Letter to Chancellor Phyllis Wise In Support of Professor Steven Salaita from UIUC Graduate Students

*Additional signatures from UIUC graduate students are welcome. Please use the form below.

August 26, 2014

Chancellor Phyllis Wise:

We, the graduate students in American Indian Studies funded by the Graduate College’s INTERSECT Grant as well as graduate students across a myriad of disciplines, minors, and ethnic and gender studies affiliations, are writing to express our utmost disapproval of your recent unethical and unconstitutional firing of Professor Steven Salaita only three weeks before his scheduled classes were to begin.

While many faculty members across the globe have written to you directly, as well as published excellent pieces to support the reinstatement of Professor Salaita, we want to express what your attack on him means for us as students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and in particular, as graduate students. Over the last few weeks you have continuously stated that your “particular duty to our students [is] to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals.” However, your version of what is and is not needed and valued in an inclusive academic community has effectively silenced our perspectives and values as students on this campus. We hope that through taking our statements as students seriously (many of which are circulating, like Professor Salaita’s previous statements, across social media networks), you will realize how your actions have in fact compromised our scholarly and intellectual communities, threatened our ability to challenge assumptions and to grow as intellectuals, as well as demonstrated that you care very little about our rights as individuals. We write this letter in a time where “Inclusive Illinois” increasingly serves as fodder to a neoliberal multicultural imagination on campus, a slogan that seeks to place diversity on display but not into practice. Rather than promote diversity, “Inclusive Illinois” actually regulates diversity and the dissent of minoritized faculty, staff, and students, and in this particular case, Palestinians. Furthermore, the parallel between 1) Israeli uses of the narrative of protecting Jews in the wake of the Holocaust to justify state-sanctioned genocide of Palestinians and 2) UIUC’s narrative of protecting “any student of any faith or background” and their “differing perspectives” to justify an attack on Professor Salaita’s academic freedom ultimately draws further concern to UIUC’s role in supporting Israel’s violation of international law in their illegal occupation of Palestine. As Jews across the world continue to exclaim “not in our name!”, we too will not stand silenced while injustices are enacted in our name. In light of recent evidence published in Inside Higher Ed of redacted electronic correspondence sent to you from students, alumni, and funders, it is increasingly more clear that you are using excuses of protecting students to camouflage private financial interests.

We take issue with your avoidance to engage directly and productively with the context from which Professor Salaita speaks. Your description of the university as being “home to a wide diversity of opinions on issues of politics and foreign policy” where “some of our faculty are critical of Israel, while others are strong supporters” elides the fact that many faculty, staff, and students are adamant supporters of Palestine and its struggle for liberation from individuals and institutions who target its bodies and homes through state-sanctioned violence. The fact that you fail to acknowledge the Occupation and the ongoing genocide on Gaza that has resulted in the death of more than 2130 Palestinians and the injury and dispossession of thousands not only silences Palestinian voices, but also ignores their existence (including those here on our campus), devalues their struggle, and perpetuates their repression. This lack of recognition of Palestine from the university debunks the university’s claims to political neutrality. In that sense, the “debates” you speak of that “make us stronger” are not “welcome and encourage[d]” as you describe them to be. That said, a question that presents itself is: are you really protecting students from Professor Salaita’s opinions, or as the Board of Trustees (BoT) puts it, “malice”? We—US and International graduate students who come from a diverse array of disciplines and demographics, including a Palestinian student, a Jewish student, and the many others from various faiths and backgrounds whose protection seems to take your highest priority—answer no, you are not. Our “protection” can only be fulfilled when we question and are questioned in the very essential principles we believe in, even if that brings initial discomfort and reserve in response to Palestine/Israel and other political subjects.

