Graduate Students Demand Restoration of Academic Freedom at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Updates as of Sept 10:
Petition has now been signed by over 730 graduate students. The formal letter with a full list of signatures can be viewed here, and will be periodically updated: https://www.dropbox.com/s/ru5l5wvf6h9fbs5/Graduate%20Academic%20Freedom%20Letter.pdf?dl=0
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Dear Chancellor Wise and the University of Illinois Board of Trustees,

We the undersigned graduate students wish to register our opposition to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s (UI-UC) summary dismissal of Professor Steven G. Salaita. In addition to drawing condemnation from across the academic community as a fundamental violation of academic freedom, this firing has deeply concerned graduate students across the country who view this case as a dangerous precedent. As the rising generation of scholars and public intellectuals, we are troubled about what this signals about the work environments, hiring conditions, and the larger academe we are working to enter.

We believe that the only explanation of Professor Salaita’s firing that is supported by the facts at hand is that Salaita was targeted by those who opposed his political viewpoints and fired for those aforementioned views, using a handful of tweets as pretext. Other faculty and legal scholars have clearly outlined the facts of the case and have documented the lack of due process, rampant interference from outside the university, and employment of double standards that characterize this case (1).

UI-UC's actions have signaled to the graduate student community that in order to secure employment, we should stay silent on political questions, eliminate our online interactions with others in the public and in the scholarly community, and cease researching and asking tough questions that may displease those in authority. These conditions trouble us all, and will deter many graduate students from applying to faculty positions at UI-UC in the future.

We hold that the value of scholarly efforts must not be determined by how readily they appease the powerful or cater to the status quo; instead, such efforts must be weighed by their degree of due diligence and attention to the ethical pursuit of knowledge, as well as the imperative to voice righteous criticisms when necessary. To constrain our research and public engagement in such a way as to protect ourselves from the treatment Professor Salaita has received promises to strip the academy of all relevance to society as an institution that values intellectual debate.

Therefore, we join the growing body of academics of various disciplines, across departments, and within the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who have overwhelmingly condemned Professor Salaita’s firing (2). We express our support for academic freedom, freedom of speech, due process, and the broader principles that this firing undermines. As such, we state that we will not engage as speakers or participants in conferences organized by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign or co-sponsored by departments, programs and offices of the university until such a time as this decision is reversed (3). We will also encourage other graduate students and faculty to boycott such conferences and events, and we will work to raise awareness in our universities and communities about this case and its implications.

We believe there is time to reverse Professor Salaita’s firing and begin to undo the damage to the academy that these actions have inflicted, and we urge you to reconsider your position. However, barring a reversal of your decision, we cannot in good conscience engage with your university as if its behavior did not violate the basic freedoms required for the scholarly community to survive as an independent and critical body.

1 - For more, see a recent letter by the American Association of University Professors: http://www.aaup.org/file/AAUPLetterChancellorWise.pdf
A recent statement by legal scholars on this issue: https://www.dropbox.com/s/gxfbptf2t0d17vw/Faculty%20Letter%20to%20U%20of%20I.pdf
2 - See the growing body of actions in response to the firing here: http://coreyrobin.com/2014/08/31/salaita-by-the-numbers-5-cancelled-lectures-3-votes-of-no-confidence-3849-boycotters-and-1-nyt-article/ and a catalogue of boycott pledges here: http://coreyrobin.com/2014/08/23/more-than-3000-scholars-boycott-the-university-of-illinois/
3 - Institutional affiliations are for purposes of identification only. We sign as graduate students and not on behalf of our departments or universities.

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