Earlier this month, ASA elected leaders sent two opposing letters to Dr. Phyllis Wise, UIUC chancellor, regarding the decision to not hire Dr. Steven G. Salaita as a faculty member at the University of Illinois. These letters and the circumstances of their submission have generated discussion among ASA members in social media and in the blogosphere. The URLs for the two letters are:
In addition, a response to an ASA member by ASA President Paula England about the process was posted online. This too garnered a discussion. Dr. England’s response is below.
Thanks for your note. The policy of the Executive Officer, Sally Hillsman, stretching back a number of years has been that elected officers of ASA may use ASA letterhead when writing on ASA business if they wish. As you may know, the question of whether Salaita’s treatment abrogated academic freedom and whether ASA should speak out was raised at the end of the Council Meeting in August. Council could have voted an official ASA position, but there was no time for that, so members informally encouraged me to write as President if I decided it was appropriate. I drafted a letter, but decided to see if a few other officers agreed. Not everyone did, so at first my call was to say nothing. Later, however, the three presidents and secretary decided we did want to speak out. We used ASA letterhead, as we were writing as presidents and secretary of the ASA, but I was careful to word the letter not to imply that this was an official ASA position (that would be appropriate only if Council had voted). Two elected officers who didn’t agree with our letter decided to write a letter taking a different position, and approached the Executive Officer about whether they too could send it on ASA stationery. Sally consulted with me, and articulated what the policy had been. Given the past policy, I felt the fair thing to do was grant their request.
Regarding your question about postings under “Advocacy” on Member News and Notes, I’m told by ASA staff that “Advocacy” is just an internal file name (a bit of a residual category), not a title used in the text of News and Notes.
If you think that posting my note, or information in it, on scatterplot would be appropriate, you are welcome to do so.
Some members have said that they would like a forum where they could comment on these issues, so we are making this space available for comments. If you do not want to share your comments with the group, feel free to email them to (Footnotes@asanet.org). Sending comments to this e-mail address does not mean that they will be published without your consent.
I, too, would like to congratulate ASA leadership for taking a stand in support of Salaita and against the violation of academic freedom and autonomy. This issue is not going to disappear. As universities become ever more like corporations seeking funds from whatever source, they are going to be subject to pressures from donors, who feel entitled to interfere with academic decisions. This should not be encouraged! My good friend Barbara Risman would agree with this in general but finds this particular situation exceptional. Having examined the tweets of Salaita I see no evidence for what she claims to be anti-semitism, although it has become the fashion among some to see any attack on the Israeli state – a colonial state if ever there was one – as a mark of anti-semitism. But even if the tweets could be read as anti-semitic, this is no ground for denying someone a job. Once we go down that road then all our jobs are in jeopardy whenever we publicly partake in controversial political issues. The appropriate response, it seems to me, is for those who disagree with Salaita to express their disagreements publicly – as Barbara has done – and not through insidious deployment of backroom power, arbitrarily withdrawing someone’s rightful place in the university.
I commend Professors England, Milkman, Lareau, and Romero for taking a principled stand in favor of academic freedom at UIUC. Regardless of how one feels about Salaita, procedurally what happened at UIUC is very disturbing. I am glad our discipline’s leaders spoke out about this.