The Executive Council of the International American Studies Association, whose members are spread over five continents, appeals to the Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Dr. Phyllis Wise, to reconsider her decision to rescind the offer of a tenured faculty position in American Indian Studies to Professor Steven Salaita, formerly Associate Professor at Virginia Tech.
Our collective dissatisfaction with the action taken by Chancellor Wise in no way consitutes our agreement with or support of the viewpoints expressed by Prof. Salaita in social media. Rather, it seeks to defend academic freedom as fundamental to the production of knowledge in a free and democratic society - otherwise there is no clear line between knowledge and propaganda, and the project of knowledge is irreparably compromised.
Professor Salaita was offered the position at the UIUC in October 2013, after a standard job-search based on peer-reviewing and the evaluation of his scholarly credentials. In August of 2014, as Dr. Salaita was in the process of moving to Urbana-Champaign to start working in a few weeks, Chancellor Wise chose to rescind the job offer without consulting the faculty. Since then, hundreds of academics from the US and the rest of the world, as well as numerous scholarly organizations, including the MLA and the ASA (for the statements of their respective Councils see here and here) have written to Chancellor Wise, pointing out that her action sets a dangerous precedent, unworthy of the liberal and democratic nature commonly associated with the idea of the University.
By first failing to provide an explanation for her action and in a subsequent message made public, Chancellor Wise has reinforced the news reported on numerous press and web sources: the decision to rescind Professor Salaita's contract was taken in response to his public statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this Chancellor Wise chose to terminate a professor's contract on account of his political opinions, which constitutes a clear assault on academic freedom, and is an administrative action that undermines the professional decisions made by the school's faculty and deans. Although Chancellor Wise publicly stated in her mass email communication with UICUC faculty and staff that Professor Salaita's dismissal was due to a perceived lack of civility, this concern has no place in a discussion on the violation of academic freedom, and is therefore irrelevant in the context of this statement.
As a global body of academics many of whom also serve as university administrators, the IASA Executive Council appreciates the intricacies of the hiring process. A number of our Executive Council members have greatly benefitted from the UIUC's commitment to the freedom of expression, scholarly enquiry, and international knowledge production and transfer. However, in this particular case, the Executive Council of the IASA hereby asks Chancellor Wise to restore Professor Salaita as Associate Professor in the Department of American Indian Studies. Failure to do so would result in seriously damaging the reputation of the institution she chairs.
The resolution for this statement was adopted in a vote of 15 for, 3 against, and 2 abstentions. As a body upholding freedom of expression, the IASA Executive Council recognizes the right to dissent and its expression among its members.
The International American Studies Association Executive Council