Mon, Jun 15, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Top academic group censures US university

AP, CHAMPAIGN, Illinois

A leading academic group on Saturday voted to censure the University of Illinois’ flagship campus over its decision not to hire a professor following his anti-Israel Twitter messages, a vote the university’s chancellor said will have repercussions and is being taken seriously.

In a voice vote, the membership of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) affirmed the censure at the group’s annual meeting in Washington.

The decision came in reaction to the university rescinding Steven Salaita’s job offer following his posts on Twitter concerning Israel and the West Bank.

The vote hinged on the principle of academic freedom, said Anita Levy, an association staff member involved with the group’s investigation of the matter.

A report by the group described Salaita’s tweets as expressions of “outrage in strong language over the war in Gaza.”

Rejecting the professor’s appointment “violated Professor Salaita’s academic freedom and cast a pall of uncertainty over the degree to which academic freedom is understood and respected” at the school, Levy said, reading from a statement after Saturday’s vote.

University spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the school has an “unyielding commitment to the principles of academic freedom.”

And, in an e-mail sent to faculty on Saturday, university chancellor Phyllis Wise said the decision was “disappointing, but not unexpected.”

“We take this decision by the AAUP seriously,’’ Wise said in the e-mail. “We understand that it will have repercussions on the scholarly activities of many in our community, and we intend to address both the censure and the underlying concerns through our established processes of shared governance.”

An AAUP censure is a relatively rare condemnation that can damage a university’s reputation in the academic world. Some faculty members at the University of Illinois have said they believe it might lead job hunters working at other schools to choose not to work at the Urbana-Champaign campus, though other faculty members have discounted that idea.

The university rescinded Salaita’s job offer after some donors complained his tweets were anti-Semitic. He has since sued the school. The censure vote came one day after a judge ordered the university to turn over thousands of pages of documents sought by Salaita.

In October 2013, Salaita was offered a professor’s job in the university’s Native American studies department, starting in August last year. He accepted and quit his job at Virginia Tech University.

However, last summer, Salaita, whose father is from Jordan, wrote a long series of Twitter messages complaining about Israeli military action in Gaza. Some of those messages included profanity and a few were considered anti-Semitic by university donors who wrote to Wise.

“Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948,” he wrote in one message.

In August last year, just before school was set to begin again and after Salaita had received his class assignments, Wise told Salaita he would not get the job after all.

His lawsuit claims he had already been hired. The university says its board of trustees had not yet approved his hire.

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