Following its meeting this past weekend, the American Philosophical Association's Board of Officers has sent a letter to the president and president-elect of the University of Illinois regarding the case of Professor Steven Salaita. The letter reads as follows:
November 24, 2014
Office of the President University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign 364 Henry Administration Building, MC-346 506 S. Wright St. Urbana, IL 61801
Dear President Easter and President-Elect Killeen:
We, the Board of Officers of the American Philosophical Association, write to protest the action of the Chancellor and Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in withdrawing the offer of a tenured position to Professor Steven Salaita. This action constitutes a violation of Professor Salaita’s right of free speech and, indeed, an assault on academic freedom in general. This action also flouts well-established norms of academic hiring, and should be taken only for weighty and pertinent reasons. In this case, the withdrawal was made because of remarks by Professor Salaita that he had a First Amendment right to make. That such an extreme action was taken on such an inappropriate basis must have a chilling effect on faculty speech and discourage scholars from participating in public debate about controversial issues.
Furthermore, we condemn the Board of Trustees’ action on ethical grounds. Professor Salaita was extended an offer on which he had full and sufficient reason to rely given that his credentials had been given full academic review through the level of the Chancellor. It is clear that Professor Salaita was meant to rely on that offer, given that his courses at the University of Illinois had already been scheduled. Good faith acceptance of that offer required Professor Salaita to take the necessary steps toward joining the University of Illinois faculty: Professor Salaita resigned from his tenured academic position, his wife resigned from hers, and the family home was sold preparatory to moving to Illinois. UIUC placed Professor Salaita and his family in a highly vulnerable position by making a conditional offer while at the same time expecting him to rely on that offer. The Board of Trustees’ decision has thus imposed on Professor Salaita and his wife severe personal and professional costs. We find this deplorable. We stand with the AAUP and our fellow professional organizations in condemning the action of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Cheshire Calhoun, chair for the Board of Officers of the American Philosophical Association
I would like to thank the APA Board for writing this letter. As the letter says, the way Steven was treated by UIUC is deplorable and there is no justification for it. He posted on Twitter as a private citizen exercising his right to freedom of expression. The UIUC Chancellor and Board of Trustees claim that the offer of employment was withdrawn because Steven's tone was “uncivil.” Emails released in response to an open records request by Inside Higher Ed cast some doubt on this claim. And why is it that those who defend the status quo are hardly ever the target of such accusations? But it makes no difference if Steven's supposedly uncivil speech turns out to be the reason for the denial. The results of previous levels of review were ignored and an individual and his family were denied a steady source of income (and probably healthcare). How can doing such serious harm to people be justified by Steven’s supposed lack of civility? Thank you again for taking a stand on this.
I applaud the APA Board for this letter condemning the University of Illinois's treatment of Professor Salaita. As Mill noted so well in On Liberty, complaints of uncivil speech are almost only aimed at speech that opposes mainstream opinion, which is the kind of speech most in need of protection.