The University of Illinois Board of Trustees met today to vote on whether or not to reinstate Professor Steven Salaita to his position with the American Indian Studies department at UIUC. Despite a sizeable turnout of students, faculty and community members in support of Salaita’s reinstatement, the Board of Trustees voted not to reinstate Professor Salaita.
Only one Trustee, James Montgomery, broke rank. Montgomery commented before the vote that he felt he had made a mistake by initially supporting the chancellor’s decision to rescind Salaita’s appointment. He reflected on his time as an undergraduate at UIUC, remarking that, as an African American, the campus often felt hostile to people of color, and that he was likely as vocal as Professor Salaita about issues of injustice. Montgomery also wondered aloud how the board’s pending decision would shake the foundation of shared governance on UIUC’s campus. Unfortunately, it appears that Mr. Montgomery was alone among his fellow board members in these opinions.
The board meeting adjourned amidst chants of “Shame on you!” from the crowd. Soon after, a large rally formed outside the student union. Students, faculty, community members and union supporters gathered first around the Alma Mater statue and later in the quad to insist that the fight for academic freedom and for Salaita’s reinstatement would not end today.
Immediately following the board’s decision, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) released a statement expressing profound disappointment. Maria LaHood, Salaita’s representative at the CCR Salaita said, “[The board’s] failure to rectify the University’s actions today and reinstate Prof. Salaita is more than a personal hardship for him; it is a blow to principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech that will have far-reaching consequences for the future of scholarship and the First Amendment. Worst of all, it means that these principles – invaluable to faculty and students everywhere, not to mention to the functioning of our democracy – can be trumped by the whims of wealthy donors.”
Professor Salaita also released a statement following the board vote:
I am disappointed in the majority of the Trustees and the action they took today. Being at the school on Tuesday surrounded by so many supportive students and faculty was a professional high point for me and reinforced how rewarding it would be to work in that community. I have offered to meet with both the Board and the Administration, but not one of them has spoken with me or ever heard my side of the story. They have no reason to doubt the high standard I have always maintained in the classroom. As I said in a less-notorious tweet, ‘I refuse to conceptualize #Israel/#Palestine as Jewish-Arab acrimony. I am in solidarity with many Jews and in disagreement with many Arabs.’ If they had cared to learn, they would have seen this and other tweets reflecting a similar sentiment. Given the Board’s vote, I am speaking with my attorneys about my options.