Your decision to revoke Professor Salaita’s offer is in-line with your continuous disregard for American Indian and Indigenous students and professors on this campus. It is clear from the university’s actions that the diversity it values and aims to “protect” is limited. The American Indian Studies program here at UIUC is one of the most respected and well-regarded programs in the U.S. However, you obviously do not believe our internationally recognized, award-winning faculty is capable of making hiring decisions. It appears that you and the BoT would much rather see our faculty represent a vague notion of diversity rather than increase the diversity of scholarship and people on our campus. This issue at hand is not only the grievous injustice of revoking Professor Salaita’s job offer, but also the implications your decision has for academic freedom and departmental and program autonomy here at UIUC as well as at other institutions of higher education.

Professor Salaita’s hiring was a result of the American Indian Studies faculty recognizing the broader trajectory of the field and subsequently seeking to provide students and faculty the ability to interact and work with a scholar that offers a comparative and global perspective on indigeneity. However, by making the decision to “protect” the campus and students from the potential of “personal and disrespectful words or actions” you and the BoT have denied hundreds of students the necessity of learning from Professor Salaita. Moreover, your actions have shown that you see departmental and program autonomy and control as expendable. The power to make such swift and extreme decisions should not be entrusted to someone who does not possess the credentials to determine Professor Salaita’s suitability in the American Indian Studies program or as a scholar of Palestine and comparative Indigenous studies, nor should any decision or action have taken place without the consultation of the American Indian Studies Program. In your statement you write, “What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.” Following your standards alone you are in violation of this new code of civility by making allegations that Professor Salaita would not have been able to maintain professional and “civil” behavior with his colleagues and students, despite his teaching record that made him an invaluable hire to us in the first place. Likewise, rescinding a job offer once someone has left their position and moved their family across the country leaving them without a source of income and, in the process, jeopardizing his reputation is not something we should allow.

Furthermore, the decision to fire Professor Salaita affects all disciplines, especially ethnic and gender studies departments. Like American Indian studies, Asian American studies, Latina/Latino studies, and African American studies all have a highly politicized history of critiquing racism, sexism, and/or imperialism in the U.S. and abroad. It gives us great concern that a member of the academic community would be punished for having strong opinions that are contrary to persistent U.S. foreign policy, an opinion that indicts U.S continued participation in overseas imperialism. We are also appalled by the precedent that this decision sets: that people of color who have, against many odds and obstacles, achieved positions in the academy can be policed and unfairly reprimanded. The Asian American community stood with Chancellor Wise earlier this year when she was the target of orientalist sexism and racism. This type of hate speech has no place in the academic community. In the same way, we support Professor Salaita, whose comments about the genocide in Gaza similarly fight against the racist and imperialist logic that marks Palestinians as undeserving of livelihood. We make this comparison to point out the difference between what the administration has referred to as Professor Salaita’s “disrespectful” comments and what constitutes an anti-imperialist critique, a practice that, often requires highly obscene language. In fact, an academic community is built on the notion that learning should often be challenging and unsettling. Indeed, we do not view Salaita’s comments as hate speech or perpetuating anti-Semitism. Rather, we see his discourse as an insightful and accurate critique of the racism and genocide which the U.S. has been complicit in and funded. As a scholarly community, it is time to reflect on the reputation we are building: one where scholars of color live in fear of being regulated and do not have a clear sense of academic freedom, one where we are fired for voicing dissenting opinions, one that constantly silences the indigenous communities on campus and circumvents the autonomy of the American Indian Studies Program.

As students, we insist that you and the BoT reverse your actions and reinstate Professor Salaita because we understand what is at stake when an academic institution attacks a minoritized individual for their non-violent expression of dissent. You state that you seek to work “closely with [us] to identify how the campus administration can support our collective duty to inspire and facilitate thoughtful consideration of diverse opinions and discourse on challenging issues.” We seek to bring the position and voice of students into the conversation with integrity, especially since you and the BoT seem to think you can speak for us and purport to know what we consider to threaten our safety in and outside of the classroom. What you do not realize is that in trying to “protect” our safety, you are actually posing a great threat to our safety, intellectual growth, and well-being. We hope that our collective action as students makes our demands clear to UIUC and the public at large.

