"The basic terms are about as unambiguous as they could possibly be"
August 7, 2015 9:26 AM   Subscribe

The U.S. District Court in Chicago has ruled that the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign had hired Steven Salaiita last year prior to a series tweets the scholar and author published prompted by the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict even though he had not begun teaching classes or received approval from the University's board of trustees.. Amid charges that the tweets were anti-Semitic, chancellor Phyllis Wise cancelled the classes Salaita was scheduled to begin teaching and rescinded his offer of employment. In language sharply critical of the University's action the Court cleared the way for a suit alleging breach of contract and violation of Salaita's First Amendment Rights. In the wake of the decision, the Wise has resigned and one observer of the case has speculated that the University will re-instate Salaita to avoid a judgement "for which the damages could easily amount to compensation for his entire career, i.e., 35 years of salary and benefits, plus additional damages for the constitutional claims."
posted by layceepee (91 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Previously on Metafilter here and here.

This will be perceived as either a victory for intellectual freedom, or a victory for rabid anti-semitism, probably depending on your I/P convictions.
posted by Avenger at 9:38 AM on August 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


The guy is... Well, provocative anyway.

Still, it's got no bearing on whether there was, in fact, a contract. Which there apparently there was.

I was unclear on that point before, and figured the chancellor could at least afford decent legal advice. Boy howdy was I wrong. What a colossal fuckup on her part.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:43 AM on August 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


Wise achieved her true goal. There was nothing left for her to do.
posted by Etrigan at 9:47 AM on August 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm kind of shocked Wise resigned. She had the backing of the trustees.

That said, fuck you, Phyllis.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:49 AM on August 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Salaita's tweets were pretty straightforwardly vile, and I'm almost entirely against current Israeli government policy.

His tweets are neither here nor there, however. He had an offer that I (and clearly the court as well) consider complete, and deserves every cent the University will pay for that violation.
posted by chimaera at 9:55 AM on August 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


Wow, what a clusterfuck for UIUC. Regardless of one's opinion on Salaita, the move to rescind his offer on the technicality that no contract was signed was a really bone-headed and short-sighted move. As I said at the time, undermining the accepted faculty recruitment and hiring process really damages UIUC's credibility, and apparently leaves them open to significant judgements.
posted by Existential Dread at 10:03 AM on August 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


Compared to what a lot of folks (including Israeli academics) have tweeted (or otherwise publicly stated) about Arabs, Salaita's tweets are positively milquetoast
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:05 AM on August 7, 2015 [15 favorites]


I'm kind of shocked Wise resigned. She had the backing of the trustees

I'm not. If she stayed, it would have opened doors that UIUC wants closed - for example, we'd probably get names of the trustees who pushed the decision. Having her go is purely about CYA.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:08 AM on August 7, 2015


Don't worry. With the way the national conversation is going concerning academic freedom and shared governance, our beloved CEO chancellors will soon be able to fire troublesome professors at will.
posted by Shibboleth at 10:10 AM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Technically, this is a ruling on a motion to dismiss the case by the U of I. As such, the judge in a motion to dismiss is obligated to interpret the evidence in the way most favorable to Salaita, and only dismiss the case if there's no chance Salaita could prevail in court. So this ruling in itself doesn't do anything, it merely allows the case to move forward. That being said, this judge is usually forthright in ruling on a motion to dismiss, which should scare the U of I lawyers a lot.

As for Wise resigning, it is surprising. But I think she was tired of the criticism, and she had achieved her primary legacy, the approval of a medical engineering college. It should also be noted that she was paid $400,000 to leave (but would have gotten a $500,000 retention bonus if she stayed another year or was fired by the Board), and she gets a year's sabbatical plus a tenured job that pays her $300,000 a year.
posted by JohnKarlWilson at 10:12 AM on August 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


Apparently there may have been some donor pressure that UIUC is being compelled to disclose. Would transparency laws for academic donors be a good idea?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:15 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


The judge's position (at least as I read it from the Crooked Timber link) seems to rely on an idea that may make logical sense to him, but makes less and less logical sense every passing year, and doesn't seem to have much to do with the law. This, no doubt, is why I am not a lawyer. Note the two pull quotes in that piece.

If the court accepted the university’s argument, the entire American academic hiring process as it now operates would cease to exist, because no professor would resign a tenure position, move states, and start teaching at a new college based on an ‘offer’ that was absolutely meaningless until after the semester already started.

And
If the university truly regarded such job contracts as hinging on board approval, he said, it would have the board vote on them much earlier in the hiring process, before paying a prospective faculty member’s moving expenses and offering that professor an office and classes.

First of all, the law does not demand that there be a sensible onboarding process for American universities that works for both parties.

Second, the idea of placing all risk on the shoulders of a new hire, requiring that new hire to give up current employment, relocate, and begin work before being told whether the hiring organization actually wants to make the employment relationship permanent or not does not seem at all radical to me, as a worker in corporate America in an age of at-will contractor relationships and unpaid internships. I have started every job I've ever had under a (typically 90-day) probation period, during which the company can decide it doesn't like me after all and send me packing at any point. Regardless of how that will impact me, or of any burdens I may have assumed in order to take the job in the first place.

