Easter and Wise address faculty at annual meeting


President Robert Easter responds to a faculty member’s concern about the University’s alleged disregard for teacher unions.

By Faraz Mirza

Chancellor Phyllis Wise and President Robert Easter addressed faculty at the annual faculty meeting on Monday about several recent concerns, including the rejected appointment of Steven Salaita after he wrote controversial tweets in August. The meeting was held at the Illini Union Ballroom.

Salaita supporters, mostly consisting of students, turned their backs as Wise stepped up to the podium to speak.

“We have to deal with the polarization and the division on this campus between people and their opposing views,” Wise said.

In her speech, Wise said she had spoken to many students on campus, including those who turned their backs in protest.

The chancellor said she hopes the campus debates and lectures concerning Salaita continue to take place, because they are “healthy” and will help the University move forward. President Easter nodded in agreement.

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“We all agree that we have to continue to increase the excellence here,” Wise said. “I think we really need to be talking with each other more, so that we appreciate how each of us work.”

Wise also discussed the campus’ strategic plan, which was unveiled last August and consists of four main goals: fostering scholarship, providing transformational learning experiences to the students, making visible and significant societal impact and carefully stewarding existing resources and generating new resources to fuel the University’s initiatives.

Wise also stated that the faculty consistently look to the students to help them leverage the intellectual capacity at the University, and that they are always looking to recruit faculty and students who are even better than ones currently at the University.

“One of the things I value most is virtually every room that I go into, I am not at all, by far, the average light in the room,” Wise said. “Everyone is smarter than I am, everyone is more generous, more intelligent than I am; and I have had a wonderful time learning from all of you.”

President Easter discussed the financial state and budget of the University.

Easter said the University of Illinois System receives $850 million of funding from the federal government annually.

“The University of Illinois is a billion-dollar research enterprise and more — that’s just the funding that comes from the federal government,” Easter said. “The rest of it comes from foundations, corporations and individuals who in some way support the University.”

Easter also stated that he can’t predict where the budget will be in the next few years, but that the Board of Trustees would like to hold the tuition flat this year for in-state students.

Additionally, Easter addressed a recent concern that there was lack of financial support for undocumented students. He said that the Illinois law allows the University to accept undocumented students and charge them in-state tuition, as long as they have graduated from a high school in Illinois. However, the University cannot provide financial aid. He said that the University will carry forward a request for direct change on the issue.

Following the conclusion of their statements, the floor was opened for discussion.

Erik McDuffie, associate professor of African American studies, expressed concern over the actions administrators are taking to get rid of the “new climate of fear” created by Salaita’s case. McDuffie said he believes the firing of Salaita was about Israel, politics and outside political influence.

“I have said many, many times it was not an issue of politics, this was not an issue of Palestine,” Wise responded. “I would have suggested the same recommendation whether or not this was a pro-Palestinian candidate, a pro-Israel candidate, a gay candidate; it has nothing to do with the politics of it, so I don’t know how to answer you any more directly than that.”

Easter briefly talked about the academic freedom in relation to the “climate of fear” mentioned by McDuffie, and stated that it has been defined in the University statutes.

“Academic freedom is critical for faculty, but it is also critical for the students,” Easter said. “I’m a child of the sixties; I grew up in that era, and I know what it’s like for the students to not be able to speak their views in the classroom.”

Faraz can be reached at [email protected].