Anita Hill, the woman who brought awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace to the world, has cancelled an appearance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign over a lawsuit filed against the university by Dr. Steven Salaita, a tenured professor in the Native American Studies program who was fired last year.
Hill is best known for testifying against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during televised Senate confirmation hearings in 1991, accusing him of sexual harassment.
Salaita, a Palestinian American, was fired last summer after tweeting criticism of Israel’s bombing of Gaza, which killed more than 2,200 people, including 500 children. In February, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the law firm of Loevy & Loevy filed a lawsuit against the university and its officials, including the chancellor and university trustees, alleging that their decision to fire him over his tweets violated his constitutional rights to free speech and due process of law, and breached his employment contract. The suit also targets university donors who, based on emails made public, threatened to withhold their contributions to the university if it did not fire Salaita on account of his political speech.
Hill was scheduled to give the keynote address at the third annual Faculty Women of Color in the Academy Conference third national conference, set for April 10-11, as well as deliver a Chancellor's Lecture. But in a Huffington Post blog titled “One Speaker's Thoughts on Campus Litigation, Free Speech and Hostile Environments,” Hill announced that she was cancelling her talks at UICU. Salaita’s lawsuit “has dramatically reshaped the conversational space on campus and erodes the possibility of the open conversation I had hoped to have during my talks there,” Hill said. “While a court of law may be exactly the correct and only place to resolve the conflict between Dr. Salaita and UIUC, the litigation completely alters the context for any talk I can give,” Hill said.
An attorney and academic, Hill is currently a professor of social policy, law and women's studies at Brandeis University's Heller School for Social Policy and Management.
Hill said the clash between the university and Salaita reflects a tension between two values: The prohibition against language that furthers a hostile environment and freedom of expression. “I naively thought that a fruitful conversation on the campus of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign could lead to reconciliation based on the shared interest behind both, even with the Salaita affair as a backdrop,” she said. “I have concluded that the productive discussion I envisioned cannot occur in the shadow of active litigation and the resulting present intense polarity.”
A few days before Hill announced the cancellation of her talks, Dr. Cornel West, the well-known public intellectual, scholar and activist, cancelled a prestigious lecture he was to deliver at the UIUC in protest of Salaita’s firing. “The case of my dear brother Professor Steven Salaita is a moral scandal of great proportion and the suffering of precious Palestinians under a vicious Israeli occupation is a crime against humanity, even in a world in which ugly anti-Jewish hatred escalates,” West said.