Dr. Steven Salaita is a Palestinian American scholar in Native American studies fired for free speech.

Dr. Steven Salaita Fired for Speaking His Mind on Israel and Gaza

Gale Courey Toensing

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has fired a tenured professor in the American Indian Studies program after he tweeted comments criticizing Israel and its actions in Gaza.

Dr. Steven Salaita is a Palestinian American scholar in Native American studies, who has done groundbreaking work in comparative analysis of the Native American and Palestinian peoples’ experiences. He was scheduled to begin work at UIUC on August 16. But on August 1, UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise e-mailed that he would not have the job after all, according to the Chicago Tribune, which received university documents under the public records law. Wise said that the board of trustees was unlikely to approve Salaita’s appointment so she would not forward it to them, the Tribune said.

“We believe that an affirmative Board vote approving your appointment is unlikely,” Wise wrote. “We therefore will not be in a position to appoint you to the faculty ... Thank you for your interest in and consideration of the University of Illinois.”

Salaita was an associate professor of English at Virginia Tech when he was offered the UIUC position last October at a salary of $85,000 for the academic year, according to the offer letter obtained by the Tribune.

Brian Ross, UIUC’s interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, wrote in the October 3 offer letter, “Please let me express my sincere enthusiasm about your joining us. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers a wonderfully supportive community, and it has always taken a high interest in its newcomers. I feel sure that your career can flourish here, and I hope earnestly that you will accept our invitation.” Salaita signed the offer letter October 9. He arranged to finish the academic year at Virginia Tech and start his new UIUC job this month. Both he and his wife resigned from their jobs in Virginia and were in the midst of moving to Illinois when Rice’s termination email arrived.

News of Salaita’s firing broke on August 6 in a posting on Inside Higher Ed. The posting noted that UIUC would not discuss Salaita’s termination, but “sources familiar with the university's decision say that concern grew over the tone of his comments on Twitter about Israel's policies in Gaza. While many academics at Illinois and elsewhere are deeply critical of Israel, Salaita's tweets have struck some as crossing a line into uncivil behavior.”

Salaita's tweets, were posted during what the United Nations Human Rights Council called “widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms arising from the Israeli military operations carried out in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 13 June 2014.”

In a little over a week after the article appeared, dozens of publications had picked up the free speech debate, including the Washington Post and the New York Times. An online petition demanding Salaita’s reinstatement collected more than 15,000 signatures and Wise has been deluged with messages from scholars promising to boycott UIUC until he is reinstated.

The termination, if not reversed, will be a “great loss” to students in American Indian Studies, to the program itself and to the university as a whole, said Robert Warrior, an Osage Nation citizen, Director of American Indian Studies and professor of American Indian Studies, English, and History.

Warrior himself has been a vocal opponent of Israel’s policies in Palestine.

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Neither Salaita nor Rice could be reached for comment.

Salaita has a team of lawyers working on his case and UIUC faculty are discussing a vote of no confidence in Wise as the controversy continues to unfold, Warrior said.

The Board of Trustees was scheduled to meet on Monday, August 17, to discuss the issue of Salaita’s termination.

Warrior hopes the board does the right thing.

“Steven is an incredibly gifted and generous teacher who has helped many, many students develop their own independent thinking and their own critical capacity to think about the world around them,” Warrior said. “He sees teaching as only worth doing because you want the next generation to have that capacity of thinking critically about the world around them.”

Meanwhile, the department’s teaching schedule, including Salaita’s classes, remains in place. Warrior said he hasn’t received any “marching orders” to change anything.

“I’ve written approval letters to moving companies for things to be loaded up and brought here and nobody’s told me to do anything otherwise. I’ve got courses with students in them. I’d have to be taken kicking and screaming to be the one who orders those courses to be taken off the books,” Warrior said. “And, frankly,” he added wryly, “if the chancellor wants to micromanage the employment process and thinks we’re incompetent and cannot figure out who to properly hire for a job, I don’t see how I can be trusted to take a course off the books…She’s going to have a lot of decisions to make over the next six months from my office.”

