Letter to the Chancellor of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

The Executive Council approved the letter to Chancellor Wise in August 2014.

15 August 2014

Dear Dr. Wise,

The members of the Modern Language Association’s Executive Council strongly urge you to reconsider your decision to revoke Professor Steven Salaita’s appointment to a tenured position in the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. According to the facts reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education on 7 August 2014 (http://chronicle.com/article/Denial-of-Job-to-Harsh-Critic/148211/) and Inside Higher Ed on 6 August 2014 (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/08/06/u-illinois-apparently-revokes-job-offer-controversial-scholar), your decision seems to abrogate long-established principles of academic due process and to violate the principles of academic freedom of expression to which your university expressly adheres (see art. 10, sec. 2, at http://www.bot.uillinois.edu/statutes). We urge you to submit Professor Salaita’s appointment to the board for confirmation or to allow your university’s Faculty Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure to review your decision.

Professor Salaita held a written offer from the university with the common stipulation that final approval of his appointment would be subject to the decision of the university’s board. With the encouragement of the faculty and administration at UIUC—including a written acknowledgment that he had signed your university’s contract—he resigned his tenured position at Virginia Tech and made plans to move his family so that he could begin an appointment with a starting date of 16 August 2014. You informed him in a letter dated 1 August 2014 that his appointment would not be submitted to the board, but your letter did not give a reason. Members of the UIUC faculty with varying positions on this case have observed that the abrupt withdrawal of the offer directly followed publicity over Professor Salaita’s comments on social media about Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

The members of the MLA Executive Council join with the American Association of University Professors, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and many other groups and individuals in viewing the rescinding of Professor Salaita’s offer as a troubling response to his expression of views about a significant and controversial topic. The MLA is on record as believing that “[w]hen academic freedom is curtailed, higher education is compromised,” and the MLA has for years called on “college and university administrators and faculty members to support a culture of academic freedom for all teachers, regardless of rank and status” (http://www.mla.org/academic_freedom_2009). Believing that the right to express unpopular views on important issues in various media is critical to the health of our democratic society and to its institutions of higher education, we call on you to redress what seems an unjustified decision.

Yours sincerely,

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Margaret W. Ferguson, MLA president
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Roland Greene, MLA first vice president