Standing in the front of a crowded ballroom filled with University of Illinois faculty and students, Chancellor Phyllis Wise said she was proud the university is home to "difficult, uncomfortable and sometimes contentious discussions."
On Monday, the contentiousness and divisiveness of the campus was on display as people lined up outside the hallway chanting "Hey hey, ho ho, censorship has got to go" and hissing while others delivered remarks at the academic senate's first meeting of the school year.
It was the first time faculty and students held an open meeting to air their complaints or express their support for Wise following the UI Board of Trustees' decision earlier this month to reject Steven Salaita's appointment to the American Indian Studies Program.
"I could have hoped for a more collegial and welcoming start to this year," said Professor and senate Chairman Roy Campbell, who added that he was dismayed at the level of divisiveness on campus.
The meeting was moved to the Illini Union's second-floor ballroom to accommodate the large group.
Campbell said the Salaita debate has led to "severe and uncollegial behavior sometimes."
"I would like to call for faculty reconciliation on this difficult discussion. There must be respect on all sides of the differing opinions and for the difficult tasks we ask our administrators to do," he said.
In talking about her decision on Salaita, Wise said she should have taken more time to consult with Provost Ilesanmi Adesida, who would have consulted with other administrators, including the dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and the director of American Indian Studies. She pledged to fix problems with the hiring process, which allows faculty to teach before their appointments are officially approved by the board. And she encouraged more discussions about academic freedom and freedom of speech.
As she spoke, some protestors turned their backs to her.
American Indian Studies Professor Vicente Diaz expressed "moral indignation and outrage" at the board's "misguided" decision to deny Salaita his faculty appointment.
"This case was a routine academic hire, properly vetted all the way up to where substance matters. Because it concerned tenure, it received additional vetting at national and international levels," he said.
Diaz called on the senate to conduct a "full and fair investigation of the case."
Its Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure has been asked to conduct a review.
On Monday the executive officers representing 14 departments, from American Indian Studies to East Asian Languages and Cultures, departments that previously voted no confidence in administration, issued a new statement reaffirming their votes of no confidence in the chancellor, president and board of trustees.
"We remain ever more committed to academic freedom, to due process, and to recognition of the expertise of faculty as the foundation of the university. We call on the senate to allow a full and fair investigation of the case," they wrote.
Diaz's colleague, Professor Jodi Byrd, who negotiated the job offer to Salaita, a former Virginia Tech professor, said Wise never spoke to her about the decision.
"This campus has never been inclusive to American Indian Studies. (Wise's) decision to unhire Steven and roll back our efforts in American Indian Studies to recruit a world-class faculty member damages our reputation, damages our expertise on this campus," Byrd said.
Also Monday, UI student-body President Mitch Dickey and Vice President Matt Hill expressed their support for Wise's decision and referred to a petition in which over 1,000 students backed the decision not to hire Salaita. Labor and Employment Relations Professor Michael Leroy also referred to a letter signed by faculty backing the chancellor. Another faculty letter being circulated criticizes the process and calls on the UI to honor its offer to Salaita.
UI student Eman Ghanayem said she and other Salaita supporters are "not against the administration. We're against the bias of the administration," she said.
People cannot understand Steven Salaita, she said, without inhabiting the culture he comes from or consulting an expert on Palestine.
The next opportunity for an airing on the case will be at the annual meeting of the faculty Oct. 13.
In other action, the senate gave preliminary endorsement to the concept for an independent college of medicine for the Urbana campus. Wise is proposing that the campus partner with Carle Health System to create an engineering-focused college of medicine. It would be independent of the College of Medicine at UI-Chicago, which operates a regional campus in Urbana.