I don't even disagree that the university acted outrageously and treated Salaiita very shabbily, but I'm astonished by the idea that a judge would say that a corporation can't act outrageously and treat people shabbily. Maybe its different if the corporation is an institution of higher education.
posted by Naberius at 10:23 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


or a victory for rabid anti-semitism

There are plenty of Jews (including myself) who agreed with the professor's tweets.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:31 AM on August 7, 2015 [18 favorites]


Maybe its different if the corporation is an institution of higher education.

It's more that the system is different. For one, he was transferring into a tenured position, which has specific contractual protections. The university was arguing that said obligations didn't become active until the Board confirmed them, but said confirmation would not occur until some time after the person began actually working.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:31 AM on August 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


A person with Salaita's political views would not have to be anti-Semitic, but after reading the two previous threads I very reluctantly concluded that Salaita is an anti-Semite.

And I think that does actually have some bearing on the otherwise somewhat puzzling decision by the (American) Indian Studies department to hire him in the first place; with the loss of Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado to a scandal centering on false claims of Indian ancestry, I believe there was a perceived need within the field for someone to take up Ward's leadership of the cause of seeing the genocide perpetrated against Native Americans as the greatest holocaust in history, not excepting the Holocaust, and I think the department saw Salaita as the man for that job.
posted by jamjam at 10:33 AM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think Wise partly resigned because of the ongoing Illinois budget clusterfuck -- a lot of highly-paid executives with Illinois state agencies are getting out while the getting's good. The University of Illinois is being particularly hard-hit in the current stalemate and is looking like it will get screwed hardcore if/when a budget ever passes. If I had another offer or possibility in my back pocket, and I were an administrator at U of I, I also might be thinking, "Man, I don't want to steer the Titanic on its way down, fuck this shit."

Also Illinois's state employee hiring process, even for the universities, is super fucked up and it can take as long as two years to fill a "crucial" employee role because of the many layers of bureaucracy in getting hiring approval, and nine MONTHS after you start work to get an actual contract, during which time state employees are given to understand that they could be let go at any time because they don't have a contract yet and this in fact happens all the damn time (for all kinds of reasons, from the political to the personal to the budgetary). One of my husband's colleagues at the state just had a new position, everything in place, had moved her office, and a week after she started work in her new job, the governor's office (who had offered oral approval but not yet signed the paper) said, "Nope, we changed our minds" and she had to GO BACK TO THE OFFICE SHE'D ALREADY LEFT.

I mean, if the court takes exception to someone being offered a job by the state of Illinois and then having it rescinded on a technicality, even nine months after they've been working and getting paid, HAVE I GOT THOUSANDS OF EMPLOYEES WHO'D LIKE TO TALK TO YOU! I ... have many thoughts and feelings and snarky things to say about the U of I hiring process, and Illinois hiring in general, but I guess the main one is, if the court is going to require U of I to adhere to common norms of employee hiring, rather than state of Illinois practices in employee hiring, U of I may be well and truly fucked for hiring anyone, because I'm not sure it's possible for them to do it within a reasonable academic timeline AND conforming to Illinois's current laws and administrative rules for state-paid positions.

But then right now all state employees are being paid unconstitutionally anyway, so, baby steps, I guess.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:42 AM on August 7, 2015 [15 favorites]


Maybe its different if the corporation is an institution of higher education.

Well, yes, I think it's self-evidently quite different, for reasons too numerous to detail here, but I'll share a couple off the top of my head:

Employment in higher education is different, not least because jobs are only available on a one-year cycle, and have a particularly lengthy and arduous process to obtain. I can only apply for jobs on one hiring cycle per year, and that cycle takes months to play out. In a "good year," an academic job seeker will send out fewer than a dozen CVs to apply (my best year was six positions that I was qualified for, in my field, at my level of experience & expertise; most years, maybe 3 or 4 positions are possibly available. Approximately 100-150 qualified people will apply for each of those narrow targets). When I hear stories of people sending out 50 resumes, that's science fiction to me. Also, getting and starting a job in not-August, don't know what that's like.

Second, higher education (and education in general) is vastly different than for-profit enterprises such as corporations, no matter how much and how hard many are trying to change that. Education is not a product, it is a process of human development, and most of the thinking, processes, employment, etc., are orthogonal to the way things work in a for-profit, corporate environment, and need to be to work well (i.e., provide an effective educational experience).

Finally, what a professor is expected to do is also vastly different than what a corporate employee is ever asked to do, in many ways. I won't detail those here, but there are literally books written about these issues if you'd like to educate yourself about them. If not, please refrain from casual comparisons or conflations of education and for-profit corporations; they are very different enterprises, and many of us are working hard to keep it that way.

For that matter, I am dismayed by the easy acceptance that a shitty status quo (that it's OK, even expected, for corporations to treat workers poorly and even inhumanely) should flow to all sectors of our society, rather than be fought against in any circumstance, corporate or otherwise. It's bad that corporations treat workers like shit, and we should still be angry about that rather than accept it and wonder why it's not standard operating procedure everywhere else.

