The Palestinian-American professor Steven Salaita was “de-hired” – the official terminology – by the University of Illinois shortly before he was about to take up his post teaching American Indian studies in mid-August. He had already quit his previous job, and has now been left as good as unemployable, given his inevitable blacklisted status among university chancellors.
Illinois’ official grounds for firing him were angry tweets he posted during Israel’s assault on Gaza.
The reality, as was obvious to anyone following this case, was that the university’s chancellor, Phyllis Wise, had come under huge pressure from Jewish donors. Of course, if any of us had said that, we would have been accused of being conspiracy theorists (just like we were when we said DePaul University buckled under pressure from the lobby, and its legal attack-dog Alan Dershowitz, in “letting go” Norman Finkelstein). So thank God, this time we actually have the documents to prove the blindingly obvious.
Corey Robin has done a great job of extracting the bare bones of the story from the hundreds of pages of documents revealed under Freedom of Information legislation. One of those donors, Steve Miller, is a wealthy venture capitalist who donated half a million dollars to Illinois in 2010 to create a professorship at the business school.
It would be great to think these revelations will do a lot of damage to Illinois and serve as a deterrence to other universities thinking about sacrificing academic freedom in favour of submitting to the bigotry of donors, who want to keep out assertive Palestinians and their allies. I fear, however, that donor money will still speak louder. A smaller hope is that Salaita gets reinstated or that he is able to take Illinois to the cleaners.