-class institution of higher education,” Wise sent in a mass e-mail to the campus community Friday afternoon.

(Update) In addition, later in the afternoon, the Board of Trustees, the Chancellors of the Chicago and Springfield campuses, numerous university senior officials, and the President of the Faculty Senates, issues a statement supporting the decision.

The full Chancellor email, as reprinted by the News-Gazette, is as follows (added — original email here):

Dear Colleagues:

As you may be aware, Vice President Christophe Pierre and I wrote to Prof. Steven Salaita on Aug. 1, informing him of the university’s decision not to recommend further action by the Board of Trustees concerning his potential appointment to the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Since this decision, many of you have expressed your concern about its potential impact on academic freedom. I want to assure you in the strongest possible terms that all of us — my administration, the university administration and I — absolutely are committed to this bedrock principle. I began my career as a scientist challenging accepted ideas and pre-conceived notions, and I have continued during my career to invite and encourage such debates in all aspects of university life.

A pre-eminent university must always be a home for difficult discussions and for the teaching of diverse ideas. One of our core missions is to welcome and encourage differing perspectives. Robust – and even intense and provocative – debate and disagreement are deeply valued and critical to the success of our university.

As a university community, we also are committed to creating a welcoming environment for faculty and students alike to explore the most difficult, contentious and complex issues facing our society today. Our Inclusive Illinois initiative is based on the premise that education is a process that starts with our collective willingness to search for answers together – learning from each other in a respectful way that supports a diversity of worldviews, histories and cultural knowledge.

The decision regarding Prof. Salaita was not influenced in any way by his positions on the conflict in the Middle East nor his criticism of Israel. Our university is home to a wide diversity of opinions on issues of politics and foreign policy. Some of our faculty are critical of Israel, while others are strong supporters. These debates make us stronger as an institution and force advocates of all viewpoints to confront the arguments and perspectives offered by others. We are a university built on precisely this type of dialogue, discourse and debate.

What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them. We have a particular duty to our students to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals.

As chancellor, it is my responsibility to ensure that all perspectives are welcome and that our discourse, regardless of subject matter or viewpoint, allows new concepts and differing points of view to be discussed in and outside the classroom in a scholarly, civil and productive manner.

A Jewish student, a Palestinian student, or any student of any faith or background must feel confident that personal views can be expressed and that philosophical disagreements with a faculty member can be debated in a civil, thoughtful and mutually respectful manner. Most important, every student must know that every instructor recognizes and values that student as a human being. If we have lost that, we have lost much more than our standing as a world-class institution of higher education.

As a member of the faculty, I firmly believe that a tenured faculty position at the University of Illinois is a tremendous honor and a unique privilege. Tenure also brings with it a heavy responsibility to continue the traditions of scholarship and civility upon which our university is built.

I am committed to working closely with you to identify how the campus administration can support our collective duty to inspire and facilitate thoughtful consideration of diverse opinions and discourse on challenging issues.

Sincerely,

Phyllis M. Wise

Chancellor

UPDATE: The News-Gazette has updated its story with the addition of a statement supporting the Chancellor’s decision signed by other university officials and the Board of Trustees:

Earlier today, you received a thoughtful statement from Chancellor Phyllis Wise regarding the university’s decision not to recommend Prof. Steven Salaita for a tenured faculty position on the Urbana-Champaign campus.

In her statement, Chancellor Wise reaffirmed her commitment to academic freedom and to fostering an environment that encourages diverging opinions, robust debate and challenging conventional norms. Those principles have been at the heart of the university’s mission for nearly 150 years, and have fueled its rise as a world leader in education and innovation.

But, as she noted, our excellence is also rooted in another guiding principle that is just as fundamental. Our campuses must be safe harbors where students and faculty from all backgrounds and cultures feel valued, respected and comfortable expressing their views.

We agree, and write today to add our collective and unwavering support of Chancellor Wise and her philosophy of academic freedom and free speech tempered in respect for human rights – these are the same core values which have guided this institution since its founding.

In the end, the University of Illinois will never be measured simply by the number of world-changing engineers, thoughtful philosophers or great artists we produce. We also have a responsibility to develop productive citizens of our democracy. As a nation, we are only as strong as the next generation of participants in the public sphere. The University of Illinois must shape men and women who will contribute as citizens in a diverse and multi-cultural democracy. To succeed in this mission, we must constantly reinforce our expectation of a university community that values civility as much as scholarship.