I'm happy to see this ruling.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:46 AM on August 7, 2015 [23 favorites]


U of I had always sucked. This is consistent with their sucking.

Go IU.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:46 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I hear stories of people sending out 50 resumes, that's science fiction to me.

The first time I was on the market, in 2002, I sent out something like 130 applications. Basically, I applied to any reasonable looking position (and some sucky ones) in mathematics anywhere in the country. But I was trying to solve a two-body problem.

In 2009, I moved from Pennsylvania to Alaska on the strength of a letter signed by my dean. That's really why---despite the fact that Salaita is coming across as a bit of an asshole, and I don't blame UIUC for having been sorry they'd agreed to hire him with tenure (there's their mistake!)---I'm so glad to see the judge's ruling. Of course Salaita had a contract!
posted by leahwrenn at 10:58 AM on August 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


I sent out something like 130 applications

Yeah, I'm in a smaller field, but in any field there is a massive narrowing of available positions once you have rank and tenure (especially if you only want to apply to desirable positions, but not even considering that there are very, very few positions each year for mid-career faculty, compared to even a decade ago. It's shocking to me how fast this has happened).
posted by LooseFilter at 11:04 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I hear you on that. When I was on the market in 2008 as an associate professor, I had almost all of the searches cancelled out from under me, because no one was interested in hiring with rank. Mind you, the economy had just tanked...
posted by leahwrenn at 11:07 AM on August 7, 2015


I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.

No great thing is done without consequence.

(These quotes are neither recent nor mine.)
posted by Blue_Villain at 11:36 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


This will be perceived as either a victory for intellectual freedom, or a victory for rabid anti-semitism, probably depending on your I/P convictions.

It's quite possible to believe both that Salaita is a bigot and that he's a bigot who had an actual contract that should not have been pulled out from under him. Academia is full of people far more unpleasant.

Second, the idea of placing all risk on the shoulders of a new hire, requiring that new hire to give up current employment, relocate, and begin work before being told whether the hiring organization actually wants to make the employment relationship permanent or not does not seem at all radical to me, as a worker in corporate America in an age of at-will contractor relationships and unpaid internships. I have started every job I've ever had under a (typically 90-day) probation period, during which the company can decide it doesn't like me after all and send me packing at any point.

Speaking from the POV of someone in English, the market is so different as to make this unworkable. We effectively have only two hiring seasons for t-t positions, one before and one after the MLA (which meets in January). The first/primary hiring season begins in early October (when you submit applications), continues through the MLA, and, if you're lucky, ends only in April (when most departments complete their hiring decisions). The second is shorter, but also skimpier; it normally features either departments that couldn't get funding earlier, for some reason, or departments that are just looking for Visiting Assistant Profs/sabbatical replacements/full-time instructors/lecturers. In either case, your job, and therefore your salary, doesn't kick in until the following school year. If you get a job pulled out from under you like this, then you have no options, except to pray that you can get adjuncting work somewhere that will tide you over for another full year. Salaita was at the associate rank, which makes matters even worse, as others have already pointed out--there are very few jobs at this rank in the first place (departments looking for a more senior hire normally want someone at full). It was a little odd that Salaita didn't take a year of unpaid leave from his previous institution, which is common when you're moving from one job to another (it allows you to return if something goes haywire), but some schools won't allow faculty to do that.
posted by thomas j wise at 11:37 AM on August 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


egardless of one's opinion on Salaita, the move to rescind his offer on the technicality that no contract was signed was a really bone-headed and short-sighted move.

That's not even the most bone-headed and short-sighted thing. Wise publicly stated that the reason the government entity she was in charge of was refusing to hire Salaita was because of the content of his political speech. That's some jaw-dropping bone-headedness there.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:43 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


with the loss of Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado to a scandal centering on false claims of Indian ancestry, I believe there was a perceived need within the field for someone to take up Ward's leadership of the cause of seeing the genocide perpetrated against Native Americans as the greatest holocaust in history, not excepting the Holocaust, and I think the department saw Salaita as the man for that job.

Uh, what? Are you in the field? Because this seems like a really not accurate thing.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:51 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


as a worker in corporate America in an age of at-will contractor relationships and unpaid internships. I have started every job I've ever had under a (typically 90-day) probation period, during which the company can decide it doesn't like me after all and send me packing at any point.

The most obvious thing that makes higher education different is that a large majority of full-time professors are state employees, so the market is heavily skewed towards public employment practices.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:54 AM on August 7, 2015


Given his worst tweets, it's clear to me that Salaita doesn't think too highly of Jews. But as a Jew, I don't really care. If he does not bring his anti-Semitism into the classroom, he can say whatever he wants on Twitter. Sure, I might feel intimidated or resentful if I know his extracurricular persona, but I think it's pretty goofy to claim that this meaningfully compromises his ability to do his job.

I would rather live in a society where bigots can be bigoted publicly then one in which the government tries to ferret them out. And I don't feel entitled to live in a society where no one dislikes me for what I am. Wake me up when they start herding us into camps again. Until then, let them rant.
posted by andrewpcone at 11:58 AM on August 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


Salaita's tweets were pretty straightforwardly vile, and I'm almost entirely against current Israeli government policy.

