Gaza, Steven Salaita and the Threat to Academic Freedom at the University of Illinois


Dear Chancellor,

I have just heard of the decision you have made to rescind a contract with professor Steven Salaita for the views he has expressed on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am deeply troubled by your decision, which, by all standards, based on the information I have been able to gather so far, is a flagrant violation of academic freedom.

I take the liberty of writing this message even though I am not a US but an Italian academic. As a professor of American literature at the Sapienza University of Rome, who holds a PhD from Rutgers University and who has lived for more than twelve years in the US, enjoying the vibrant atmosphere of its academic life, I am not only worried, but outright shocked by such decision, which is contrary to everything the best American liberal thinkers, from Ralph Waldo Emerson onwards, have always stood for.

I am also compelled to write due to the fact that over the last five years I have visited your university as part of an agreement between our two universities. Professors from UIUC have visited and taught at my University, and I have been a fellow at the International Forum for US Studies on three separate occasions. I have always been proud to be the promoter of a collaboration between our two institutions. Until now your university has stood out as a beacon ofexcellence and free academic debate. Because of your unfortunate decision, your institution is now at risk of becoming a symbol of the ever-growing intolerance of the powers that be against any serious criticism of the status quo.

Criticism may at times be expressed in harsh words, and in the case at hand one does not have to agree with every single word uttered by Prof. Salaita to defend his right to express freely his views. Indeed, one may well disagree with what he says and, as Voltaire famously argued, be a staunch defender of his right to speak his mind.

I live in a country where the freedom of teaching is enshrined in the constitution. The last time Italian authorities directly intervened to curb academic freedom was during the Fascist regime. Since the days of Mussolini, not one single Italian academic has been fired or refused tenure because of his or her political views, no matter how extreme.

What is also in my view disconcerting is that, in the case of professor Salaita, his views have not been expressed ex-cathedra. I read that your decision is motivated by his “uncivil” views. I am afraid, however, that “uncivil” views were likewise expressed at some point or another in their careers, by the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, Upton Sinclair, Denise Levertov and many, many other outstanding Americans. If the standards now applied to professor Salaita were the same for these and other American intellectuals, they would all be prevented from teaching at any university.

I feel obliged to write this message also because I have been serving for the last three years as president of the International American Studies Association. A threat to academic freedom anywhere is a threat to academic freedom everywhere. The termination of Professor Salaita’s contract would not only be a dishonor to your institution but an offense to the liberty your country claims to have at heart.

I sincerely hope you will reconsider your course of action. You would prove yourself wise, magnanimous, and far-sighted.


Giorgio Mariani is a Professor of American Literature at Sapienza University of Rome.

October 07, 2015
Harvey Wasserman
Why Bernie and Hillary Must Address America’s Dying Nuke Reactors
Tom H. Hastings
Unarmed Cops and a Can-do Culture of Nonviolence
October 06, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Afghanistan, the Terrible War: Money for Nothing
Mike Whitney
How Putin will Win in Syria
Paul Street
Yes, There is an Imperialist Ruling Class
Paul Craig Roberts
American Vice
Kathy Kelly
Bombing Hospitals: 22 People Killed by US Airstrike on Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan
Ron Jacobs
Patti Smith and the Beauty of Memory
David Macaray
Coal Executive Finally Brought Up on Criminal Charges
Norman Pollack
Cold War Rhetoric: The Kept Intelligentsia
Cecil Brown
The Firing This Time: School Shootings and James Baldwin’s Final Message
Roger Annis
The Canadian Election and the Global Climate Crisis
W. T. Whitney
Why is the US Government Persecuting IFCO/Pastors for Peace Humanitarian Organization?
Jesse Jackson
Alabama’s New Jim Crow Far From Subtle
Joe Ramsey
After Umpqua: Does America Have a Gun Problem….or a Dying Capitalist Empire Problem?
Murray Dobbin
Rise Up, Precariat! Cheap Labour is Over
October 05, 2015
Michael Hudson
Parasites in the Body Economic: the Disasters of Neoliberalism
Patrick Cockburn
Why We Should Welcome Russia’s Entry Into Syrian War
Kristine Mattis
GMO Propaganda and the Sociology of Science
Heidi Morrison
Well-Intentioned Islamophobia
Ralph Nader
Monsanto and Its Promoters vs. Freedom of Information
Arturo Desimone
Retro-Colonialism: the Exportation of Austerity as War By Other Means
Robert M. Nelson
Noted Argentine Chemist Warns of Climate Disaster
Matt Peppe
Misrepresentation of the Colombian Conflict
Barbara Dorris
Pope Sympathizes More with Bishops, Less with Victims
Clancy Sigal
I’m Not a Scientologist, But I Wish TV Shrinks Would Just Shut Up
Chris Zinda
Get Outta’ Dodge: the State of the Constitution Down in Dixie
Eileen Applebaum
Family and Medical Leave Insurance, Not Tax Credits, Will Help Families
Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure
“Boxing on Paper” for the Nation of Islam, Black Nationalism, and the Black Athlete: a Review of “The Complete Muhammad Ali” by Ishmael Reed
Lawrence Ware
Michael Vick and the Hypocrisy of NFL Fans
Gary Corseri - Charles Orloski
Poets’ Talk: Pope Francis, Masilo, Marc Beaudin, et. al.
Weekend Edition
October 2-4, 2015
Henry Giroux
Murder, USA: Why Politicians Have Blood on Their Hands
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Lightning War in Syria
Jennifer Loewenstein
Heading Toward a Collision: Syria, Saudi Arabia and Regional Proxy Wars
John Pilger
Wikileaks vs. the Empire: the Revolutionary Act of Telling the Truth
Gary Leupp
A Useful Prep-Sheet on Syria for Media Propagandists
Jeffrey St. Clair
Pesticides, Neoliberalism and the Politics of Acceptable Death
Lawrence Ware – Paul Buhle
Insurrectional Black Power: CLR James on Race and Class
Joshua Frank
The Need to Oppose All Foreign Intervention in Syria
Oliver Tickell
Jeremy Corbyn’s Heroic Refusal to be a Nuclear Mass Murderer
Helen Yaffe
Che’s Economist: Remembering Jorge Risquet
Mark Hand
‘Rape Rooms’: How West Virginia Women Paid Off Coal Company Debts
Michael Welton
Junior Partner of Empire: Why Canada’s Foreign Policy Isn’t What You Think
Yves Engler
War Crimes in the Dark: Inside Canada’s Special Forces
Arno J. Mayer
Israel: the Wages of Hubris and Violence