Open Letter on the Damage to UIUC

More than three dozen scheduled talks and multiple conferences across a variety of disciplines – including, for example, this year’s entire colloquium series in the Department of Philosophy – have already been canceled, and more continue to be canceled, as outside speakers have withdrawn in response to the university’s handling of Dr. Salaita’s case…

An open rank search in Philosophy attracted 80% fewer applicants at the rank of associate or full professor than a senior search in the same area of specialization just last year.

Those are excerpts from an open letter to Dr. Timothy Killeen, the next president of the University of Illinois system, from the chairs, directors, and heads of various departments, programs, and centers at UIUC.

Kirk Sanders, chair of the philosophy department there, writes:

A group of thirty-four Executive Officers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is releasing an open letter to Dr. Timothy Killeen, the next President of the University of Illinois system. In the letter, the thirty-four chairs, directors, and heads address the damage that has been done to the campus in the wake of the decision to revoke an offer of a tenured position in American Indian Studies to Dr. Steven Salaita. The letter seeks to inform Dr. Killeen about this damage as well as the further damage that may come in the form of a censure from the American Association of University Professors. It also asks him to affirm the University’s commitment to robust notions of free speech and academic freedom and to principles of shared governance.

This open letter emerges from discussions among a diverse group of campus leaders about ways of helping heal divisions and moving the campus forward in the wake of the Salaita decision. The initial impetus for the letter came from the leaders of fourteen of the units that had earlier issued statements of no confidence in senior university officials and/or their actions. Those fourteen Executive Officers have been joined by a large number of other campus leaders who are concerned about the long-term effects of the case on the mission of the campus.

The letter outlines the negative impact of the Salaita decision on those departments most directly affected by the matter and discusses core institutional values threatened by the manner in which senior university officials have handled the case and its aftermath. The signatories to the letter span a variety of disciplines and represent a range of opinions about the specific details of the Salaita matter. In coming together through this open letter to the new president, they invite Dr. Killeen as well as senior UIUC officials to lead the campus forward by acknowledging the damage done by the Salaita matter and unambiguously reaffirming the university’s commitment to academic freedom and free speech and to fundamental principles of shared governance.

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