They were taken very much out of a context that rendered them basically not vile, IMO.
posted by kenko at 12:02 PM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


with the loss of Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado to a scandal centering on false claims of Indian ancestry, I believe there was a perceived need within the field for someone to take up Ward's leadership of the cause of seeing the genocide perpetrated against Native Americans as the greatest holocaust in history, not excepting the Holocaust, and I think the department saw Salaita as the man for that job.

Ward Churchill wasn't fired because of false Indian claims. He was fired because he wrote offensive things about 9/11 on a blog post. (The university claims they fired him because his research work was inadequately proven.) Race had nothing to do with it (and it's never actually been proven that Churchill isn't an Indian). Nor was Salaita hired to somehow parrot Churchill's positions. He was hired for a position in comparative colonialism, which isn't exactly what Churchill does.
posted by JohnKarlWilson at 12:09 PM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


"The guy is... Well, provocative anyway."

A teacher that provokes and challenges students to think about and examine ideas and positions that are different to the ones they are likely to hold? For shame!

...and how does this create a new generation of corporate workers, anyway?!
posted by markkraft at 12:42 PM on August 7, 2015


> "This will be perceived as either a victory for intellectual freedom, or a victory for rabid anti-semitism, probably depending on your I/P convictions."

Some of us believe in freedom of expression even for people we disagree with.
posted by kyrademon at 12:49 PM on August 7, 2015


Failure to hire, after making a promise to do so, is not quite the same thing as firing. In some states, even "at-will" states, the concept of Promissory Estoppel applies. Basically, if you make someone a promise that you should reasonably expect them to rely on ("Move on out. Great to have you aboard. You can start work on Monday."), they do take action relying on it("Hey, boss, here's my notice." "Acme movers? Here's my check.'"), and then you fail to follow through on the promise, they may be entitled to be compensated for what they lost by relying on you. But you have to check carefully, because the law varies widely from state to state.

More importantly, here, this guy was promised a job working for an agency of the state. Despite at-will laws, the government, even when it's your employer, is broadly prevented from taking actions that would interfere with your ability to express your opinions: that pesky old first amendment thing. And the folks working for the university were very open about the words he published being the reason they broke their agreement.

There enough legal complications about the fact that he only had a promise, not a contract, that this appears not to have been an open and shut case. But if we took the constitution as seriously as we sometimes pretend to, it probably should have been.
posted by CHoldredge at 12:49 PM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


UPDATE: It was just revealed by the U of I that certain officials, including Phyllis Wise, used personal email addresses as a way to have confidential conversations about touchy subjects and keep them hidden from FOIA requests. So that's why Wise is resigning, before her emails ("this place is so messed up") and ethics investigation hit the fan.
posted by JohnKarlWilson at 12:52 PM on August 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


U of I will give Wise a $400,000 bonus as she leaves, even though it was her decision.

Incompetence, where is thy sting?!
posted by markkraft at 12:59 PM on August 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


I intensely dislike and distrust the breathless and ill-informed headlines and articles that are being written about a ruling on a preliminary motion. This feels like celebrating (or mourning) a league championship based solely on the results of preseason practice and scrimmages.
posted by ElKevbo at 1:09 PM on August 7, 2015


These fine words from Ilesanmi Adesida, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost...

"We cannot afford this sort of craziness anymore. We will need to engage some of our Senate leaders in coming up with acceptable processes so that we are perceived as been thought police."

If I were a student, I would totally want a "University of Illinois Bean Thought Police" T-shirt.
posted by markkraft at 1:10 PM on August 7, 2015


As a UIUC alum I'm pretty steamed up about this whole thing and then this came along to cap it off.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:17 PM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


One argument has it that the tweets by this guy revealed an anti-semite and that govt the board to overturn the decision by the dept and its dead to grant tenure. That said, scholars such as Martin Kramer turn their attention not to the tweets but to what theyt view as shabby scholarship in Salita's published materials.

It is often the custom for a dept to like a guy and give tenure despite serious scholarly reservations--I know this first hand--and it is in some instances a practice to deny tenure because the person in question is a horrid human being and the dept feels it does not want him or her as a colleague for many years--I am aware of this sort of thing too.
The AAUP--the union for professors has complained about the overturning of tenure by Administration, and its position is that the dept and college, not the administration and board, grant or deny tenure.

I believe Salita a total turd and lacking in sense and scholarly acumen, but I continue to believe that the tradition role of how and who grants tenure should in this instance apply
Easy for me. I don't have to look at that dope.
posted by Postroad at 1:23 PM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I believe Salita ... lacking in sense and scholarly acumen,

Good thing we don't have lay people judge the merits of scholarly material.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:30 PM on August 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


She is said to be moving into a faculty job at more than $250,000 annual salary.
Wow, there are faculty jobs that pay half what the chancellor gets???
posted by smackfu at 1:32 PM on August 7, 2015


What, specifically, did he say that justifies you judging him as a "turd", an "anti-semite", and a "dope", Postroad? Can you point out the specific sections of "shabby scholarship" and show us why he is a "horrid human being", "lacking in sense and scholarly acumen"? Oh, and a "dope"? Didn't want to forget that either.

