Copy
Open Letter from the Executive Committee of the ACLA to Chancellor Phyllis Wise, University of Illinois
Dear Chancellor Wise,
 
On behalf of the members of the Executive Committee and the Advisory Board of the American Comparative Literature Association, I write to condemn the decision by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Phyllis Wise to withdraw an offer of an Associate Professorship with tenure in the American Indian Studies Program to Professor Steven Salaita, explicitly over the perception of incivility in his personal viewpoints as expressed in social media (http://illinois.edu/blog/view/1109/115906?count=1). As the Executive Council of the Modern Language Association (http://www.mla.org/ec_univ_illinois) and the officers of the American Association of University Professors (http://www.aaup.org/media-release/statement-case-steven-salaita), among other organizations, groups, and individuals, have noted, this action violates academic due process and curtails academic freedom. Moreover, it has been revealed that this action was taken under pressure from outside individuals and groups (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/08/25/u-illinois-officials-defend-decision-deny-job-scholar-documents-show-lobbying).
 
We are especially troubled by the following implications of this incident:
 
  1. the penalization of free speech on controversial issues, which discourages dissent and the free exchange of ideas;
  2. the consideration of statements made on social media in decisions about academic employment;
  3. the invocation of incivility as a pretext to silence or punish those who express unpopular views;
  4. the atmosphere of fear and intimidation that this case has created on college campuses, particularly among the more vulnerable members of the profession who do not have the protection of tenure;
  5. the potential inauguration of a trend in upper administration to interfere in hiring decisions, and to do so without transparency or faculty consultation, something that violates the principles of shared governance;
  6. the widespread disruption of the academic hiring process that will result from this trend, leading job candidates to mistrust potential employers who may now feel empowered to exploit legal loopholes to invalidate contracts offered and signed in good faith;
  7. the influence that non-academic groups and donors are allowed to exert on the academic decision-making process, which compromises its intellectual integrity.
 
Given that Chancellor Wise has not only ignored numerous calls for her to reverse her decision but has also defended her action, with the strong backing of UIUC Board of Trustees Chairman Christopher Kennedy and University President Robert Easter (http://www.uillinois.edu/cms/one.aspx?portalId=1117531&pageId=1603474), we express our solidarity with UIUC departments and programs that have cast no-confidence votes in the university administration (http://www.dailyillini.com/news/article_cf55ebce-2f97-11e4-b672-0017a43b2370.html).
 
Respectfully yours,
 
Ali Behdad,
President, American Comparative Literature Association
 
Copyright © 2014 American Comparative Literature Association, All rights reserved.