U. of Illinois defends revocation of job offer to scholar who ripped Israel

(JTA) — Officials from the University of Illinois publicly defended their decision to revoke a job offer to a scholar who had harshly criticized Israel on Twitter.

Chancellor Phyllis Wise issued a statement on Friday explaining why the university had decided not to move forward with the hiring of Steven Salaita. On the same day, the president and board combined on a separate statement.

Wise wrote in an open letter to the university that the university would not tolerate “personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.” The president and board in their statement backed Wise’s decision, echoing her arguments.

Neither of the statements cited any specific behavior by Salaita.

The website Inside Higher Education had reported that Salaita’s appointment was blocked over concerns about strongly worded tweets criticizing Israel and its officials. In a follow-up article, Inside Higher Education wrote that students, parents, alumni and even the university’s own fundraising officials lobbied Wise to block the appointment.

Earlier this summer, the university indicated that Salaita would be joining the faculty of the American Indian studies program at the university’s Urbana-Champaign campus. It subsequently informed Salaita, however, that his appointment would not go to the board of trustees for approval, typically a pro forma step with university appointments.

The university statements have been criticized on a number venues, including a blog for the American Association of University Professors by John Wilson, a member of the academic freedom committee of the Illinois AAUP.

Wise’s letter, Wilson wrote, was “an appalling attack on academic freedom and a rejection of the basic values that a university must stand for.”

 

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