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ebharlowe's picture
Submitted by ebharlowe on
I'm confused. Was Professor Salaita tenured at UIUC? Did his appointment at UIUC come with tenure? Or, is this a reference to his tenure at Virginia Tech?

SandraAbernathy's picture
Submitted by SandraAbernathy on
I am Native American and have a roll number. The Jews were in that land 500 years before the Muslim/Islamic Prophet Mohummad was born. That was their land. Then in history, people came and took them from their land and abused them, murdered them, enslaved them. Much like the Natives lost their land. I'm surprised a Native American would side with the Hamas and other Terrorist groups. Palestinians have elected Hamas to run their people. Hamas has broken 27 cease fires and sends over 1,000 bombs in Israel. Israel is fighting for it's land. Surely most Native Americans can understand this. Look what happened to us!!

Joe Finkbonner
Joe Finkbonner
Submitted by Joe Finkbonner on
It seems that we have reached a point where free speech and philosophical debate are no longer taught (or exercised) at major Universities. The UIUC is sending the message that all the professors need to be like-minded in order to teach or work at their institution.

Fyodor's picture
Submitted by Fyodor on
More incompetent journalism. " The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has fired a tenured professor in the American Indian Studies program ..." and in the next paragraph " He was scheduled to begin work at UIUC on August 16. But on August 1, UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise e-mailed that he would not have the job after all" He was tenured at Virginia Tech, and was not yet employed at the University of Illinois. This kind of contradictory scandalmongering does more harm than good, if only by making other irresponsible journalists (eg. Fox) look good by comparison, and taking attention away from the poor management decisions by Illinois.

Submitted by hesutu on
Hi ebharlowe, it is explained in the article. He was an associate professor at Virginia Tech specializing in colonization, with several books and a good reputation. He was courted, offered and accepted a position at UIUC to start there in their department of American Indian Studies this fall. He accepted this offer. He and his wife then resigned from Virginia and moved across country. Upon arrival, they were told the university was withdrawing the offer. Looking into this, he was told it was because the regents found out that he, a Palestinian American, had made comments criticizing the Israeli state's policies and actions toward Palestinian people. Legally there will have to be a settlement because he relied upon their offer when he resigned and spent money moving across country. However, it's unlikely any settlement will cover what this has cost him. It's also likely he's going to be secretly blacklisted and will never work in academia again because of who and what he dared to criticize.

Sammy7's picture
Submitted by Sammy7 on
Speech is not free in this vertically structured society. Speech must conform to the yonega world view or it's speaker is destroyed. Life is painful, messy, transformation. Destruction feeds new life. I thank Professor Salaita for his courage and the knowledge that he walks in good company.

galecoureytoensing's picture
Submitted by galecoureytoensing on
ebharlowe: Dr. Salaita was hired as a tenured professor at UIUC, so, yes, his appointment came with tenure.