Could it perhaps be that he's more scholarly and less easily pigeonholed than you might think, even though he obviously has a different point of view than you do when it comes to zionism and the Government of Israel?
posted by markkraft at 1:48 PM on August 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


cause of seeing the genocide perpetrated against Native Americans as the greatest holocaust in history, not excepting the Holocaust.

You know - and speaking as a historian - I'm pretty sure we don't need to rank Holocausts/genocides. It isn't a contest.

We should certainly compare them. It's important to understand what different genocides have in common and how they differ, to understand better how genocides happen. I get so angry at people who refuse to allow the Shoah to be compared to other genocides, claiming it undermines the horror of the Shoah. Sadly, that is far from the truth: as a species we seem to be far too capable of reproducing such crimes throughout history. But claiming that no other genocide (attempted or successful) can be as bad as that of the Jews does undermine/erase the crimes against non-Jewish victims of genocide.

That said: the genocide of native North Americans is a different form of genocide from that perpetuated during the Shoah - or in Rwanda or against the Armenians. It was just as devastating (actually more so, when you consider some peoples who were entirely eradicated), but carried out in a very different way and with different justifications. It's, of course, more like the genocide of the Tasmanians or the attempted genocide of Australian Aborigines. Rather than the quick slaughter of a minority who are cast as "an enemy within" (a pattern of genocide which goes way back into ancient history), it was the more extended extermination of a people for their land (of course, with heavy racist overtones). It was more stop and go, and the colonial powers argued amongst themselves (eg officials versus settlers) and changed policy back and forth, and in both North America & Australia cultural genocide methods were applied, in the name of "helping" the people.

And none of this is a moral statement. It's my attempt (crude and offhand) of thinking descriptively about genocide, about how different forms have different root causes and different processes - and can still be hella awful, but like two equally awful but distinct diseases, may have different solutions/ preventative measures.
posted by jb at 2:26 PM on August 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


Question:
Does anyone here think that Professor Salaiita's views on Israel and Palestine -- aired on his Twitter -- are in any way more ugly than those of Professor Alan Dershowitz's, aired regularly on FoxNews and newspapers throughout the world?

Whose views are more likely to provoke violence and racism against others?

The difference being... Professor Salaiita is a scholar on such matters, whereas Professor Dershowitz is a celebrity lawyer.
posted by markkraft at 2:35 PM on August 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Back to Salaita: I read his tweets, looking for what was so anti-Semetic and vile. I found statements against Israeli policy, and against Netanyahu specifically. I didn't see anything about Jews or Judaism. Good points about the similar justifications of settlers in Israel and settlers in North America.

And I completely agree with his point that anti-Semitism is fueled by the equation of Israel with Judaism. The state of Israel no more speaks for me than the Pope does for my evangelical protestant Christian mother - or for my Catholic-and-pissed-at-the-Church friend.

As for Netanyahu - there is a reason that my mnemonic for his name is "He's a yahoo". The man is trying to scupper an agreement with Iran which has the best chance of actually preventing Iran from nuking Israel. But I think he won't be happy until everyone is dead.
posted by jb at 2:37 PM on August 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


The negative reaction to Salaita's tweets hasn't been shared by a majority of Jewish academics. One of his earliest supporters was a leading expert on the Shoah. Left-wing Jewish and Israeli publications have broadly supported him and expressed concern at attempts to remove or silence academic critics of Israeli policy.

It's not incidental that in addition to the affair with Salaita, there was a "blacklist" against professors accused of being anti-Israel. Salaita's treatment is part of a larger trend of backdoor attacks on academic freedom where Israel is involved. As someone of Jewish heritage, I'm offended by the suggestion that criticism of Israeli politics, like Salaita's, should be considered bigotry against me and my ancestors, especially when he has spoken many times about the challenges the Jews have faced.
posted by teponaztli at 3:04 PM on August 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


[folks, this isn't going to work as a general Israeli politics thread. Please try to stick to the specific situation. Thanks.]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:39 PM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


It is late and I am tired, but Google the established Middle East scholar Martin Kramer who indicates the mistakes and less than scholarly work I'd sallies...
Ps...note I support that guys tenure because his dept and dean approved it...in sum, has nothing to do with my views toward Israel
posted by Postroad at 6:22 PM on August 7, 2015


Dude just because one person thinks the guys work isn't good does not mean his work isn't good. These are academics we are talking about.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:56 PM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


JohnKarlWilson: "UPDATE: It was just revealed by the U of I that certain officials, including Phyllis Wise, used personal email addresses as a way to have confidential conversations about touchy subjects and keep them hidden from FOIA requests. So that's why Wise is resigning, before her emails ("this place is so messed up") and ethics investigation hit the fan."

Can someone come up with a non-paywalled version of the second link? Or maybe a PDF dump of the page?
posted by Samizdata at 8:54 PM on August 7, 2015


Back to Salaita: I read his tweets, looking for what was so anti-Semetic and vile. I found statements against Israeli policy, and against Netanyahu specifically. I didn't see anything about Jews or Judaism.