Signed by:


1. Eman Ghanayem, PhD Student (Department of English and American Indian Studies Program, AIS INTERSECT Fellow)

2. Rico Kleinstein Chenyek, MD/PhD Student (Institute of Communications Research, Medical Scholars Program/College of Medicine, American Indian Studies Program, AIS INTERSECT Fellow, Latina/Latino Studies, Gender & Women’s Studies, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies)

3. Raquel Escobar, PhD Student (Department of History and American Indian Studies Program, AIS INTERSECT Fellow, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies)

4. Christine Peralta, PhD Student (Department of History and Asian American Studies)

5. Mark John Sanchez, PhD Student (Department of History and Asian American Studies, Graduate College Distinguished Fellow)

6. Julie Torres, PhD Student (Department of Anthropology, Latina/Latino Studies, Graduate College Distinguished Fellow)

7. Beth Eby, PhD Student (Department of History and American Indian Studies Program, AIS INTERSECT Fellow)

8. Carolina Ortega, PhD Student (Department of History and Latina/Latino Studies, Graduate College Fellow)

9. Kyle Mays, PhD Student (Department of History and American Indian Studies Program)

10. S. Moon Cassinelli, PhD Student (Department of English, American Indian Studies Program, and Gender & Women’s studies)

11. Gabriela Vargas, PhD Student (Department of Curriculum and Instruction)

12. Jessica Landau, Graduate Student (Department of Art History, Learning to See Systems INTERSECT Fellow, pending American Indian Studies Graduate Minor)

13. Alicia Kozma, PhD Student (Institute of Communications Research and Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory)

14. Michael Shetina, PhD Student (Department of English)

15. Zach Reibling, PhD Student (Department of History)

16. Elizabeth Matsushita, PhD Student (Department of History)

17. Robert Rouphail, PhD Student (Department of History, Graduate College Fellow)

18. Nathan Tye, PhD Student (Department of History, Graduate College Fellow)

19. Melissa Seifert, Graduate Student (Department of Art History, Learning to See Systems INTERSECT Fellow)

20. Lisa Ortiz, PhD Student (Education Policy, Organization & Leadership, Latina/Latino Studies)

21. Ga-Young Chung, PhD Student (Education Policy Studies)

22. Augustus Wood, PhD Student (History Department, Afro-American Studies)

23. John Marquez, PhD Student (Department of History)

24. Michael Staudenmaier, PhD Candidate (Department of History)

25. Andrew Santana Kaplan, MA Student (Department of English, Summer Predoctoral Institute Alumnus)

26. Brenda Sanya, PhD Student (Education Policy Studies, Gender and Women's Studies, and Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory)

27. Bryce Henson, Phd Student (Institute of Communications Research, Cultural Studies & Interpretative Research, and Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies)

28. Peter Wright, PhD Student (Department of History)

29. Elise A.G. Duwe, MD/PhD student (Medical Scholars Program, Department of Sociology, AIS INTERSECT fellow, American Indian Studies Program, Beckman Institute)

30. Jade Bettine, (Department of History)

31. Daniela Paker (Department of History)

32. Joe Coyle (C.A.S, Graduate School of Library and Information Science)

33. Derek A. Houston (Education Policy, Organization, & Leadership)

34. Emily Pope-Obeda, PhD Student (Department of History)

35. Meghan Bohardt, MA Student (Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies)

36. Noelle Easterday, PhD Student (Department of Anthropology)

37. Devin Smart, PhD Student (Department of History)

38. Stacy Wykle (Graduate School of Library and Information Science)

39. Megan White, Phd Student (Department of History and Asian American studies)

40. John Ben Soileau, PhD Student (Department of Anthropology, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Lemann Institute for Brazilian Studies)

41. Megan Kennedy (Linguistics)

42. Lori Moon, PhD Student (Department of Linguistics)

43. Erica Melko (Department of English and Gender and Women's Studies)

44. Debojoy Chanda, PhD Student (Department of English)

45. Feyza Nur Safoglu (Department of Sociology)

46. Isis Rose (Department of Anthropology)

47. Francena Turner, Graduate Student (Department of Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership)

48. Zack Poppel, PhD Student (Department of History)

49. Jeffrey Castle (Germanic Languages and Literatures)

50. Estibalitz Ezkerra, PhD student (Program in Comparative & World Literature, volunteer at EJP)

51. Melissa Villa-Nicholas (Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Gender and Women's Studies)

52. elizaBeth Simpson (Department of Communication)

53. David Hamilton (Department of Physics)

54. Will D. Leone, Master Student (School of Social Work)

55. Nicholas Cragoe, PhD Student (Department of Sociology, AIS INTERSECT Fellow)

56. Blanca Esmeralda Rincon, PhD Student (Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership)

57. Parthiban Muniandy (Department of Sociology)

58. Rebecca Schumann, PhD Student (Department of Anthropology)

59. Valeria Bonatti (Department of Sociology)

60. Josh Levy (Department of History and American Indian Studies)

61. Melissa I. Cardenas-Dow (CAS, Graduate School of Library & Information Science)

62. Deirdre Ruscitti, PhD Student (Department of History)

63. Alonso Avila (MLS, Graduate School of Library and Information Science)

64. Matthew Harshman, PhD Student (Department of History)

65. Sergio Poo-Dalidet, PhD Student (Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership)

66. Tariq Khan, PhD Student (Department of History)

67. Kerry Wilson, PhD Student (Institute of Communications Research)

68. Juan Mora (Department of History)

69. Kristen Ann Ehrenberger, PhD (Department of History) & MD Student (College of Medicine)

70. Chelsea Farmer, MA Student (Department of English)

71. Amanda Eisemann, MA student (Graduate School of Library and Information Science, PhD recipient '12 from the Department of History)

72. Aditi Singh, JD Student (College of Law)

73. Erica Parker (Graduate School of Library and Information Science)

74. K.R. Roberto, PhD Student (Graduate School of Library and Information Science)

75. Tin-yuet Ting, PhD Student (Department of Sociology)

76. Stephanie Birch (Graduate School of Library and Information Science - Diversity Committee; African Studies Department; Department of African American Studies)

77. Cameron Riopelle (Department of Sociology)

78. Noelle Belanger (Department of Art History)

79. Emre Akbas (Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering)

80. Veronica Mendez Johnson, PhD Student (Department of History and Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies)

81. Natalie Lloyd (Department of Education)

82. Tanya Diaz-Kozlowski (Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, Gender and Women's Studies, Latina/Latino Studies)

