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Letter to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Protesting Revocation of Job Offer Made to Steven Salaita

[The following letter was issued by the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) on 11 August 2014.]

Dr. Phyllis M. Wise
Chancellor,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
via email: chancellor@illinois.edu


Dear Chancellor Wise:

I am writing on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our concern about the decision of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to revoke an offer of appointment made to Dr. Steven G. Salaita. Dr. Salaita had been offered, and had accepted, a position in your university’s American Indian Studies program and was preparing to move to Urbana-Champaign, only to learn that university officials had decided not to submit the appointment for final approval to the university’s board of trustees, thereby effectively revoking his offer.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Media reports indicate that the decision to revoke Dr. Salaita’s offer was prompted by concerns about some of the statements that he has made on social networking sites regarding the situation in Gaza. If these reports are accurate – and thus far neither you nor your fellow administrators at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have to our knowledge offered any explanation for your decision to revoke Dr. Salaita’s offer in this most unusual manner – we must conclude that the university’s action was in direct response to Dr. Salaita’s statements about Gaza. If so, the revocation violates generally accepted standards and procedures for academic appointments, including the principle that such appointments should be made solely on the basis of academic criteria and not on the basis of one’s political views as expressed on social media or elsewhere.

We note that this principle applies even if some people deem the content or tone of some of Dr. Salaita’s social media comments to be offensive or excessive. The revocation of an academic appointment because of the appointee’s political views or because of the venue in which those views are expressed constitutes not only an assault on constitutionally protected free speech rights but an infringement of the principles of academic freedom as well.

We therefore join with the Illinois AAUP and others in calling on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to honor its offer of appointment to Dr. Salaita. We further call on you to affirm publicly and unequivocally that academic appointments at your institution will not be offered or withdrawn on the basis of scholars’ political views or statements.


Sincerely,

Nathan Brown
MESA President

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