my letter to Phyllis Wise, Chancellor at UIUC

Dear Dr. Wise,

I am writing to ask that you please reconsider the decision made by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to rescind an offer of employment to Dr. Steve Salaita. As an academic and a public writer, I am deeply disturbed by the consequences for intellectual and academic freedom when scholars are judged not by the quality of their work but by the popularity of their political opinions. Israel’s conduct in the Palestinian territories is a matter of great and legitimate public controversy, one which has inspired passionate reactions from both sides of the argument. Every day, the conflict is discussed with emotion and conviction by a multitude of voices, from a diverse and complex array of actors. To punish Dr. Salaita because he happens to hold positions considered extreme by those in a position of particular power and institutional authority cuts directly against the spirit of free inquiry that is the lifeblood of the research university. Some have questioned Salaita’s tone, but to police tone is to police speech. There is no clear dividing line where legitimate expression ends and illegitimate tone begins.

My grandfather was John James deBoer, who served for decades as a professor of Education at your university. It’s a connection to UIUC that I have long cherished. During his time there, he and several other colleagues were the subject of a vicious campaign of McCarthyism, thanks to their socialist and pacifist beliefs. He and his colleague Norman Cazden were specific targets of the notorious Broyles Bills, a set of Illinois state bills that were expressly designed to punish political dissidents. In many ways, this campaign deeply damaged my grandfather’s life. But he had the benefit of tenure, and so was able to serve out the rest of his career at UIUC. His colleague, Dr. Cazden, was pre-tenure, and his career was destroyed. Now, we can only look back and regret the terrible legacy of the anti-Communist panics of last century.

To deny Dr. Salaita a job for which he was already approved, on the basis of his controversial political beliefs, is to draw from the same poisoned well. I urge you and others within the administration at UIUC to consider whether this action is something that the university will ever look back on with pride. Please stand for academic freedom by reinstating your offer of employment to Dr. Salaita.

sincerely yours,

Fredrik deBoer
Doctoral Candidate in Rhetoric & Composition
Purdue University

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