He tweeted a blood libel. I don't know how anyone could miss it.
posted by Justinian at 8:55 PM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


He tweeted a blood libel. I don't know how anyone could miss it.

Link?
posted by andoatnp at 9:50 PM on August 7, 2015


[As a quick note here, we've had many Salaita/UIUC threads [1, 2, 3], and also very many threads in the blue and gray (see discussion in this metatalk, for example) that discuss blood libel generally and the Salaita tweet specifically, and it would be good not to turn this into a repeat of earlier discussions. I understand that the whole series of events represents a complex issue, but people are doing a good job of mostly sticking with the specific topic of this post rather than going back to zero on the subject, and it would be great to try to carry on with that. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 12:33 AM on August 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


"You can make up your mind about any issue, using as little information as you'd like."
- Robert Warrior, director of the American Indian Studies Program, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
posted by markkraft at 5:19 AM on August 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


The document dump (non-paywalled version) is really interesting. I can't say I've read all 300 pages of this. But some takeaways:

1. I don't get the sense that Wise herself has strong feelings about this case. She's clearly pissed that this is being presented as her decision, and she's taking the fire, when in fact it came from a meeting between her and the Board of Trustees. (pp.241-242 and 247)

2. What I never grasped is that the background of all of this is a controversy over unionization at UIUC faculty. Nick Burbules, who's the guy who seems to really sincerely feel that Salaita is a gross racist who shouldn't be within 10 miles of a university, is a leader of the anti-union campaign, and it seems clear that his feelings about this case are totally wound up with his feelings about the faculty members he's pissed at, and who are pissed at him, about that issue. There is a lot more complaining about the CFA and "our union organizer friends" in the document than there is about I/P or racism or free speech.

3. On p.190-191, a dismissal of Salaita as scholar from a (name redacted) Native American studies prof at another university.

4. My commitment to never going into administration has been multiplied by 100.
posted by escabeche at 5:45 AM on August 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


I thought this email was interesting. At the end there is a list of steps that sounds like they still wanted to keep him on campus in July, but after warning him about his behavior. They rescinded it on August 1, so I wonder what happened in the intervening week? I don't think I have the energy to read 300 pages of emails to find out.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 6:13 AM on August 8, 2015


I skimmed through them. They're not especially exciting, unless there's some hidden significance lurking there. If they were trying to conceal these emails then the secret is: they thought Salaita was an intemperate, foul-mouthed Jew-baiter and they didn't want him in their college.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:56 PM on August 8, 2015


Well they used private emails to discuss university business and Wise mentions multiple times that she did it to avoid FOIA requests, so I think we can assume they were in fact trying to conceal these emails.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:48 PM on August 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


they thought Salaita was an intemperate, foul-mouthed Jew-baiter and they didn't want him in their college.

That's a great thing to look into before you extend someone a job offer.

There actually is a lot of new information in the document dump. This article (via Corey Robin) synthesizes the emails into a coherent timeline, and while we still don't have an answer to the question that Elementary Penguin raises above, we do know that something happened on or around July 24th that changed Wise's tune. There's no smoking gun, but Andrew Wise's email implying board of trustees involvement raises significant questions about where the decision to rescind the offer came from, and I suspect Salaita's lawyers will be pulling on those threads in the forthcoming legal proceedings.
posted by tonycpsu at 5:22 PM on August 8, 2015


In an evident spirit of compromise, professor Nick Burbeles concedes that not every communication an academic makes should be considered university business:
Professor Nicholas Burbules, whose personal emails to Wise about the Salaita case were included in the batch released Friday, said it's "a little embarrassing" that communications he considered personal were being made public, but "I stand by everything that I said."

Burbules said he supports the open records law, but says the situation raises larger questions about what constitutes university business.

"I fully support transparency and the need for public deliberations about public policy issues at a public university," he said. "But there's clearly a line, and I think it's a blurry line, between the conduct of university business and personal communication from Person A to Person B that is about a university matter but which is an expression of an individual opinion or a question or a half-baked thought that is a conversation. It's about a university matter but it doesn't seem to me that that is the conduct of university business."
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:54 PM on August 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wow, that is some epic ass-covering right there.

<img src="citizen_kane_clapping.gif">
posted by tonycpsu at 6:06 PM on August 8, 2015


"But there's clearly a line, and I think it's a blurry line, between the conduct of university business and personal communication from Person A to Person B that is about a university matter but which is an expression of an individual opinion or a question or a half-baked thought that is a conversation. It's about a university matter but it doesn't seem to me that that is the conduct of university business.""

Good thing there's a great deal of case law exploring that line, as well as hotlines and ethics officers at U of I AND the state AG who would be DELIGHTED to help you figure it out in advance of your sending public business over private email!

And look, dude, when you want to have a half-baked thought that isn't discoverable verbatim in future litigation, you pick up the damn telephone like a grown up, which I know you know, as a man so devoted to dodging FOIA.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:51 AM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm just imagining the conversation that led to this:
COUNSEL: Welp, looks like we're entering the litigation phase. I strongly recommend that you not commit any further discussions about your past or present actions to writing, because all documents will be discoverable - even emails.