Ryan Mervin
Ryan Mervin
Submitted by Ryan Mervin on
this article is rife with inaccuracies, something I have come to expect from salaita and his cronies Warrior and princess poipoi. I wasn't aware that you automatically have tenure when you are hired, or that schools do not have the right to rescind an offer when someone shows they are not representative of the institution. We do not need arabs teaching our history anyway, those jobs need to go to Native americans, not arabs who teach our history with a ridiculous slant towards their agendas. Lets look at the article and the silliness its perpetuating. Salaita's "ground breaking" comparative analysis requires the complete suspension of truth in order to even appear factual. how exactly does one compare the descendants of colonisers who conquered the middle east in the seventh century, who forced their religion and language on indigenous peoples across the middle east, with North american natives who were the victims of such a process? the idiotic " poor pitiful brown people vs evil and cruel pale skinned people" meme looks good at first glance, but falls apart when looked at with any intelligence. and THIS is what salaita has based his entire career on? thanks but no thanks, in the age of information, indians can use google ourselves to see what lies this is. To use the United nations as any sort of applea to authority about human rights is beyond a joke, when in fact they have been ignoring a very real genocide or a very real indigenous people in Iraq. where is the condemnation? The truth is easy to see for anyone who is not blinded by jew hate goggles, and you can easily verify these stats, in fact protective edge was extremely careful about collateral damage, far more careful than any other military including the united states. the proof is the extremely low casualty figure and the fact that almost 75% of the dead in Gaza were males between the age of 16 and 45. One has only to look at syria during the same time period to see what it looks like when an army actually attacks civilians. the use of Robert Warrior as an authority on this is also extremely misleading, as he himself is well known as someone with very little credibility in the field of middle eastern studies, frankly his article "Palestine without smears" was less about the middle east (which is good because he knows very little) and more about attacking me. Warrior is a poor writer who fails to engage anyone who doesnt already share his love of a debunked false narrative.. I think its rather obvious that Robert wants to make sure his buddy from Naisa gets a job he isnt a good fit for, that way they can keep teaching history that has been debunked but I do not agree, I think that this was 100% the right decision. Good on you Phylis

newworldman's picture
Submitted by newworldman on
I agree with SandraAbernathy. The experience of Native Americans is more closely aligned with pre-1948 Jews than with Palestinians. Like us Indians, Jews before 1948 were a people without a country, having been driven out of Israel by the Romans in 70 A.D. When they executed their Zionist movement and reclaimed their lost land of Israel in 1948, they consequently drove out the Palestinians, who had settled the land in the interim. We Indians have yet to execute a similar campaign to reclaim America.

DaviTrust's picture
Submitted by DaviTrust on
SandraAbernathy NO. The Jews were NOT in that land 500 years before Prophet Muhammad was born. Also, the jews there now are European Jews and are of European descent most definitely NOT indigenous to that area. Where did all that misinformation come from? Palestinians are the Indians of that area. The White Jews are the Whites of that area.

Submitted by hesutu on
One thing that is as sure as the sun will rise in the morning is that any time an article on ICTMN mentions Palestine or white rights to "adopt" (kidnap) indian children, all sorts of comments from people who have never been seen here before will appear and the article will have far more comments than is normal.

Martin Edwin Andersen's picture
Martin Edwin An...
Submitted by Martin Edwin An... on
The Jewish state of Israel, as the world's first modern indigenous state, clearly fits the UN's definition of indigeneity, which also at the same time underscores Palestinians' right to a nation-state in their homeland. This new, badly-needed paradigm can be found in "Opening the Door to a Path of Peace Between Jewish State of Israel and the Palestinians" @ http://goo.gl/wAJgOJ Such a focus is also included in Elza S. Maalouf's forthcoming book, "Emerge! The Rise of Functional Democracy and the Future of the Middle East." Her chapter on "Uncovering the Indigenous Intelligence" outlines the necessity of teaching youth on the West Bank to build "sustainable, indigenous constructs."

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
As we say every morning before school starts . . . One nation, under Bob, with liberty and justice for some.

ashquab's picture
Submitted by ashquab on
this is for sandra abernathy --- she say's .."and I have a roll number" ..lol first of all a GENUINE North American Indigenous person would not say that; we have no need to say that. That means nothing to a REAL Indigenous person. Secondly, every genuine 'In'din" stands with the people of Palestine. You speak of things that are from when "millions' of years ago, like you know what the hell you are talking about. Sounds like some more of that 'western" education - the lies. I strongly believe and know from your words that you are a 'pink-one' who like any other pink-one with the help of an 'occupying gov.' that set their paper laws-their assimilation tactics to 'allow anyone of the street to "claim"/ identify with true Indigenous blood - in order to weed out, dilute the blood line. ALL Indigenous Peoples know who is REAL and who is not - it is genetic. There are actual many similarities between the People of Palestine and the North American Indigenous Peoples . concerning respect and life, but more importantly the way in which they resist the invasive species .. YOU ARE NOT Anishinaabe so quit lying to yourself and the readers. .. If so you will know what Aanti wenjiyan means or awanen kitotem means .. You answer me ..I just asked you two questions related to your "indianess" ..lmfIartfo

ashquab's picture
Submitted by ashquab on
Oh yeah and what the hell is a "native american" ..lol there is no such thing .. We are older then that concept ..

