University of Illinois officials on Friday issued two lengthy statements defending their decision to rescind a job offer to a professor who posted controversial tweets regarding Israel's conflict with Hamas.
Steven Salaita was set to begin an $85,000 a year, tenured position in the American Indian studies program at the U. of I.'s Urbana-Champaign campus last week. But the job offer came under scrutiny because of numerous tweets he posted about the Israeli military campaign, including some that used vulgar language.
At the beginning of August, Chancellor Phyllis Wise wrote Salaita to say the university was withdrawing its job offer.
That led to a wave of criticism, which the university sought to address Friday in a statements from Chancellor Phyllis Wise, and another signed by the university's board of trustees and other other school officials.
A statement from the university's trustees and other officials expressed "collective and unwavering support of Chancellor Wise and her philosophy of academic freedom and free speech tempered in respect for human rights."
"Disrespectful and demeaning speech that promotes malice is not an acceptable form of civil argument if we wish to ensure that students, faculty and staff are comfortable in a place of scholarship and education," read the statement from the trustees, which was also signed by several university vice-presidents and its general counsel.
"If we educate a generation of students to believe otherwise, we will have jeopardized the very system that so many have made such great sacrifices to defend. There can be no place for that in our democracy, and therefore, there will be no place for it in our university."
Salaita could not be immediately reached for comment.
Salaita's supporters argued the university is violating principles of academic freedom. A Change.org petition seeking Salaita's reinstatement drew thousands of signatures, while hundreds of scholars vowed to boycott university conferences or events until administrators reversed their decision.
The situation also raised questions about whether posts on social media, including 140-character messages on Twitter, should affect a faculty member's job.
In June and July, Salaita posted prolifically about the situation in Gaza, particularly about the children killed in the conflict. On June 20, soon after three Israelis were kidnapped and killed, he wrote: "You may be too refined to say it, but I'm not: I wish all the (expletive) West Bank settlers would go missing." On July 22 he wrote: "#Israel kills civilians faster than the speed of 4G."