On 1 August 2014, the Palestinian-born academic Steven Salaita received a letter from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) rescinding the university’s offer of a tenured position in American Indian Studies. The decision, conveyed by Chancellor Phyllis Wise, came after Salaita had posted a series of tweets criticizing Israel’s assault on Gaza in July and August 2014, which the chancellor referred to as “uncivil.” Salaita, who had left his tenured position at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for UIUC, argued that this was an infringement of his academic freedom and requested reinstatement. (See Doc. D2 in JPS 174.) However, the university’s decision was upheld in September when UIUC’s board of trustees voted 8–1 not to reinstate the offer. Salaita went on to file a lawsuit against the university in an Illinois district court in January 2015 for violating his First Amendment rights.
The case has received widespread attention from U.S. academic organizations, with many scholars boycotting UIUC. Dismayed by the backlash the decision caused, a group of UIUC department heads wrote an open letter to incoming President Timothy Killeen in December 2014 expressing concern regarding the repercussions the Salaita case has had on the university’s ability to recruit new faculty, host lectures, and provide the best opportunities for students, and also urging the president to reaffirm the university’s commitment to academic freedom. Presented below are excerpts from the letter. The full text, including a list of signatories, is available at www.academeblog.org.