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
The Israelis have forgotten what it is to be Jewish. We're hardly a generation away from the holocaust yet the Israelis feel comfortable using the same despicable treatment against the Palestinians. This proves a sad state of human affairs, our parents suffer horrible indignation so that their children can perpetuate the same behavior against another minority. Eric Hoffer was right!

Wanbli Koyake's picture
Wanbli Koyake
Submitted by Wanbli Koyake on
Hau mitakuyepi, Greetings my Relative, Gale Courey Toensing! Pilamaya for writing of such goings on here in the belly of Iya, "the Devourer"! And Wopila to Dr. Steven Salaita for his dedication to the pursuit and sharing of knowledge. It’s interesting how western knowledge –like all things Western– can be so far removed from Life. As noted by our Relative hesutu, much of the commentary following seems to be coming from strangers. Their misinformed, twisted, logic, unfortunately has infected many of our close relatives! The pursuit of knowledge (valorization of western scientific perspective) and academic freedom are mantras from my miseducation in the Wasicu Children’s Torture Camps known as Indian Boarding Schools. I attended both B.I.A. and Catholic Indian Boarding Schools and went on to study for two years at the graduate level. The fact that western knowledge is an insular way of experiencing and knowing the world and Life is obvious to Original Peoples who practice the Lifeways of their Ancestors. Our Ancestors’ Lifeway came from intimate kinships with All of Life. Knowing/Knowledge doesn’t come solely from books or from ideas or ideologies or other such abstractions. Such “book knowledge” doesn’t always hold true in the actual flow of Life. Truth-telling is absolutely critical when one lives in kinship with Life. To lie, to not tell the truth, to omit, to embellish, has immediate and long term consequences in Life. Truth/honesty was never a moralistic imperative for our ancestors, for countless generations our ancestors upheld Original Law which is predicated on the fact that All Life is Related, All Life are Kin! As kin we learn firsthand from our Elder Relatives in Life. My Elders and Ancestors say that “Two-leggeds are the only ones who forget their Original Instructions –which are simply, Live!” What the Wasicu/Greedy call animal instinct is actually Elder Wisdom. Our Ancestors –through kinship– learned what it means to “Live”, in the fullest sense, from our Elder Relatives in Life, the Plant, Insect, Animal, Bird, Fish, Reptile, and Spirt Peoples. Their non-anthropocentric values allowed our Ancestors to experience Life in as beloved kin with All that Exists. What they learned and shared was held to this standard, “Tell it straight. Don’t add anything, Don’t leave anything out!” To not do so would endanger the kinship we two-leggeds make with Life as well as our own mortal existence. So that is what our relative Dr. Steven Salaita should be congratulated for –Telling It Straight! Unfortunately, we two-leggeds live in a time where our lies are catching up to us. As a descendant of an Oppressed People, Dr. Steven Salaita must realize that his truth-telling would have such consequences (mostly hurtful) and that such abuse goes with the territory Truth telling is not allowable in the western paradigm, unless it’s a money-maker that is! And we Original Peoples don’t need to be told what’s what in the modern world; especially by suspect trolls whose authoritarian tactics and tone are comedic in their instinctual deviousness. It’s always amazing how the Greedy can circle the wagons, unbidden! Wopila tanka mitakuyepi! Wicoiye na Wowapi Hecetu welo, A Great Gratitude to my Relatives, Gail and Steven. My words and written words are true!