The American Association of University Professors Foundation’s Academic Freedom Fund has awarded a grant of $5,000 to Dr. Steven Salaita, whose contract as a tenured professor in the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s American Indian Studies Program was revoked after he posted comments on his personal Twitter account criticizing Israel for its summer bombing of Gaza and the deaths of 500 children.
The AAUP Foundation’s Academic Freedom Fund is a restricted fund that may provide temporary financial aid to faculty members whose means of support are reduced or cut off because of their involvement in “academic freedom controversies,” Henry Reichmann, chair of the Foundation’s board of directors, said in a media release October 14. Salaita is without salary while he contests his dismissal from the university on academic freedom grounds. Salaita’s tweets are available here.
Salaita left a tenured professorship at Virginia Tech after he was hired for the tenured position in UIUC’s American Indian Studies Program and signed a contract in October 2013. UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise notified Salaita around two weeks before he was to begin teaching on August 16 that she would not forward his application to the university’s board of trustees for its pro-forma approval. She later changed her mind and sent it to the board, which voted 8-1 to follow Wise’s recommendation not to approve Salaita’s hiring.
Wise issued a statement in August denying that Salaita was fired because of his political opinions about Israel’s actions – it was the “disrespectful” tone of his opinions that she objected to. Discussions “in and outside the classroom [must be conducted] in a scholarly, civil and productive manner,” Wise wrote.
But hundreds of e-mails released under the Freedom of Information Act show that powerful and wealthy supporters of Israel brought pressure to bear on the administration, threatening to stop donating money to the university if Salaita wasn’t fired. The e-mails are available here.
The AAUP wrote to Wise in August disapproving of the actions taken against Salaita. "Aborting an appointment in this manner without having demonstrated cause has consistently been seen by the AAUP as tantamount to summary dismissal, an action categorically inimical to academic freedom and due process and one aggravated in his case by the apparent failure to provide him with any written or even oral explanation," AAUP Associate Secretary Anita Levy said. Levy said that Salaita should receive full pay until the university's Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure has concluded its review of the case.
The Foundation agreed with the AAUP’s assessment that Salaita, who was barred from teaching courses to which he had already been assigned, continues to be under suspension while the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure continues to scrutinize his dismissal. Under AAUP standards and UIUC’s own policies, the university should continue to pay Salaita, according to the Foundation. “The AAUP has urged the administration to adhere to these standards, but his suspension has continued without pay,” Reichman said. “The Academic Freedom Fund grant is a contribution to the financial expenses he has accordingly incurred.”
News of the grant came as “a complete surprise,” Salaita said in an e-mail to ICTMN. “I was informed via e-mail by Anita Levy, who led the initial investigation into my termination,” Salaita said. “I had no idea that the AAUP offers this sort of grant, but of course I'm immensely grateful to find out that it does. Paying for health insurance out of pocket means that any assistance is tremendously helpful.”
Salaita is currently visiting Chicago-area universities to talk about academic freedom, free speech and his situation. During an event at the University of Chicago on October 7, he was joined by Electronic Intifada founder, journalist and writer Ali Abunimah. The two men discussed the facts and implications concerning why the job offer in the American Indian Studies Program made to Salaita last was withdrawn by the administration in August after his tweets about Israel.
Salaita was introduced by Brian Leiter, professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Chicago. Commenting on the legal aspect of free speech, Leiter said, "The First Amendment right does not come with a caveat to the effect that only civil or respectful expression is actually protected...Yet the Chancellor and the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois have acted as though they have a right to punish speakers who say f**k the draft or f**k America or f**k Israel. But they have no such right."
A video of the event is viewable below: