Statement by the Executive Committee of the Program in Jewish Culture and Society at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The Program in Jewish Culture and Society is committed to the study of Jewish culture and society in the spirit of free and open inquiry appropriate to a public, secular university. Our faculty includes scholars of Jewish religion, philosophy, literature, culture, and history as well as the Holocaust and Israel. The hallmark of our program is a commitment to a diversity of approaches to the central questions of Jewish life, historically and in the present. Indeed, we pride ourselves on our ability to discuss controversial issues of religion, culture, and politics despite our differences. We do not always agree, but we share a belief that intellectual work flourishes under conditions of vigorous debate rather than under enforced consensus.
In light of these commitments to diversity and debate, the Executive Committee of the Program in Jewish Culture and Society finds itself gravely disappointed by the recent words and actions of Chancellor Phyllis Wise, President Robert Easter, and the Board of Trustees in connection with the revocation of an offer of employment in the American Indian Studies Program to Professor Steven Salaita. Although we respect the fact that Professor Salaita’s tweets have caused pain and offense to many individuals, we are deeply troubled by the disregard for academic freedom, freedom of speech, and the principles of shared governance – enshrined, as they are, in the University of Illinois Statutes. Those statutes state, “It is the policy of the University to maintain and encourage full freedom within the law of inquiry, discourse, teaching, research, and publication and to protect any member of the academic staff against influences, from within or without the University, which would restrict the member’s exercise of these freedoms in the member’s area of scholarly interest.”
We believe this disregard will have a chilling effect on our ability freely to study and discuss controversies central to our field, including those regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Furthermore, as specialists in some of the areas relevant to this case, we are frustrated by the complete lack of faculty consultation that the administration has exhibited; we believe our expertise, along with that of many other colleagues on campus, might have helped the administration address the complexities of the case and come to a more just decision.
Because the account the administration has provided of their decision to revoke Professor Salaita’s offer contains many contradictions and obscurities, we call for a complete and impartial inquiry into the decision-making process. Only when the case has received a just resolution and our campus has returned to our long-standing commitment to the 1940 AAUP Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure can our confidence in the Chancellor, President, and Board of Trustees be restored.
(Please, note that this is a majority vote as the Executive Committee of the Program in Jewish Culture and Society has a total of 13 members.)