WISE: Got it!

[... later ...]

from: collegegoddess36@aol.com
to: academic1@uiuc.edu
cc: academic2@uiuc.edu, academic3@uiuc.edu [...]
subject: WE R BEIGN SUED

GUYS WE BETTER BE SMART AND NOT USE OUR COLLEGE ACCTS. DELETE YUOR MAIL AFTER SENDING IT!
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:33 AM on August 9, 2015




Wow, the Academeblog link and comments are fascinating. Nick Burbules shows up in the comments to defend himself, and gets dismantled by the other commenters.

From Susan Davis: "So here is a question for Nick Burbules and Joyce Tolliver: when you saw what the FOIA requests from Ali Abunimah and Andrew Scheinman and Steve Salaita’s lawyers produced — the official U of I email record only — and you knew that this was incomplete because there was a personal email record (because you were part of it) what did you do? Did you alert someone that the FOIA response was non-responsive and incomplete? If not –why not?

Did you ever remind Chancellor Wise that deleting official emails was a very very bad idea? If not, why not?

Did you place a phone call to the ethics office, when you knew an investigation was underway? When? and if not, why not? If you are going to be ethical university leaders, you need to answer these questions."
posted by Existential Dread at 4:03 PM on August 10, 2015


This is just facepalmingly dumb. The chancellor of a public university, who should be no stranger to FOIA requests, writes in email:

"Robin has warned me and others not to use email since we are now in litigation pahse. We are doing virtually nothing over our Illinois email addresses. I am even being careful with this email address and deleting after sending."

Amazing.
posted by Existential Dread at 4:08 PM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


That certainly escalated quickly.
University Of Illinois officials plan to dismiss Urbana-Champaign campus Chancellor Phyllis Wise rather than accept her resignation and pay her an agreed $400,000 bonus.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:01 PM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Well the whole purpose of a chancellor is to take flak for the board, and she has made them and her look like complete idiots, and the lawsuit is going to cost them a bunch more money, and that's assuming they don't lose or settle and end up paying Salaita a bunch of money, or even offering him the job after all.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:59 PM on August 12, 2015


Pogo_Fuzzybutt: "That certainly escalated quickly. "

Yeah, the article notes "The action followed calls by Gov. Bruce Rauner and others to rescind the award in the aftermath ..."

The governor's office sent a public letter to the Board on letterhead saying "your idea is bad and you should feel bad" -- they were not screwing around.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:03 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette with more details.

The firing (rather than accepting the resignation sans bonus) is remarkable to me. I doubt the symbolic house-cleaning does anything to warm the chill caused by the Salaita controversy, and the fact that it seems to have come from a Scott-Walker-Wannabe governor is more than a bit disconcerting.
posted by Westringia F. at 9:37 PM on August 12, 2015


I don't understand why it would be disconcerting - it's the absolutely correct decision, regardless of who is in the governor's seat. The emails have clearly illustrated Wise's misconduct, and firing her for cause is absolutely justified.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:15 AM on August 13, 2015


Wise absolutely needed to be axed for her attempt to cover her tracks, but there are also serious questions about whether she was calling the shots or merely being used as a human shield by the board of trustees. The tone of some of her emails suggests that she didn't appreciate being put in that position, and may not want to go down without a legal fight.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:46 AM on August 13, 2015


From what I read, she made the choice to be the board's scapegoat in order to push her pet project through. As for the legal fight, she's been caught dead to rights suborning spoilation and undermining the FOIA. It's going to be very hard for her to make the case that the board is not justified in firing her.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:01 AM on August 13, 2015


To be clear, I absolutely agree that she needs to be removed. What I find curious is that the firing is symbolic: she would be dismissed from her administrative role as chancellor, but would retain her tenured [$300K/yr] faculty position; materially it's no different from her resigning and being denied the bonus (which was what was expected to happen yesterday). It seems to me the sole purpose is to send a message -- one not so weak as to allow her to simply resign in shame, but not so strong as to remove her from academic employment by the state. The message of "we take FOIA seriously" is 100% appropriate, but it's an interesting balance they're striking and I can't help but wonder whether there's also a subtext of "we've taken care of the bad apple, nothing to see here" and/or "we intend to start unraveling the College of Medicine starting with this thread."
posted by Westringia F. at 5:26 PM on August 13, 2015


Well, the FOIA emails are administrative, not academic in nature. They don't have any bearing on her academic qualifications, which are not in doubt. She has a contract, and to break the contract just because she's unpopular would be an attack on academic tenure itself. /tongueincheek
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:36 PM on August 13, 2015


Yes, violating contracts is bad, even if we don't like the person.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:12 PM on August 13, 2015


(Apparently in my attempt to be clear I muddied the waters from the other side -- I'm not advocating breach of contract either! But clearly I'm not articulating my thoughts well, so I'll let it drop now.)

Here's the latest development.
posted by Westringia F. at 10:40 PM on August 13, 2015


What a clusterfuck.

