The Daily Illini

Chancellor Wise says she would have handled Salaita’s case differently

By Megan Jones

Looking back, Chancellor Phyllis Wise said she would have handled Steven Salaita’s case differently by being more deliberate and consulting with more people before sending him a letter on Aug. 1.

At the end of July, she believed the Board of Trustees would not approve Salaita’s appointment to the American Indian Studies program and time was ticking, as he was scheduled to arrive on campus the third week of August. 

“Because of the timing of this issue … I felt it was more humanitarian to let him know that he is unlikely to be appointed as soon as possible,” Wise said. 

However, hindsight is 20/20, she said, and it is easy to look back and say what one should have done. 

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Now, the University is faced with five votes of no confidence from departments, a nationwide boycott and several canceled lecture appearances.

Recently, the English department and the Graduate Employees Organization issued votes of no confidence in the University administration’s handling of Salaita’s case. 

Looking forward, Wise plans to create seminars to discuss academic freedom and meet with campus colleges within the next two weeks to listen to their concerns and correct misinformation. 

Additionally, she is looking for guidance from the Urbana-Champaign Faculty Senate on what process she should go through when faced with situations like this. The senate will vote on creating a committee to review instances for when the chancellor or provost find a reason not to proceed with a tenure-track hire that was already approved by a department. 

According to documents obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, several emails were sent to Wise from opponents of Salaita’s appointment, who threatened to pull donations or drop out of the University if he was hired.

However, Wise explained that donors did not influence her decision at all. 

“I think it is absolutely critical that we raise more money because the state is gradually decreasing the amount of money [we receive], but that was not any factor in my decision,” she said.

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Wise and Provost Ilesanmi Adesida listened to students’ comments regarding Salaita’s rescinded job offer at an Illinois Student Senate meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 3. 

Public comments ranged from concerns about the influence of donors to whether Salaita’s political tweets regarding Israeli conflict affected his appointment. 

Many students quoted the harshness of Salaita’s tweets, such as “If you’re defending #Israel right now, you’re an awful human being.” 

Students in support of Salaita cited Wise’s mass email stating that the tweets were not factored into the decision to rescind Salaita, and continued to remind the audience of academic freedom.

However, students in opposition of Salaita cited the University’s Inclusive Illinois goals, adding that Salaita’s tweets can be considered hate crimes and disrespectful against minorities. 

Ryan Brown, senior in Business, cited professionalism, stating that if any student tweeted similar content, they would not be hired. He questioned why it is any different at the University.

“I personally would be very scared to be in his class,” Brown said. “Not only would I be scared due to his hate speech, but because I am more professional than him.” 

Alicia Kozma, graduate student, said the actions taken have disregarded academic freedom and shared governance. 

“By silencing those who have unpopular viewpoints and refusing to let them interact with this campus, you are signaling your lack of faith in the UIUC student body,” Kozma said. 

Student Body President Mitch Dickey said that members of the American Indian Studies program have a right to be upset, “as a potential faculty member and his family had shared meals with them, were invited into their homes, and were welcomed to Illinois…” Dickey wrote in a statement.

The student senate voted to forward Dickey’s statement to a subcommittee, where it will be reviewed and could be adopted at a further meeting. 

Megan can be reached at [email protected] and @MeganAsh_Jones. 

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