There is not a little poetic justice in the fact that it was precisely at the time that a federal judge ruled that Steven Salaita’s lawsuit against the University of Illinois could go forward, against the objections of the university, that the chancellor of the Urbana-Champaign campus who fired Salaita in the first place announced her resignation and the local newspaper reported that she is under an ethics investigation:
Certain administrative officials at the University of Illinois used personal email to conduct university business and failed to turn over those documents during Freedom of Information Act requests, a violation of university policy, a UI probe has found.
The news comes one day after Chancellor Phyllis Wise announced her resignation as chancellor. The personal emails released by the university included many from Wise, but a university spokesman declined to say whether the ethics investigation led to her departure.
Almost exactly a year ago, that paper, the Champaign News-Gazette, broke the story of Salaita’s tweets, which brought issues of academic freedom and freedom of speech to the fore, not to mention the question of whether or not speech regarding sharp and angry criticism of Israel in particular warranted a suspension of those rights and freedoms.
As I wrote in The Nation back then, once the story of Salaita’s tweets came out, the university made a public statement supporting his right to free speech. Yet shortly after, alumni, students, and perhaps most importantly, wealthy donors began writing angry emails demanding his firing. Here is how the court ruling describes these events and Wise’s actions:
Despite the initial show of support, however, the University soon changed its tune. Letters and emails obtained via Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act revealed that students, alumni, and donors wrote to the University’s Chancellor, Phyllis Wise (“Wise”), to voice their concerns over Dr. Salaita joining the University. One writer in particular claimed to be a “multiple 6 figure donor” who would be ceasing support of the University because of Dr. Salaita and his tweets.
Two other specific interactions are critical to Dr. Salaita’s Complaint. The first involves an unknown donor who met with Chancellor Wise and provided her a two-page memo about the situation. Wise ultimately destroyed the memo, but an email Wise sent University officials summarized it as follows: “He [the unknown donor] gave me [Chancellor Wise] a two-pager filled with information on Professor Salaita and said how we handle the situation will be very telling.” The second interaction involves a particularly wealthy donor who asked to meet with Chancellor Wise to “share his thoughts about the University’s hiring of Professor Salaita.”