CCR, along with the Chicago civil rights law firm of Loevy & Loevy, is representing Professor Steven Salaita, whose appointment to a tenured faculty position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – for which he had resigned from another tenured teaching position and was preparing to move – was terminated following his public tweets criticizing the Israeli government's recent actions in Gaza. Salaita's termination, which functions as a penalty for his speech on an issue of public concern, constitutes “viewpoint discrimination,” a violation of the First Amendment, and also threatens academic freedom by punishing a faculty member for speaking as a citizen on a critical issue.
For information about the September 9, 2014 press conference with Professor Salaita, please see the media advisory and Professor Salaita's statement.
Prior to representing Professor Salaita, CCR sent a letter to University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise regarding her decision to terminate his appointment at the University based on the content of his constitutionally-protected speech critical of the Israeli government’s military and political actions in Gaza. The University's betrayal of academic freedom has been widely condemned.
Professor Steven Salaita was a tenured English professor at Virginia Tech University, whose scholarship focused on colonialism, militarism and occupation and who had written well-regarded books studying Arab-American literature and criticizing Zionism. It was on the basis of his excellent scholarly record that the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offered Professor Salaita a tenured position in the University’s American Indian Studies department. Based on the contract he had with the University of Illinois, Professor Salaita resigned his tenured position at Virginia Tech University and had prepared to move his family to Illinois. Yet, one week before school was to start, Professor Salaita received a terse letter from University Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise, summarily informing him that his appointment was terminated. It offered no reasons why.
It is clear, however, that Professor Salaita’s termination was a result of a number of posts on social media highly critical of Israeli government atrocities in Gaza in recent weeks. The University received strong pressure from outside groups who, consistent with a broader strategy to silence Palestinian human rights activists, labeled Professor Salaita anti-semitic. CCR has seen similar attempts to silence Palestinian activists on campuses all across the country. Seven years of absolutely stellar teaching and scholarly evaluations for Professor Salaita totally belie claims that he would ever be “uncivil” to students in the classroom, as Chancellor Wise has since intimated.
The University’s action to repress or penalize Professor Salaita’s speech on a matter of public concern such as Israel/Palestine because of disagreement with its message is impermissible “viewpoint discrimination,” a serious First Amendment violation. It is also no defense for the University to claim that his speech was offensive or aggressive, as the First Amendment also clearly protects the tone and manner of speech others find objectionable. As CCR explained in our letter to Chancellor Wise, beyond the First Amendment violation committed in this instance, the University has “betrayed elementary principles of academic freedom which naturally extend protections to faculty members’ ability to ‘speak or write as citizens,’ and which must be free from ‘institutional censorship or discipline.’”
The University’s betrayal of academic freedom has been met with harsh criticisms, from academic boycotts of the University, withering editorial commentary, to a petition garnering over 16,000 signatures. A small sampling of statements in support of Professor Salaita and critical of the University of Illinois are below.
Statements of Support for Professor Salaita and Critical of University of Illinois's Actions
Letters from Legal Organizations
Letter from Center for Constitutional Rights
Letter from Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, CAIR-Chicago and NLG-Chicago
Open Letters from Academic Organizations
Letter from American Anthropological Association (AAA)
Letter from American Association of University Professors (AAUP)
Letter from American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA)
Letter from American Historical Association (AHA)
Letter from American Political Science Association (APSA)
Letter from Arab American Studies Association (AASA)
Letter from California Scholars For Academic Freedom
Letter from Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA)
Letter from Modern Language Association (MLA)
Statements from Academic Organizations
Statement by American Association of University Professors (AAUP)
Statement by American Studies Association (ASA)
Statement by the Executive Committee of the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Statement by Cultural Studies Association (CSA)
Statement by Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA)
Statement by Society of American Law Teachers
Letters from Faculty
Letter from Constitutional Law and Free Speech Scholars
Letter from English and Literature Department Faculty
Letter from Scholars Committed to Advancing Critical and Open Perspectives on the Israel-Palestine Conflict
Letter from Scholars Who Have Traveled in Palestine
Letter from Bonnie Honig
Letter from Katherine Franke
University of Illinois Jewish Community Letter in Support of Our Professor Steven Salaita
Petitions and Academic Boycott Announcements
The US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) Condemnation
Scholars Petition Boycotting University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Public Petition Demanding Reinstatement
Mondoweiss: Salaita’s stellar teaching record exposes political motivation behind his firing
Inside Higher Ed: Fighting the Twitter Police
Academe Blog: Chancellor Phyllis Wise Explains the Firing of Steven Salaita
Inside Higher Ed: The Emails on Salaita
The News Gazette: UI precluded any honest debate
The Daily Illini: Termination of Salaita is Censorship
The News-Gazette: Salaita prompted donors' fury
The Washington Post: Did the University of Illinois rescind Steven Salaita's appointment to appease donors?
August 1, 2014 - The Vice President and Chancellor of the University of Illinois informed Professor Salaita that they would not recommend further action by the Board of Trustees regarding his appointment to a tenured position.
August 7, 2014 - CCR sent a letter to University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise regarding her decision to terminate the appointment of Professor Steven Salaita at the University based on the content of his constitutionally-protected speech critical of the Israeli government’s military and political actions in Gaza.
August 22, 2014 - Chancellor Wise released a statement regarding her decision.
September 9, 2014 - Professor Salaita spoke publicly for the first time about the termination of his position at a press conference.
September 11, 2014 - The University of Illinois Board of Trustees voted to terminate Professor Salaita from his tenured position.