Steven Salaita’s Statement to the AAUP Annual Meeting, June 13, 2015
By Steven Salaita
I wish to thank the AAUP leadership for its advocacy on behalf of academic freedom, shared governance, and fair labor practices, work that seems more and more pressing in our current environment. I am grateful for your efforts.
I have no compunction to urge anybody to vote a certain way on the matter before you. Do as your conscience impels. I simply wish to contribute two points for your consideration.
First: despite the consensus view – effectively conceded by the administration – that the university’s actions contravened principles of academic freedom, due process and faculty governance, university officials have consistently refused to entertain the just remedy in this situation: my reinstatement.
Not only does Committee A’s investigation reveal wide-ranging violations of academic freedom, but so does the report produced by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s (UIUC) Committee for Academic Freedom and Tenure (CAFT), whose recommendations the administration disregarded, despite having followed CAFT recommendations in previous cases. The UIUC administration has likewise disregarded the will of the faculty senate, which voted in February to call on the administration to promptly implement the CAFT findings. Sixteen departments remain without confidence in the chancellor, system president, and Board of Trustees. Dozens of scholarly associations, including the Modern Language Association and the American Studies Association, have condemned my termination. Students and faculty at UIUC have been organizing relentlessly, pleading with decision-makers to reverse course and rectify their mistakes rather than merely admitting to many of them. Ultimately, absent reinstatement, the university’s proclamations of fixing the problems their actions caused ring hollow.
Second: enough time has passed that the university’s initial rationale for firing me—that I would be unfit to teach, that I would not be tolerant of the views of students, that I threaten the norms of respectable discourse—has lost any remaining shred of plausibility. Perhaps because of this, the university, through its lawyers, has since appeared to abandon the notion that they were enforcing a code of civility. Instead, they have defended their actions by claiming my presence on campus would cause “undue disruption.” They do not point to any disruption I would create, other than possibly intense objection to my views—including objections from donors. In any event, their version of supposed “disruption” is just the other side of the civility coin; it, too, has no place in an academic institution that takes ideas and debate seriously.
And, just as with the claim of incivility, the claim of potential disruption has no basis in fact. In the past ten months, I’ve visited over fifty different campuses, delivering lectures, interacting with students and employees, meeting with unions and community groups. Thousands of people have witnessed me interacting with ideological and political opponents with respect, patience, and dignity. They have also witnessed a great amount of insult and vitriol directed at me, to which I responded, as I always do, with calmness and composure. Anybody paying attention during the past year cannot in good faith say I’m averse to, or incapable of handling, disagreement. And, of course, had the administration respected the judgment of the faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, who fully vetted my scholarship and teaching record, they would have known the same.
One can disagree with my viewpoints and still see that the UIUC administration made a grave mistake it refuses to redress, based on outside interference and a host of assumptions about my pedagogical capabilities entirely bereft of—indeed, contrary to—evidence.
In fact, even if one deplores my viewpoints, that person cannot reasonably support the conduct of the UIUC leadership. As you all well know, the University’s malfeasance—and your considered response—have a lasting effect far beyond this individual academic.