by: David Harris-Gershon on September 7th, 2014 | 4 Comments »
The University of Illinois administration is imploding under the weight of a swiftly growing academic boycott and a rash of no-confidence votes by numerous university departments. All of this has come in response to the firing of Professor Steven Salaita by Chancellor Phyllis Wise in August for his social-media critiques of Israel. The story of that firing is a sordid and rapidly deteriorating one on the verge of concluding. It has also become the story of how university administrations across America, unsettled by the Salaita case, are responding with calls for ‘civility,’ a preemptive strike threatening the principle of academic freedom.
To explain, it’s first necessary to briefly tell Salaita’s story as it currently stands, which indeed is a strange one. A former English professor at Virginia Tech, Salaita was hired away by Wise to a tenured professorship at Illinois, where he was to teach Native American Studies beginning this fall. However, Salaita was suddenly fired before he even stepped into a classroom just before the academic year began because of his severe critiques of Israel on Twitter.
For nearly three weeks, as outrage grew and academic boycotts by professors around the country spread, Wise and the administration remained silent. Then, finally, Wise released a statement explaining the Salaita firing in which she wrote:
“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.”