University of Illinois Trustees Vote Against Hiring Controversial Professor

URBANA, Ill. ― University of Illinois trustees on Thursday voted not to hire a professor whose anti-Israel Twitter messages were deemed anti-Semitic by some, raising the likelihood of a lawsuit and further campus protests.

Steven Salaita, who last year accepted a job to begin teaching this fall in the university’s Native American Studies Program, has threatened legal action if the university rescinded the offer. His attorneys have said if he isn’t hired, they’ll go to court to try to get an injunction to force the university to hire him.

His supporters in the audience at Thursday’s board of trustees meeting shouted “shame on you,” after the 8-1 vote. Salaita was not at the meeting but said in a statement he was disappointed by the vote.

Salaita was offered and accepted a job in October 2013 while working at Virginia Tech University. But after he wrote dozens of sometimes-profane and, according to his critics, anti-Semitic tweets in July and August, Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Phyllis Wise informed him he wouldn’t have a job.

Salaita’s hire hadn’t been approved yet by the Board of Trustees. That was the final step in granting him tenure. His defenders say that the approval was a formality since professors regularly start work before the board OKs their appointments. They believe he was already effectively employed and his speech protected by tenure.

Salaita’s situation has led faculty in some university departments to approve votes of no confidence in Wise and has led academics from elsewhere to cancel several appearances at the university.