Nearly 300 scholars have signed petitions pledging to stay away from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign until it rescinds its decision not to hire Steven G. Salaita, whose appointment as a tenured professor of American Indian studies was blocked after he came under fire for tweets criticizing Israel’s military actions in Gaza.
Mr. Salaita had been offered the job, subject to approval by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, and had expected to begin work at Urbana-Champaign on Friday. On August 1, however, Phyllis M. Wise, the campus’s chancellor, and Christophe Pierre, the university system’s vice president for academic affairs, told him in a letter that they would not bring his appointment before the board for a vote.
They offered no explanation other than that “we believe that an affirmative board vote approving your appointment is unlikely.” The university has not commented further on the matter.
Illinois had heard objections to its plan to hire him, in light of his recent tweets harshly critical of Israel. Many scholars there and elsewhere suspect that administrators had withdrawn his appointment to placate those angered by his statements. Faculty appointments usually involve only routine board approval.
Corey Robin, a professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center who has been outspoken in his opposition to the university’s actions regarding Mr. Salaita, has assembled on his blog various petitions to Chancellor Wise on Mr. Salaita’s behalf. Among them are separate, but identically worded, petitions from philosophers and political scientists in the United States and other nations, declaring that they “will not visit the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus until Professor Salaita is reinstated to the position offered him by the faculty and which he had accepted in good faith.”
Separate petitions on behalf of faculty members in English and sociology departments similarly say they will not speak at Urbana-Champaign or attend conferences there until the decision to block Mr. Salaita’s appointment has been rescinded. Those petitions say, “Many prominent academics have written eloquently about the chilling effect your decision will have on the free expression of dissident ideas by academics; legal scholars have argued that it is a violation of academic freedom and more fundamentally, of freedom of speech.”
A fifth petition, by scholars of rhetoric and composition, not only calls on the university to hire Mr. Salaita but also demands that Chancellor Wise issue a public apology to him.
More than 14,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org demanding that Mr. Salaita be given the job.
Although Cary Nelson, a past president of the American Association of University Professors, has said that Illinois had a right to rescind the job offer in light of Mr. Salaita’s comments, the AAUP itself has refrained from taking a position on the case until it knows more details, such as whether the job offer had been a formal one and whether Mr. Salaita’s tweets were the cause of its revocation.