Donor Complaints May Have Prompted Controversial Professor To Lose University Of Illinois Job


A number of angry e-mails from university donors sent to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Phyllis Wise apparently served as the impetus for the school to abruptly rescind a job offer to academic Steven Salaita.

The Daily Illini, which obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act request, reported Thursday that Wise and other university officials began to receive messages from donors threatening to withdraw their support from the school unless they dropped Salaita. The emails began after Salaita's controversial and often explicit social media postings criticizing Israel's role in the conflict in Gaza began to receive media attention in late July.

As recently as July 21, the school had confirmed Salaita's post in the American Indian Studies program would begin last month -- pending approval from the school's board of trustees. The Daily Illini reports that on Aug. 1, Salaita received an email from Wise stating that his appointment would not be passed along for board approval.

The news comes amid continued criticism of the school's decision from the academic community, both on the U of I campus and elsewhere, as well as some support from certain U of I facility.

Multiple departments and programs at the university have issued votes of no confidence in the chancellor and over 17,000 people have signed a petition in favor of giving Salaita the job back. The American Association of University Professors also issued a letter addressed to Wise, criticizing Salaita's dismissal and calling for him to receive his full pay for the position pending an examination of the incident.

"We are deeply concerned about the action taken against Professor Salaita," the AAUP letter reads. "We see that a very serious issue of academic freedom has been raised by the actions against him, an issue that will not be resolved as long as the actions remain in effect and their soundness has not been demonstrated by the University of Illinois administration under requisite safeguards of academic due process."

A separate group of more than 260 professors at the university have signed a letter expressing their support for Wise's decision, the News-Gazette reports.

"We support Chancellor Wise because of her sense of duty, her measured judgment and her principles of collegiality, inquiry and inclusiveness," it reads.

Wise told the News-Gazette that she had no intention to change her decision to cancel Salaita's appointment. But she admitted this week that the school's hiring process needs updating in response to the Salaita controversy, telling the paper "there have been some errors in the process" and noting that she should have consulted more people in arriving at her decision. She addressed the decision at length in an open letter addressed to the campus last month.

Meanwhile, Christopher Kennedy, chair of the university's board of trustees, told the Chicago Tribune the school is willing to enter into a financial settlement with Salaita.

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