Dr Steven Salaita, denied academic freedom for his tweets on the Israeli operation in Gaza last year, has been the subject of a national conversation on free speech, academic freedom and academic due process. I was present during the vote and spoke on behalf of Illinois Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure that responded within hours of the Inside Higher Ed article on August 6, 2014. We defended Dr Salaita’s right to engage in extramural utterances, even if controversial, and declared his summary dismissal was a violation of AAUP standards and principles. Shortly after the courageous vote to censure today, his attorneys released the following statement:
In response to the vote today by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to censure the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) for its termination of tenured professor Steven Salaita for his personal tweets criticizing Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) issued the following statement:
The AAUP’s censure is a serious blemish on the university’s record. According to the nationally respected 100-year-old professional association, censure is reserved for a situation involving “a major departure” from AAUP standards of sound academic practice that “remains unresolved.” The association censured UIUC not only for its summary dismissal of Professor Salaita in violation of academic freedom, due process, and shared governance, but also for its continued refusal to rectify its actions. The university’s stubbornness continues in spite of academic boycotts, department votes of no confidence in the UIUC administration, student walk-outs, tens of thousands of petition signatures, a federal lawsuit, and the AAUP’s reprimand, suggesting that the UIUC administration is more beholden to donors than it is to due process, academic freedom, and the First Amendment.
In April, the AAUP released a scathing report in which it found that Salaita’s firing violated principles of academic freedom, due process, and shared governance.
Yesterday, Professor Salaita won a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit that urged a federal court to order the university to release emails related to his firing. Documents obtained through previous FOIA requests revealed pressure from donors, who threatened to withhold financial support from UIUC because they did not like Salaita’s tweets that were critical of Israel. The court rejected the university’s claims that providing the emails would be “unduly burdensome” and found for Professor Salaita that the release of the emails was in the public interest.
In January, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Loevy & Loevy filed a civil rights case on Professor Salaita’s behalf against UIUC, top officials, and unnamed donors. The suit seeks Salaita’s reinstatement and monetary relief, including compensation for economic and reputational damage he suffered as a result of the university’s actions.