An officer with a national organization that defends academic freedom said it is "deeply concerned" about the University of Illinois' treatment of professor Steven Salaita and urged the campus to pay Salaita a salary while it reviews his case.
The university's "aborting" of Salaita's appointment without demonstrating cause "has consistently been seen by the AAUP as tantamount to summary dismissal, an action categorically inimical to academic freedom and due process and one aggravated in his case by the apparent failure to provide him with any written or even oral explanation," wrote Anita Levy, associate secretary with the American Association of University Professors, in a letter sent Friday to UI Chancellor Phyllis Wise.
Here is the letter from the AAUP.
A faculty search committee last year recommended the UI hire Salaita, an American Indian Studies and Arab American Studies scholar. The Virginia Tech professor resigned his position there and was expected to arrive on campus this month. But a few weeks before the start of the semester, Wise and Vice President for Academic Affairs Christophe Pierre told Salaita that they would not forward his appointment to the board in September for formal approval.
That decision came after a backlash to angry tweets Salaita posted in July about Israel, including "Zionists, take responsibility: if your dream of an ethnocratic Israel is worth the murder of children, just (expletive) own it already. #Gaza" and "At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised? #Gaza."
Levy's four-page letter details background information about the case, including Salaita's plans for joining the American Indian Studies program, his visit to Champaign-Urbana this spring to put money down on an apartment and attend a faculty welcome dinner. He also had begun planning for two courses he would teach this fall.
According to the AAUP's review of information it received from Salaita, the organization is treating the matter as "a faculty member who is suspended from his academic responsibilities pending a hearing on his fitness to continue," Levy said. And per the organization's standards, such suspensions should be with pay.
Salaita's salary at the UI was to be $85,000.
"While the administration has not provided an explanation for the actions against Professor Salaita, it seems evident from media and other accounts that the actions have been publicly seen as having been triggered by his posting on social-media web sites which were condemnatory of Israeli government practices in recent months. We are not privy to the circumstances under which information regarding his statements was discovered and distributed, we do not know what motives were involved, nor is it for us to render a judgment on the substantive merits of those statements, but we sharply question whether they meet the (AAUP) standard ... that cause for such actions 'be related, directly and substantially, to the fitness of faculty members in their professional capacities as teachers or researchers,'" Levy wrote.
Levy wrote that she welcomes the university's comments on the case.
Copies of the letter were sent to President Robert Easter, UI trustees Chair Chris Kennedy and other university officials.
A call to a campus spokeswoman for comment was not immediately returned.
The campus' Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure will be looking into the case, according to Levy's letter.