The University of Illinois Board of Trustees just voted on the recommendation of a tenured position for Steven Salaita.

The issue became highly controversial when UI at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Phyllis Wise first declined to forward the recommendation to the Board.

Salaita’s tweets about Jews, Israel and Gaza caused a wide-ranging debate on social media and among academics.

Our prior posts are under the Steven Salaita Tag.

After weeks of protest and threats of a lawsuit, the recommendation was forwarded for vote today.

There were several editorials from major Illinois publications in the past week supporting Wise and arguing that Salaita’s tweets crossed a line, including the Urbana News-Gazette, Chicago Tribune, and Chicago Sun Times. The Tribune Editorial Board wrote:

Salaita was dumped because his tweets crossed the line from caustic commentary to hate speech. Some of his remarks come uncomfortably and irresponsibly close to endorsing violence against individuals or groups of people. Some are racist. At the very least, they would create a hostile environment in which others must work or study.

Salaita has every right to say anything he wants, about Israel or anything else, but not without consequence. The university can and should weigh his public statements when deciding whether he’d be a suitable and productive faculty member. It’s too bad they didn’t figure things out before making the job offer, because their about-face has left Salaita and his wife without jobs or a home. He’s threatening to sue. The university may offer compensation, though, as Northwestern University law professor Steven Lubet convincingly argued last month in these pages, Salaita’s legal position is shaky.

There’s plenty of room at the U. of I. for passionate intellectual discourse. There’s room for profanity, vitriol and provocative language. But there’s no reason to make room for hate speech.

The liberal Jewish Forward issued an editorial which read, in part:

Twitter is a coarse medium, and a very public one, and many of Salaita’s posts about Israel and Zionism employ traditional anti-Semitic tropes and slanders so repeatedly that it’s impossible not to discern a deliberate pattern of thought. Salaita told our Nathan Guttman in an interview that Jewish students have nothing to fear in his classroom. Sorry, that’s just not believable.

“I’ve had a horrible influx of Zio-trolls today,” he tweeted April 25. “It’s like getting a case of the scabies. They burrow in and you want to rip off your skin.”

“There’s something profoundly sexual to the Zionist pleasure w/#Israel’s aggression,” he posted on July 9. “Sublimation through bloodletting, a common perversion.”

This expression goes far beyond disputing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, its military conduct in Gaza or even its right to exist, to trade in the kind of dangerous rhetoric that has characterized anti-Jewish sentiment for centuries. The attempts by his supporters to excuse this language would be laughable if they weren’t so dismaying. Just one example: Michael Rothberg, head of the English department at UIUC, released a letter that he wrote to Wise arguing that Salaita’s tweets were justified because of Israel’s destructive incursion into Gaza.

But the first one we cited was written in April. And the second one only a day after Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8, when the violence had barely begun.

Numerous academic groups and individual professors supported Salaita, and argued that Salaita’s contractual, constitutional and academic freedom rights were being infringed.

Wise, in statements at the meeting, stood by her position that she cannot recommend tenure for Salaita and opposed the recommendation. President Robert Easter echoed her remarks against the tenure appointment.

The Board voted 8-1 against granting Salaita tenure. We will embed video of today’s proceedings when available.

Steve Salaita Twitter Photo Cropped

(Steven Salaita Twitter Profile Photo)

Phyllis Wise entering the meeting:


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