UIUC has been and should be a great university. This is just embarrassing.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:30 PM on August 13, 2015


I don't actually have a problem with her being sacked, if the facts are as described: you can't have your officers deliberately circumventing supervisory rules. It's like an auditor running a slush fund.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:13 AM on August 14, 2015


I think we're well past the point where anyone is disagreeing about whether she deserved to be fired, but when the scandal that led to all of this revolved around reneging on an employment contract, it's a bit rich for the UI BoT to be digging deep into the weeds of Wise's contract to find a way to humiliate her, especially given the questions around who exactly was calling the shots when the decision was made.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:59 AM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Frankly, I wonder about the suitability of the University president to continue on after these revelations:

At Wednesday’s Board of Trustees executive committee meeting, the board rejected her resignation, reassigning her to a position under Killeen as an adviser to biomedical affairs. The board has initiated formal dismissal proceedings against Wise.

Wise has offered to fall on her sword, and resign over the whole flap, and yet Killeen and the BoT would prefer to go the humiliation route, reassigning her to a subordinate position while working to fire her and not even granting her the freedom to step down. Particularly after they had apparently negotiated in good faith to accept her resignation.

Wise should certainly lose her position, but UIUC is just compounding their public humiliation with these hijinks.
posted by Existential Dread at 10:21 AM on August 14, 2015


How so? I'm reminded of the scene in The West Wing where Toby gets fired - sometimes the fuck up is so bad, even falling on one's sword isn't enough. The board didn't tell Wise to violate the FOIA.

And yes, the board may have initially negotiated a resignation, but that's before the shit hit the fan at 100 mph when the emails came out.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:31 AM on August 14, 2015


Good point, I hadn't considered the timeline in light of when the emails actually came out.

I guess this new approach by the board keeps the whole fiasco in the public eye for quite a long time. I've observed these types of demotions at past employers, wherein an executive has all their authority removed and they get reassigned to a strange, dead-end position in an attempt to get them to quit. That's what the reassignment to an advisory directly under Killeen looks like to me, except that they haven't allowed her to resign. It just smacks of added humiliation, at least to me.

My approach would have been to relieve Wise of her duties while the Board works on the termination proceedings, and place her on leave or whatever rather than a subordinate position.
posted by Existential Dread at 10:43 AM on August 14, 2015




Wow...talk about stupid. Yes, normally these cases get ugly because things are gray. But that's not the case here - Wise has been caught with her hand in the metaphorical cookie jar. We have clear evidence that she suborned spoilation and conspired to violate the FOIA. She's not getting around that.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:15 PM on August 14, 2015


Maybe she hopes to use discovery to embarrass the board?
posted by Elementary Penguin at 12:48 PM on August 14, 2015


From andoatnp's link, this is beautiful:

This story has more irony than a Brecht play. In no particular order.

1. Salaita is hired but then is told, no, you’re not really hired, so that he can be fired. Wise is forced to resign, but then is told, no, you’re not really resigned, so that she can be fired.

2. Wise complains that not only is she the victim of a university administration that puts politics above principles and reneges on its contracts with its employees—all true, by the way—but that such actions are also “unprecedented.”

3. Suddenly, the UI Board of Trustees is concerned about contracts with its employees.

posted by Existential Dread at 4:27 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, from the comments:

Wise writes: “…some reports suggested I did so with illegal intentions or personal motivations. This is simply false. I acted at all times in what I believed to be the best interests of the University. In fact, many of these same communications included campus counsel, Board members, and other campus leaders.”

So… if she did nothing wrong, why does she need to share the blame and point out that the others did it too?

posted by Existential Dread at 4:29 PM on August 14, 2015


And... the end result from today is exactly what many expected to happen on Wednesday: the BoT accepted her resignation, allowing her to return to her academic role as professor (rather than the biomedical-affairs-advisor-to-Pres.Killeen thing) & take next year as a sabbatical (as previously negotiated), but voted to deny the $400K retention payment. The accomplishes the goal of not having her in a position of power, recognizes her wrongdoing by denying her the retention payment, and makes a lot more sense than inviting her to be an advisor to the very administration she was being fired from.

The letter from the BoT accepting her resignation is hilarious considering that they were also in receipt of a resignation letter when they decided to initiate the dismissal procedure. The BoT has all the thoughtfulness, moderation, and judiciousness of a bull in a china shop.
posted by Westringia F. at 10:56 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Weren't some of those "FOIA safe" emails to/from trustees? I'm a bit suspicious of the BoT's outrage at Wise's behavior; at least some of the trustees surely knew about it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:33 AM on August 15, 2015


Why I’m Not Crying Over the Fate of Chancellor Wise
There’s sometimes a tendency on the left—whether out of a manic structuralism or a liberal sentimentality at moments of poetic justice, I don’t know—to so want to make individuals in power the faceless emblems of a structure that those individuals cease to have power at all. There are structures, there are constraints, but Wise always had the option of bucking those structures and constraints.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:46 AM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


More fun for the University of Illinois:

Illinois found Tim Beckman deterred injury reporting & influenced players to avoid or postpone medical treatment & continue playing

— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) August 28, 2015

That's just awful.
posted by Existential Dread at 2:12 PM on August 28, 2015


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