Disrespectful and demeaning speech that promotes malice is not an acceptable form of civil argument if we wish to ensure that students, faculty and staff are comfortable in a place of scholarship and education. If we educate a generation of students to believe otherwise, we will have jeopardized the very system that so many have made such great sacrifices to defend. There can be no place for that in our democracy, and therefore, there will be no place for it in our university.

Chancellor Wise is an outstanding administrator, leader and teacher. Her academic career has been built on her commitment to promoting academic freedom and creating a welcoming environment for students and faculty alike. We stand with her today and will be with her tomorrow as she devotes her considerable talent and energy to serving our students, our faculty and staff, and our society.

We look forward to working closely with Chancellor Wise and all of you to ensure that our university is recognized both for its commitment to academic freedom and as a national model of leading-edge scholarship framed in respect and courtesy.

Sincerely,

Christopher G. Kennedy, Chair, University of Illinois Board of Trustees

Robert A. Easter, President

Hannah Cave, Trustee
Ricardo Estrada, Trustee
Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Trustee
Lucas N. Frye, Trustee
Karen Hasara, Trustee
Patricia Brown Holmes, Trustee
Timothy N. Koritz, Trustee
Danielle M. Leibowitz, Trustee
Edward L. McMillan, Trustee
James D. Montgomery, Trustee
Pamela B. Strobel, Trustee

Paula Allen-Meares, Chancellor, Chicago campus, and Vice President, University of Illinois
Susan J. Koch, Chancellor, Springfield campus, and Vice President, University of Illinois

Donald A. Chambers, Professor of Physiology and Biochemistry; Chair, University Senates Conference

Jerry Bauman, Interim Vice President for Health Affairs
Thomas R. Bearrows, University Counsel
Thomas P. Hardy, Executive Director for University Relations
Susan M. Kies, Secretary of the Board of Trustees and the University
Walter K. Knorr, VP/Chief Financial Officer and Comptroller
Christophe Pierre, Vice President for Academic Affairs
Lawrence B. Schook, Vice President for Research
Lester H. McKeever, Jr., Treasurer, Board of Trustees

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Comments

Trapped in Davis | August 22, 2014 at 2:38 pm

Better be careful. This might start a trend among colleges and universities of expecting their professors to act like grown-ups.

So a simple translation would be that they are afraid he was going to be a butt head to any pro-Israel student’s and might let his views affect his decisions as an educator. Sounds reasonable to me.

Yeeeeup.

Freedom is NOT license. When we exercise our freedoms, our exercise still has consequences.

Heh!

This letter is probably the best the University could do. But it does enter sticky territory, as an individual could theoretically behave differently inside and out of the classroom.
Salaita should never have been hired as a Native American Indian Studies professor in the first place. His academic work is biased and not scholarly, he is a propagandist masquerading as a genuine academic. His subject matter has nothing to do with Native American studies. Even without the tweets that much is obvious. There are too many bogus professors like Salaita already in academia; that is the real scandal. They will be careful to be polite on twitter but their scholarship is shoddy and dishonest and their motivation is to indoctrinate, not educate.

Dear Prof. Jacobson,

This “distinguished” philosopher has cancelled his lecture at UI in the prestigious CAS/MillerComm Lecture Series. http://cas.illinois.edu/events/millercom/

http://proteviblog.typepad.com/protevi/2014/08/scholar_declines.html

Why don’t you write to the Center for Advanced Study at UI and offer your services as lecture in his stead, the topic being something like “Defending Academic Freedom from the Threat of Boycotts”?

It would be awesome and I’d love to see the University’s response.

Stupid strategy.

Just come up with another reason why he was denied the position like most people do.

Basically, he was not hired because he is a disrespectful idiot, not because of his opinions.

So there’s no problem. Let’s move on.

University of Illinois has three campuses – Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield.

The names of the chancellors of all three appear under one or the other of these letters. All three are women.

Hmmm. What are the chances of that? Is it a bit of that “diverse and multi-cultural” stuff cited in the supporting statement?

    tom swift in reply to tom swift. | August 22, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    That aside, the letter does enunciate an important principle which seems to be overlooked too often – “We have a particular duty to our students …” I’ve sometimes wondered how some schools can justify inflicting genuine fruit bats on paying customers.

      genes in reply to tom swift. | August 22, 2014 at 7:19 pm

      First because many of their students(or their parents) are fruit-bats.
      Second because some rich fruit-bat endowed a Chair.

I think somebody spent some time around Salaita and found out he was an insufferable loud-mouthed horse’s ass.

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