83. Paul Myers, Phd Student (Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership)

84. Leah Q. Peoples (Department of Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership)

85. Chunfeng Lin, PhD student (Institute of Communications Research)

86. Shantel Martinez, PhD Student (Institute of Communications Research)

85. David Aristizábal, PhD Student (Department of Anthropology)

86. Utathya, Ph.D. Student (Department of History, CLGC INTERSECT Fellow)

87. Laura Atkins, PhD Student (Department of Sociology)

88. Ian Scott, PhD Student (Education Policy Studies)

89. Katherine Flowers, PhD Student (Department English and Center for Writing Studies)

90. Durell Callier, PhD Student (Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, Gender and Women's Studies)

91. Heidi Johnson (Graduate School of Library and Information Science)

92. Noel Zavala (Department of English and Latina/Latino studies)

93. Jeongsu Shin (Department of Anthropology)

94. Benjamin Bascom, PhD Student (Department of English and IPRH)

95. Lydia Crafts, PhD Student (Department of History)

96. Christopher Cayari (Music Education)

97. Ahmad El Khatib (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

98. Umair Rasheed (Center for South Asia and Middle Eastern Studies)

99. David Horst Lehman, PhD Student (Department of History)

100. Brianna Walker (Library and Information Science)

101. Brian Lampert (Department of Chemistry)

102. Heather Freund (Department of History)

103. Yasser Shalabi (Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering)

104. Yuki Takauchi (Department of History)

105. Ambar Flores (Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies)

106. Harsh Shah, MD candidate (College of Medicine)

107. Clayton Alsup, PhD student (Department of Philosophy)

108. Randa Asmar (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

109. Kaitlyn A. Willison, JD Student (College of Law)

110. Hcham Zemmahi (Department of Curriculum and Instruction)

111. Alyssa Bader (Department of Anthropology)

112. Jay Brooks (Sociology Department)

113. Eliza Dreier (Department of History)

114. Tessa Winkelmann (Department of History and Department of Asian American Studies)

115. Sarah Sahn (Department of English and Gender and Women's Studies)

116. Jeanie Austin (Graduate School of Library and Information Science)

117. Stephanie Brown (Institute of Communications Research)

118. Xavier Hernandez (Education Policy Organization & Leadership)

119. Meghan Dykema, MA Student (Department of English and Center for Writing Studies)

120. Sveta Stoytcheva (Graduate School of Library and Information Science)

121. Peter Lawlor (Aerospace Engineering)

122. Tiffany Harris (Education Policy, Organization and Leadership)

123. Rebecca Linares (Department of Curriculum & Instruction)

124. P.M. Trotter, PhD Student (Department of Education Policy, Organization & Leadership)

125. Pronoy Rai (Department of Geography and Geographic Information Science)

126. Martina Baldwin (Institute of Communications Research)

127. Mohammed Azeem Sheikh, PhD Student (Department of Physics)

128. Gregory Webb (Department of English)

129. Alana Holland, MA Student (Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies)

130. Izzat El Hajj, PhD Student (Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering)

131. Stefan Kosovych (Department of History)

132. Ben O'Dell (Department of English)

133. Aditya Kumar, MA Student (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering)

134. Betsy Breyer (Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences)

135. Matthew E Knight, PhD student (Department of Music, Musicology)

136. Christine Hedlin (Department of English)

137. Meghan Grosse (Institute of Communications Research)

138. Samantha Plasencia, PhD Student (Department of English)

139. Andrea Ruehlicke, PhD Student (Institute of Communications Research)

140. Jonathan Patrick Fadely (Department of English)

141. John Musser (Department of English)

142. Julie Laut (Department of History)

143. Yaejoon Kwon (Department of Sociology and Department of Asian American Studies)

144. Jean Lee (Department of English)

145. Ayesha Hasan (College of Medicine)

146. Matthew Nelson, PhD Student (Program in Comparative & World Literature)

147. Valerie O'Brien (Department of English)

148. Adrienne Seely (Graduate School of Library and Information Science)

149. Anita Mixon (Department of Communication, Gender & Women Studies, and African American Studies)

150. Jennifer Marie Jones (Program in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology)

151. Heather Harris, PhD student (Department of Curriculum and Instruction)

152. Gabe McCoy, PhD Student (Institute of Communications Research)

153. Katherine Mimnaugh, MS Student (Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences)

154. So Jung Kim (East Asian Languages and Cultures)

155. Margaret Brennan (Department of History)

156. Karla Palma, PhD Student (Institute of Communications Research)

157. Kyle Granger (Graduate College)

158. Ian Toller-Clark (Department of History)

159. Bethany M. Wages, MA student (Russian East European and Eurasian Studies)

160. Anca Mandru (Department of History)

161. Caroline M. Wisler, PhD Student (Department of Landscape Architecture)

162. Veneta Ivanova (Department of History)

163. Matt Messbarger (Graduate School of Library and Information Science)

164. Deniz Ay, PhD Student (Department of Urban and Regional Planning)

Student Groups in Which We Are Active Members:

American Indian Studies Graduate Student Organization (AISGSO), Asian Pacific American Graduate Students Organization (APAGSO), Collaborative, Graduate Organization of Latin@ Students (GOLS), Latina/Latino Studies Graduate Student Organization (LLSGSO), Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA), Society for the Advancement of Native Americans and Chicanos in the Sciences (SACNAS), Chicana/o Latina/o Association for Autonomous Anthropology (ChiLa), Graduate Employes Organization (GEO), Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice (CUCPJ), Education Justice Project (EJP), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA)

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