At the Independent Media Center on Tuesday night, Steven Salaita's book talk "Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom" had the feeling of a coming-home party.
Making his first appearance in Champaign-Urbana in more than a year, the professor whose job offer at the University of Illinois was rescinded after he posted controversial tweets played to a lively gathering of 200-300 people.
"I do feel comfortable saying we won," Salaita said. "I don't say that because of the administrative turnover or because reinstatement happened — because it hasn't. I don't say that lightly in what happened to the American Indian Studies program.
"I say that in relationship to that so many people on and off this campus came together."
Salaita brought the crowd through the ups and downs he experienced the past year, eliciting cheers and rounds of applause. He wasn't afraid to show enthusiasm and passion on the second-to-last stop on his six-city book tour.
Salaita said the two lowest points of the UI saga were the Saturday afternoon his offer was rescinded and watching the livestream of the Sept. 11, 2014, board of trustees meeting when the decision was made official.
"It was painful," Salaita said. "I wanted to think myself tough enough to listen to it and come out on the other end all right, but I absolutely wasn't all right. I was in tears. I had profound anxiety. I had this horrible pit in my stomach for the next two or three days."
He said the words that then-UI Chancellor Phyllis Wise and then-board chairman Christopher Kennedy used made him feel like a dog or a child.
Kennedy called him "that fellow" or "this fellow." Wise said she wanted to do the "humane thing."
"I really felt profoundly dehumanized, as though they were putting me to sleep at the vet's," Salaita said.
Salaita is teaching at the American University of Beirut, but he said the controversy has hurt his ability to get a job.
"Notoriety is definitely a negative on the academic job market," Salaita said.
Salaita said he couldn't talk about any settlement of his lawsuit with the UI. But he made it clear he would be glad to come back and said the community has made him feel welcome.
Prior to Salaita speaking, Harriet Murav, a professor of Slavic languages and literature and former president of the Campus Faculty Association, set the mood.
Murav said much has changed at the UI since Salaita was last in C-U.
"The chancellor is gone! The provost is gone!" Murav said to loud cheers. "How much more needs to be changed. We need to reinstate Steven Salaita. We need to combat and end the toxic atmosphere of racism and anti-unionism at the university. We need to restore the American Indian Studies program!"
After Murav spoke, the crowd chanted: "What we do want? Reinstatement! When do we want it? Now!"
Robert Warrior, head of American Indian Studies, said the department had never had an event that gathered a crowd as large as Tuesday's.
Said Salaita: "Thank you. You know who you are. Know how much I love you, know how much I appreciate all you've done and all you're doing. You don't want to take up a fight to come to a place where you're not wanted."
He said the support of the community has reaffirmed he is on the right path.
"It's OK for me on my end to take up this fight. I'm returning an act of community to them," Salaita said.