Dr. Cornel West, the well-known public intellectual, scholar and activist, has cancelled a prestigious lecture at the University of Illinois Urban-Champaign (UIUC) in protest of the firing of Dr. Steven Salaita, a tenured professor in the Native American Studies program.
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.
West, a professor at Princeton University, was scheduled to deliver the 2015 Marjorie Hall Thulin Lecture on “The Profound Desire for Justice” next month in the university’s historic Lincoln Hall.
“My change of mind in regard to my cancellation of my lecture constitutes a line in the sand I could not cross,” West said in a statement released by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). “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.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights and the law firm of Loevy & Loevy represent Salaita in a lawsuit filed in February 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.
By cancelling his appearance at UIUC, West joins thousands of academics around the country and abroad who promised to boycott the university for violating Salaita’s First Amendment right to free speech. Since Salaita’s firing, more than 5,000 academics from around the country have pledged to boycott the university, resulting in the cancellation of more than three dozen scheduled talks and conferences at the school. Sixteen academic departments of the university have voted no confidence in the university administration, and prominent academic organizations, including the large and weighty American Association of University Professors AAUP, the Modern Language Association, and the Society of American Law Teachers have publicly condemned the University’s actions.
In the latest anti-administration move, the AAUP is preparing to censure the university in May for its handling of the Salaita case, according to the News-Gazette.
“In general, for an institution as reputable as UIUC, I think it would be a black mark against them, frankly,” said Anita Levy, associate secretary of the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance.