As is being widely reported, Steven Salaita has settled with UIUC, which has agreed to pay him $875,000 (some of which will resolve his legal fees). The press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented Prof. Salaita, is here. A bit more detail about the trustees' meeting where the settlement was approved can be found here.
Prof. Salaita has not been reappointed to the faculty at UIUC as a result of this settlement. This is certainly disappointing, especially for his supporters at UIUC. But in assessing the significance of this outcome, it should be borne in mind that it is apparently rare, even when cases reach a litigated conclusion, for judges to force employers to reinstate employees who have been wrongfully terminated. The fact that Prof. Salaita has received significant compensation does constitute, then, as his attorney points out, "an implicit admission of the strength of Professor Salaita’s constitutional and contractual claims."
We should, and I certainly do, offer Prof Salaita congratulations for the vindication he has received and thank him for being willing to fight for a number of principles that are of great importance to all of us working and studying in the academy. I also think it is important to acknowledge the many faculty at UIUC who have supported Prof. Salaita, borne the burden of the academic boycott, and all too often seen their departments and programs suffer significant retaliation. One would certainly hope that, as part of UIUC's efforts to have the AAUP censure lifted, it will move to ameliorate the damage that has been done to its departments and programs, especially the American Indian Studies program.
Finally, for those who have questions regarding the status of the philosophers' boycott in light of this settlement, John Protevi has made the following suggestion, which I endorse:
While I was not in any sense the "director" or what have you of the philosopher's boycott, I was a catalyst, so I think I should say something here.
Unfortunately, there was some inconsistency in my statements: the letter sent to UIUC and BOT officials said "until Professor Salaita is reinstated" whereas many of the blog posts which alerted people to the boycott effort said "until an equitable resolution is reached." On reflection the latter standard seems the right one to me, but people should make up their own minds here.
Update: Kirk Sanders, Chair of the Department of Philosophy at UIUC, has released a statement regarding the Boycott, which you can read here.
Update 2: There is a statement calling on the AAUP not to lift its censure of UIUC until some of the problems at the institution which remain unaddressed by the settlement are resolved. Those interested in signing may add their names here.
Update 3: Salaita himself has a long piece in The Nation, reflecting both on the significance of this settlement and articulating his sense of what remains to be done at UIUC, throughout the larger academic institution, and in the broader political sphere.
Update 4: Corey Robin posts a useful corrective to those inclined to see something wrong with Salaita's decision to settle the case—which, again, I wholeheartedly endorse.
There is probably an interesting post to be written on the moral standing of the scapegoat — on whether, that is, being put in the position to take a disproportionate share of the blame for something, or even simply to shield other guilty parties from blame, entitles one to claim that one has been treated unjustly. Interesting, that is, from the point of view of the universal seminar room.
But we’re not in seminar, and this is not that post. Instead, I want to do two things that seem more timely and important in the real context of the events that are unfolding this week.
First, I want to pick up on a point that Corey Robin has been making a lot recently, and to which he devoted a whole post this morning, namely that we would be making a major mistake to allow Phyllis Wise, now a fairly obvious scapegoat, to successfully plead for some measure of our sympathy—obviously despite the fact that she played a material role in the genuinely unjust treatment to which Steven Salaita has been subjected.
Yesterday brought two major developments relating to Steven Salaita's firing by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
First came the news that the U.S. District Court in Chicago ruled to uphold the validity all of Steven Salaita's key legal claims, rejecting the University's motion to dismiss them. This does not mean, of course, that the claims have been adjudicated in Salaita's favor. But it does mean, as Brian Leiter helpfully explains here, that "taking the facts as alleged by the plaintiff, [the claims] state legal causes of action." The claims in question allege promissory estoppel, breach of contract, and violation of Salaita's first amendment rights.
Secondly, UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise announced her resignation and return to the faculty, effective August 12. It is difficult to imagine that her resignation (with a transition time of less than one week) is not a more or less direct result of the above legal developments.
Corey Robin has a rundown of and commentary upon all these developments which is well worth reading. And of course, hearty congratulations to Dr. Salaita, his legal team, and his many supporters. Yesterday was a good day for academic freedom.
As Robin has noted over at his blog, there was a genuine conversation to be participated in: hard questions, hard answers, disputation. Most importantly, I think, there were moments of discomfort and bluntness.
I want to make note here, very quickly, of a point of interest that stood out for me (among many, many others).
I was intrigued by Robin's opening questions to Salaita, asking him to tell the audience a little bit about himself: his family background, his academic interests, his writings etc. At this stage, I was, as someone who had read--and sometimes written--a great deal about La Affaire Salaita, eager and impatient to move on to a discussion of the finer particulars of his case: what's next in the legal battles, how strong is the First Amendment case etc. Surely, all this was just throat-clearing before the substantive discussion would begin.
But as Salaita began answering these queries, I realized something all over again: all too often, 'the Palestinian' is a shadowy figure: not fully filled out, a zone of unknowing into which all too many fears and anxieties are projected. The state of exile of the Palestinian people, their refugee status, their diasporic existence has often meant that they seem like creatures that flit from place to place, not resting, not stopping to acquire detail, painted on by everyone but themselves. ('All the Palestinian people, where do they all come from'?) They exist in a blur, our understandings of them underwritten by forces often beyond their control. In that context, the mere fact of hearing a Palestinian speak, telling us 'where he is coming from' - whether it is by informing us of the nationality of his father, a Jordanian, or his mother, a Palestinian, born and raised in Nicaragua, and where he was born - Appalachia, if I heard him right! - is enlightening. These simple autobiographical details humanize the too-frequently dehumanized. (The little intellectual autobiography that Salaita provided--for instance, detailing his realization of the notions of colonialism and dispossession tied together American Indian studies and the Palestinian question--did this too.)
For Americans, these particulars Steven Salaita fit into the fabric of American life, into its immigrant past, into cultures and histories and geographies in which they too have a stake. They might force a reckoning of the Palestinian as a 'new kind of American,' as heir to long-standing local traditions of political disputation, and enabled a viewing of his dissent in a different light. Without the context of Salaita's embedding in his past, his family and the places he made his own, his intellectual journeys, those who encounter him will always find it easy to rely on, yet again, on the accounts of those who have an ideological interest in offering alternative narratives of his motivations and inclinations.
As you will notice, on the link for the event above, there is a disclaimer, in fine print, which reads:
Co-sponsorship does not imply agreement with, or support of, views expressed at a student-hosted event.
This disclaimer was deemed necessary--in this case, at least--because departments are made skittish by accusations of anti-semitism and anti-Israel stances. But that is not all. The SJP's use of the word 'allies'--again, in the link above for the event--has not sat well with some of my colleagues in the philosophy department: it seems to imply the department is engaged in active endorsement of the 'content' of the event. Perhaps the philosophy department shouldn't be co-sponsoring any such events for fear of not being able to 'control the message'?
In response to their expressions of concern, I sent the following email to my colleagues:
Because I had suggested--during the 'new business' section of our department meeting--that the department sponsor the event, and because the BDS controversy at Brooklyn College focused so much attention on the business of academic departments 'sponsoring' supposedly 'political' and 'one-sided' events, I offered some arguments about the desirability of the philosophy department signing on as a co-sponsor, even if our vote to do so would attract some of the same hostility the political science department at Brooklyn College had during the BDS event.
Those arguments can be summed up quite easily. Steven Salaita will soon be claiming, in a court of law, that: he lost his job because his constitutional right to free speech was infringed by a state actor; his speech was found offensive on political grounds; his academic freedom was violated; he lost his livelihood because he espoused his political opinions in a manner offensive to some. A debate about these issues, conducted with a law professor and moderated by a political theorist (who also teaches Constitutional Law), would offer to our students--even if they disagreed vehemently with Salaita's political viewpoints--a chance to engage with many philosophical, political and legal problems, all of which they are exposed to, in theoretical form, in their many readings across our curriculum.
Most broadly, philosophy students would see philosophy in action: they would see arguments presented and analyzed and applied to an issue of contemporary political and moral significance. (One of my colleagues pointed out that our department offers a popular Philosophy and Law major, which ostensibly prepares them for law school admission and careers in the law; this demographic would be an ideal audience for the discussion.)
As might be imagined, given the furore generated by the BDS event last year, there was some trepidation over whether such a departmental vote, or the use of the language of 'sponsorship' was a good idea. In response, I analogized our sponsorship decision as akin to the inclusion of a reading on a class syllabus (During the BDS controversy, I had made a similar argument in response to the claim that sponsoring an event entailed 'endorsement' of the speakers' opinions.) When a philosophy professor does so, she says no more than that she thinks her students should read the reading and engage with it critically; it is worth reading, even if only to criticize it. (This semester, I had included Gobineau in my Social Philosophy reading list; I certainly did not intend to promulgate a theory of the Aryan master race by doing so.)
Lastly, I suggested issues of academic freedom are of utmost relevance and importance for all academic disciplines today. Every department on campus should be interested in a discussion centering on them.
How we ought to understand the terms "civility" and "collegiality" and to what extent they can be enforced as professional norms are dominating discussions in academic journalism and the academic blogosphere right now. (So much so, in fact, that it's practically impossible for me to select among the literally hundreds of recent articles/posts and provide for you links to the most representative here.) Of course, the efficient cause of civility/collegiality debates' meteoric rise to prominence is the controversy surrounding Dr. Steven Salaita's firing (or de-hiring, depending on your read of the situation) by the University of Illinois only a month ago, but there are a host of longstanding, deeply contentious and previously seething-just-below-the-surface agendas that have been given just enough air now by the Salaita case to fan their smoldering duff into a blazing fire.
In the interest of full disclosure, I'll just note here at the start that I articulated my concerns about (and opposition to) policing norms of civility/collegiality or otherwise instituting "codes" to enforce such norms some months ago (March 2014) in a piece I co-authored with Edward Kazarian on this blog here (and reproduced on the NewAPPS site) entitled "Please do NOT revise your tone." My concern was then, as it remains still today, that instituting or policing norms of civility/collegiality is far more likely to protect objectionable behavior/speech by those who already possess the power to avoid sanction and, more importantly, is likely to further disempower those in vulnerable professional positions by effectively providing a back-door manner of sanctioning what may be their otherwise legitimately critical behaviors/speech. I'm particularly sympathetic to the recent piece "Civility is for Suckers" in Salon by David Palumbo-Liu (Stanford) who retraces the case-history of civility and free speech and concludes, rightly in my view, that "civility is in the eye of the powerful."
Especially given the attention we've paid to the case here (see our new tag, and also Samir's posts here and here, and Eric Schwitzgebel's here), it is important to note that Steven Salaita had a press conference today, at which he issued this following statement.
The full audio of the statement and the press conference is here. And in addition, there's a short video (embedded below) of Salaita addressing two of the core questions that have been raised in the affair, that of the nature of his engagements on Twitter and that of his approach in the classroom.
[Update: here is the full video of the event, including Salaita's full statement and the press conference.]
Finally, as many of you surely know, the Board of Trustees at UIUC is meeting on Thursday. This is a very crucial day, and it is important to produce as many visible expressions of support as possible in advance of the Trustees' meeting. If you have not already done so, there is still time for you to email the Trustees. Corey Robin's post on how to do so is here. Also, John Protevi is managing the philospher's boycott statement (see here for info on how to add your name).
Following a suggestion from a friend that some of what’s come to light about the roles of the administration and the board in the Salaita affair might not be consistent with accrediting principles regarding shared governance, I decided to check out the specific rules that UIUC is supposed to be operating under.
The upshot of my survey, which I'll explain in detail below, is that UIUC is at least generally bound to respect principles of academic freedom and shared governance by their accreditation regime, and more specifically, that 1) the Board of Trustees is bound to remain free of undue influence by donors and other exteranl parties where this is contrary to the interests of the university, and 2) that the Board and the Administration are bound to let the faculty oversee academic matters. These last two considerations seem to create a real problem given what we now know about the role of external donor pressure on the board and about the way in which the Trustees and the Chancellor seem to have avoided any consultation with the faculty in making the decision to 'dehire' Salaita. (For those who need an update, your best bet is to read Corey Robin's blog, especially this post.)
[Update 2: The report on which this discussion has been based is now being called into question. UIUC English Professor Ted Underwood tweets as follows: "@Ted_Underwood: Regret to say that last night's report from students appears premature. Faculty have since met with Wise, & report no change in position."]
[Update: Thanks to John Protevi for providing the correspondence address for the UIUC Board of Trustees in the comments below.]
Yesterday evening, reports began to emerge that University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Phyllis Wise has forwarded Steven Salaita's appointment to the University's Board of Trustees, who will vote on it at their meeting ten days from now, on September 11th.
Obviously, this is a hopeful sign, given that the Chancellor's position until how has been to refuse to submit the appointment to the board—as Corey Robin puts the point, what amounts to a 'pocket veto.' That said, it's difficult to feel too much confidence that the process now underway is intended or should be expected to terminate in the restoration of Professor Salaita's position. Robin has spent some time parsing a couple of scenrios here; but the key thing to recognize, as John Protevi also noticed very quickly last night, is that this could easily be a move that the University is legally required to make or that it would be in its best interest to make if it wants to avoid being sued for denying Salaita due process.
Nevertheless, as Robin points out in his post, these developments also mean that those supporting the causes of academic freedom and faculty governance* in this case now have an important opportunity: ten days in which to bring maximum pressure on the Trustees to vote in favor of Salaita's appointment. In other words, the game is still on, and it must continue to be.
As I write this, at least 543 philosophers have signed our disciplinary pledge to boycott UIUC until this matter is resolved in Salaita's favor—see this post by Eric Schwitzgebel, where he explains his rationale for honoring the boycott.** Please consider adding your name if you have not yet done so. Additionally, please consider writing to the trustees directly expressing your support for Salaita's appointment, as well as your sense of the cost to the Unviersity's reputation should it fail to respect the principles of academic freedom and faculty governance in this case.
[3 updates below] A quick informational note apropos of my previous post.*
In addition to the email-writing campaign and the various petitions that have been circulating re: the Salaita case, there is an initiative, begun by Corey Robin (see here), to organize groups of scholars by discipline who would commit to refusing to make any visits to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus until such time as Professor Salaita's appointment was reinstated.
So far, this effort has borne fruit among philosophers (organized by John Protevi, here) and political scientists (organized by Joe Lowndes, for info see here). Those with appropriate disciplinary affiliations who are inclined to participate in these initiatives should contact the organizers, as noted. Those in other disciplines who are willing to organize their own list should contact Professor Robin, as detailed here.
Update: A statement by professors of English is being managed by Elaine Freedgood (info here.)
Update 2: A statement by professors of Sociology is being organized as a petition and a statement by professors of Rhetoric and Composition is being managed by Matthew Abraham (info on both can be found in this post on Corey Robin's site).
Update 3: There is now a statement of refusal for faculty in women’s studies, gender studies, and feminist studies being managed by Barbara Winslow and a general statement that is not limited to scholars in any particular field (info on both can be found here.)
* Please note that this post is offered in an informational capacity, and should not be taken as an endorsement by NewAPPS or any of its individual authors of these campaigns.
By now, readers are likely aware of the case of Steven Salaita, who was hired away from Virginia Tech by the University of Illinois, as a tenured associate professor of American Indian Studies, only to see his position terminated weeks before he was supposed to begin teaching on account of his remarks on Twitter regarding current events in Gaza. If you need to catch up on the details, a good place to start would be this story in the Chronicle. Also, Corey Robin, who has been a leading advocate for Salaita, has written a number of posts tracking the conversation as it unfolds (see his blog here).
While this sentiment is not universal, many, many people—including the AAUP—are treating this case as a serious breach of key principles of academic freedom. How that is so has, perhaps, been best summarized in this piece by John K. Wilson over at Inside Higher Ed.
Without trying to reproduce a rich set of discussions, it seems important to take note here of several points that have been made in recent days,* and which connect to discussions we've had here previously: 1) that this firing** constitutes a case where statements on social media are being treated as exempt from the principles of academic freedom; 2) that this firing constitutes an example of the way that civility standards (or, shall we say, matters of 'tone') are worrying not only from the point of view of their differential impact on variously positioned members of the profession, but also from the point of view of academic freedom; and 3) that terminating Salaita's appointment at this stage in the hiring process effectively means that the basis on which many people accept new academic jobs (and leave their old ones) has become unreliable.