Back to top

CAUT Bulletin Archives

September 2014

Controversy around Salaita case grows

University of Illinois actions spark widespread criticism, concerns over academic freedom.

In early August, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign abruptly revoked a job offer to Steven G. Salaita, a move that almost immediately drew scrutiny from the academic community. Salaita, a former professor of English at Virginia Tech, had his offer withdrawn following several remarks he made on Twitter about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Citing the principles of academic freedom, CAUT issued a letter urging the university chancellor, Phyllis Wise, to respect the rights of faculty and to resolve the matter swiftly and appropriately.

“Academic freedom is arguably the central value of university life,” CAUT wrote. “When universities fail to defend the right of academics to exercise this freedom, no matter how controversial the expressed views may be, they compromise their core mission.”

Scholars from around the world have expressed similar concerns and pledged their support for Salaita, ranging from lively discussions on social media to promises to boycott the institution.

Wise has repeatedly denied the university violated academic freedom and has received “unwavering support” from the university system’s president and board of trustees.

“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,” she wrote in a campus-wide email on Aug. 22. “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.”

However, many UIUC faculty remain outraged over the behavior of the administration. In fact, speculation about excessive donor influence over the decision regarding Salaita has amplified calls for an investigation in the case. And faculty members in several departments have passed non-confidence motions against the chancellor’s leadership, suggesting backlash over the issue will not subside any time soon.