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Steven Salaita and Academic Freedom: A Call for Solidarity

From the Editors of Public Seminar

We have learned with apprehension that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has apparently revoked a job offer as a professor of American Indian Studies to Professor Steven Salaita due to his tweets and public anti-Israel comments on the current conflict in Gaza. Salaita had already resigned from his position at Virginia Tech, and his appointment at UIUC had already been announced, requiring only the final approval of the University’s Board of Trustees.

At Public Seminar, we strongly support not only the right, but also the importance of scholars expressing political views to the general public, engaging in extra-academic debates concerning relevant and even controversial social and political matters. Salaita’s tweets may strike some people as using an inappropriate and obnoxious tone and vocabulary. They may appear to some as adopting an ineffective and counterproductive language, while they may be justified by others as legitimately expressing outrage and indignation in front of the killing of children and civilian population in Gaza. But, whereas this is a legitimate, and perhaps even necessary debate to have, what is not acceptable is that a scholar who had secured an academic position based on his academic accomplishments and promise is now denied that very position because of his political views or the way he has expressed them outside the university.

If the reports about the revocation of Salaita’s job offer are correct, this would be a blatant violation both of academic freedom and of freedom of speech. As the Illinois AAUP Committee A wrote:

Speech that is deemed controversial should be challenged with further speech that may abhor and challenge a statement. Yet the University of Illinois cannot cancel an appointment based upon Twitter statements that are protected speech in the United States of America.

These are the reasons why we support the Illinois AAUP Committee A and other colleagues’ effort in demanding Prof. Salaita’s reinstatement.

What follows is a template letter for those who want to write to UIUC chancellor, Phyllis Wise:

Please reinstate Associate Professor of American Indian Studies, Steven Salaita. As you know, Dr. Salaita is a world-renowned scholar who was hired on his academic merit. His firing “over the tone of his comments on Twitter about Israel’s policies in Gaza,” as reported in Inside Higher Ed, violates the academic freedom and free speech necessary for a healthy democracy both inside and outside the academy. I urge you to reconsider this action and reinstate Professor Salaita as Associate Professor of American Indian Studies.

Emails can be sent to this address: pmwise@illinois.edu.

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