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E-Mail the University of Illinois Board of Trustees

By Corey Robin | September 3, 2014

This is part 2 of a two-part post. In the last post, I read through the Salaita Papers, which were released under Illinois’s Freedom of Information Act; in this one, I canvas the other events of the day.

First, last night’s report that Chancellor Wise would be forwarding Salaita’s appointment to the Trustees was wrong. Several members of the UIUC faculty met with her today. According to Michael Rothberg, chair of the English department:

Together with two colleagues I just met with Chancellor Wise, at her invitation. The main message from our discussion was that there is no change in the status of the case. It seems that the students were not accurate in their impression. She doesn’t know if the Board of Trustees will be voting on the case at their 9/11 meeting, but she indicated that she thought a reversal was very unlikely.

So status quo. I’ll come back to that 9/11 meeting at the end of this post.

Second, tonight, the English Department became the fourth department at UIUC to take a vote of no confidence in the leadership of the University of Illinois—the trustees, the president, and Chancellor Wise. From what I’m hearing, the departments of history, comparative and world literatures, and East Asian Languages and Cultures will be voting on similar motions sometime this week.

Third, the number of canceled events grows. We now have a second cancelled conference. Today, Columbia law professor Katharine Franke canceled series of lectures she was to give at the UIUC in late September. This was an especially nice touch:

I have long held the view that the use of boycotts as a tactic to protest an unjust practice by a state, business or academic institution may be appropriate in the right context, such as the current crisis at the UIUC, but that those who pledge to honor a boycott cannot rest their political commitments exclusively on a promise not to do something. Rather they should also pledge to affirmatively engage the injustice that generated the call for the boycott. For this reason, rather than merely boycotting your institution, I plan to travel to Urbana-Champaign in mid September at my own expense to participate in a forum (located off campus) with members of the UIUC community in which we will explore the manner in which the termination of Professor Salaita’s employment at UIUC threatened a robust principal of academic freedom.

I just found out that University of Nebraska philosophy professor Mark Van Roojen canceled a scheduled lecture as well. In fact, the list of canceled lectures and events seems to have exploded overnight. There’s now a poster listing all of the cancellations. John Protevi’s also keeping track over at his blog. If you’re cancelling something, please let him know.

Fourth, a group of graduate students has now organized its own boycott pledge. It’s one of the more powerful statements, as it dramatizes the real long-term costs of the Salaita dehiring.

As the rising generation of scholars and public intellectuals, we are troubled about what this signals about the work environments, hiring conditions, and the larger academe we are working to enter.

UI-UC’s actions have signaled to the graduate student community that in order to secure employment, we should stay silent on political questions, eliminate our online interactions with others in the public and in the scholarly community, and cease researching and asking tough questions that may displease those in authority. These conditions trouble us all, and will deter many graduate students from applying to faculty positions at UI-UC in the future.

We hold that the value of scholarly efforts must not be determined by how readily they appease the powerful or cater to the status quo; instead, such efforts must be weighed by their degree of due diligence and attention to the ethical pursuit of knowledge, as well as the imperative to voice righteous criticisms when necessary. To constrain our research and public engagement in such a way as to protect ourselves from the treatment Professor Salaita has received promises to strip the academy of all relevance to society as an institution that values intellectual debate.

If you’re a grad student, please sign it.

Fifth, the American Historical Association, the official professional body of historians, issued a scorching denunciation today of Chancellor Wise’s decision.

The First Amendment protects speech, both civil and uncivil. It does so for good reason. The United States made a wager that democracy can flourish only with a robustly open public sphere where conflicting opinions can vigorously engage one another. Such a public sphere rests on the recognition that speech on matters of public concern is often emotional and that it employs a variety of idioms and styles. Hence American law protects not only polite discourse but also vulgarity, not only sweet rationality but also impassioned denunciation. “Civility” is a laudable ideal, and many of us wish that American public life had more of it today. Indeed the AHA recommends it as part of our own Statement on the Standards of Professional Conduct. But imposing the requirement of “civility” on speech in a university community or any other sector of our public sphere—and punishing infractions—can only backfire. Such a policy produces a chilling effect, inhibiting the full exchange of ideas that both scholarly investigation and democratic institutions need.

If allowed to stand, your administration’s punitive treatment of Steven Salaita will chill the intellectual atmosphere at the University of Illinois. Even tenured professors will fear for their job security, persuaded that their institution lacks respect for the principles of academic freedom. The unhappy consequences for the untenured will be even more pronounced. A regimen of defensive self-censorship will settle like a cloud over faculty lectures and classroom discussions. Faculty will be inclined to seek positions elsewhere. This, surely, is not the future you wish for your historically great institution.

The AHA joined the Modern Languages Association, the professional organization of literature and language scholars, and the American Studies Association, in putting the weight of a major disciplinary organization behind Salaita’s case. I hope American Political Science Association, the American Sociological Association, and other disciplinary organizations join in soon.

It has become clear from various UIUC faculty I’ve spoken with that the trustees are now the main focus of our campaign. Between now and 9/11, we have to bombard them with emails and phone calls urging them to do the right thing. Unfortunately, we don’t have all of their contact information, but Thanks to John Protevi’s heroic efforts (and a little angel who came to my aid after this post went live), we have most all of them. Here they are (plus a few others that are relevant).

If you’ve already joined a boycott, signed the petition, and emailed Chancellor Wise, I want to ask you—all of you, in the tens of thousands now—to rattle the trustees with your voices. As John says: “Be polite but firm, open, frank, forthright, unapologetic, and exigent when writing these folks.”

Christopher G. Kennedy, Chair, University of Illinois Board of Trustees: chris@northbankandwells.com

Robert A. Easter, President: reaster@uillinois.edu

Hannah Cave, Trustee: hcave2@illinois.edu

Ricardo Estrada, Trustee: estradar@metrofamily.org

Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Trustee: patrick.fitzgerald@skadden.com

Lucas N. Frye, Trustee: lnfrye2@illinois.edu

Karen Hasara, Trustee: hasgot28@aol.com

Patricia Brown Holmes, Trustee: pholmes@schiffhardin.com

Timothy N. Koritz, Trustee: timothy.koritz@gmail.com or tkoritz@gmail.com

Danielle M. Leibowitz, Trustee: dleibo2@uic.edu

Edward L. McMillan, Trustee: mcmillaned@sbcglobal.net or mcmillaned@msn.com

James D. Montgomery, Trustee: james@jdmlaw.com

Pamela B. Strobel, Trustee: pbstrobel@comcast.net

Thomas R. Bearrows, University Counsel: bearrows@uillinois.edu

Susan M. Kies, Secretary of the Board of Trustees and the University: kies@uillinois.edu

Lester H. McKeever, Jr., Treasurer, Board of Trustees: lmckeever@wpmck.com

September 3, 2014 - Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Full Spectrum Dominance, Solidarity and Activism | , ,

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