Students demonstrate; call on University to reinstate Salaita

University alum Andrew Assad tears his computer science master’s degree in pieces in an effort to protest the University’s decision to rescind a job offer to Steven Salaita.

By Josh Winters

Outside of the Swanlund Administration Building, nearly 100 protestors assembled on Tuesday morning to call for the reinstatement of Steven Salaita to the American Indian Studies program. 

Andrew Assad, University alumnus, returned to campus to participate in the demonstration. As he reached the top of the Swanlund stairs, he opened his backpack and took out his degree from the University. 

“I feel that it’s not fair that I get to keep my degree, while Steven Salaita gets un-hired,” Assad said. “So, I’m going to un-graduate myself.”

Assad tore apart his computer science master’s degree. When all that remained of the diploma were scraps of paper, he joked that he planned on delivering the shreds to Chancellor Phyllis Wise and said he no longer wanted to be affiliated with the University.

On Aug. 1, Salaita received a letter from Wise and Christophe Pierre, vice president for academic affairs, explaining his job offer was subject to the approval of the Board of Trustees at its September meeting.  

“We believe that an affirmative board vote approving your appointment is unlikely. We therefore will not be in a position to appoint you to the faculty of the University,” Wise wrote in the letter.

Ahmad Hamdan, senior in LAS and member of Students for Justice in Palestine, wielded a megaphone as he generated cheers of support from the crowd, expressing his frustration with the University and Wise’s decision to withdraw Salaita’s job offer.

“This is an infringement on all of our rights and is something that is a complete misrepresentation of the student body,” Ahmad said. “This is something that is undermining our rights; our rights as citizens, our rights as students. This is not her [Wise’s] University, it’s ours.” 

Following Hamdan’s statements, Stephanie Skora, senior in LAS, expressed her frustration at the absence of a platform for students to voice their opinions on Salaita’s future at the University. Skora called on Wise to “put the money aside [and] put the donors aside,” and start a dialogue with students herself.

“We don’t want to yell at her, we want to have a civil discourse, which is what she claims to value above all else,” Skora addressed the crowd. “We want to sit down with Chancellor Wise and the board of trustees and ask them ‘why’?”

After roughly an hour of protest, demonstrators entered the building to deliver their list of demands to the chancellor, but were informed by Renée Romano, vice chancellor for Student Affairs, that Wise was currently out of town. 

Romano accepted the list of demands and thanked them for carrying out their demonstration in a civil manner.

“We’ve definitely heard your voices,” Romano addressed the crowd, citing the demonstration itself, as well as an online petition the administration received. 

After an unsuccessful attempt at scheduling a meeting with Wise, protestors returned to the Swanlund steps to address the crowd a final time. 

“This is our University,” said Ahmad. “And we’re insisting that they do what we want. Some people are concerned about donations and what not; the biggest donation is our tuition.”

On Tuesday night, Skora said that Wise agreed to meet with the five students who organized the protest. The students will be hosting a town hall meeting to discuss their talking points before meeting with Wise.  

 “We are the students. We are the main population of this University. We will not go away no matter how much they want us to,” Skora said.

Josh can be reached at [email protected] and @jw_daily_illini.