Steven Salaita (born 1975) is a scholar, author and public speaker. He became the center of a controversy when the University of Illinois did not hire him as a professor of American Indian Studies following objections to a series of tweets critical of Israel's bombardment of Gaza in 2014. He also experienced similar controversy during the hiring process at the American University of Beirut in 2016.
|Born||September 15, 1975|
Bluefield, West Virginia, United States
|Known for||Steven Salaita hiring controversy|
Early life and education
Salaita was born in Bluefield, West Virginia, on September 15, 1975, to Hispanic and Arab immigrant parents. His mother was born and raised in Nicaragua by Palestinian parents who originated in Beit Jala. He describes his own ethnic background as both Jordanian and Palestinian. Salaita's father was from Madaba, Jordan. His maternal grandmother lost her home in Ayn Karim outside of Jerusalem in 1948.
Salaita received his B.A. in political science from Radford University in 1997 and his M.A. in English from Radford in 1999. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Oklahoma in Native American studies with a literature emphasis.
Following completion of his Ph.D., Salaita became an assistant professor of English at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he taught American and ethnic American literature until 2006. He was then hired as associate professor of English at Virginia Tech, and received tenure three years later. In addition to teaching English courses, Salaita wrote about themes of immigration, indigenous peoples, dislocation, race, ethnicity and multi-culturalism. Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times refers to him as a "respected scholar in American Indian studies and Israeli-Arab relations."
Salaita won a 2007 Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award for writing the book Anti-Arab Racism in the USA: Where It Comes from and What it Means for Politics Today. The Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights recognized Salaita's book as one that extends "our understanding of the root causes of bigotry and the range of options we as humans have in constructing alternative ways to share power." Miriam Cooke, professor at Duke University, described the book as "a sobering analysis of anti-Arab racism, from neo-conservative to liberal, rooted in America's settler colonial past and seeping into every corner of our lives. Steven Salaita takes the reader into the crisis of Arab-American communities in the wake of September 11. Written with passion, this lucid account of the dangers of American imperialism paints a dark picture of the agenda of the Bush administration not only in the Arab world but also for people of color at home."
Sinan Antoon, assistant professor at New York University, reviewed Salaita's book, The Holy Land in Transit: Colonialism and the Quest for Canaan, published in 2006. He found the author's comparative approach to Palestinian and Native American writers and the influence of politics on their production "refreshing". He found the strongest chapter to be the one devoted to Salaita's personal experience of spending the summer of 2002 in the Shatila refugee camp, where he introduced Native American studies to the residents and developed perspectives on how "alternative narratives can broaden the consciousness of decolonial advocates." Antoon notes that Salaita limited his scope to prose and limited Palestinian literature to English translations.
In 2014, Salaita received an appointment to begin a professorship in American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois. Just days before he was to start the role, he got notified that the University had 'cancelled' the offer, as detailed in the section "University of Illinois hiring controversy" below.
In July 2015, Salaita announced he had accepted the Edward W. Said Chair of American Studies at the American University of Beirut, and would begin his assignment in the fall of 2015. The university did not renew his position due to some inconsistencies in his hiring. The university stated it was due to "procedural irregularities."
In 2017, Salaita announced that he is leaving academia because no institution would hire him for full-time work. As of February 2019, he is a school bus driver in suburban Washington, D.C.
Virginia Tech "Support our Troops" controversy
While teaching at Virginia Tech in 2013 Salaita became the center of controversy after writing an article in which he explained his refusal to endorse the "Support our Troops" slogan. Salaita stated that "In recent years I've grown fatigued of appeals on behalf of the troops, which intensify in proportion to the belligerence or potential unpopularity of the imperial adventure du jour". He criticized what he called "unthinking patriotism".
Reactions to his article were varied. Some people wanted him fired, criticizing the university, and some wanted him deported or killed. A university spokesman, Lawrence G. Hincker, Associate Vice President for University Relations, said that the university supported Salaita's freedom of speech, but added: "While our assistant professor may have a megaphone on salon.com, his opinions not only do not reflect institutional position, we are confident they do not remotely reflect the collective opinion of the greater university community". Almost 40 Virginia Tech professors signed a letter protesting Hincker's comments in a letter to the student newspaper, the Collegiate Times. Faculty members criticized the university's statement as "wholly unsatisfactory" and "placing in doubt its commitment to academic freedom."
Commenting on Salaita's views and the surrounding controversy, Greg Scholtz, of the American Association of University Professors, noted that "[u]pholding academic freedom can be a difficult and even embarrassing," but "the most reputable institutions give the most latitude."
University of Illinois hiring controversy
In October 2013, Salaita was offered tenure in the American Indian studies program at University of Illinois, which he accepted, and he was scheduled to begin in August 2014. In July 2014, the two-month-long Gaza war broke out in which Israel killed over 2,000 Palestinians. Salaita posted hundreds of tweets criticizing Israel and its actions in Gaza. Some of the tweets angered pro-Israel students, faculty, and financial donors, who accused Salaita of anti-Semitism for rhetoric including "Zionists: transforming 'anti-Semitism' from something horrible into something honorable since 1948". University Chancellor Phyllis Wise told Salaita that he would not get the job, so he sued the university. During the legal proceedings, the university was forced to release hundreds of emails relating to his case which revealed that Wise had come under immense pressure to rescind Salaita's offer from wealthy donors. She resigned from her position as Chancellor after it was discovered that she had hidden emails from FOIA requests regarding the Steven Salaita hiring controversy. The university settled with Salaita for $875,000 in November 2015.
Salaita wrote about his experience in his book Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine, in which he tackled the controversy from the perspective of decolonizing academic scholarship. He has supported an academic boycott of Israel and is a member of the organization US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI).
American University of Beirut hiring controversy
During Steven Salaita's time at the American University of Beirut (AUB), the hiring process for director of the Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR) had still been ongoing in the spring semester of 2016. Salaita had been unanimously recommended for the position by the hiring committee and chair, Lisa Hajjar. When Fadlo Khuri, president of AUB, had abruptly canceled the search for director, this sparked outrage from both colleagues and students alike. Students and supporters had begun circulating an anonymous petition following Khuri's decision stating that "given Professor Salaita's recent termination from a tenure-track position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for his pro-Palestinian political views, we fear that AUB is reproducing the trend of persecuting scholars who condemn the injustices committed in Palestine. This breach of academic freedom cannot be allowed at AUB." Lisa Hajjar, Edward Said Chair of American Studies at AUB and chair of the search committee for the director's job, had been quoted saying to an online publication: "the day after the recommendation of Salaita for the position was discussed at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Advisory Committee, the dean informed the search committee that the president had canceled the search due to procedural irregularities. It is not clear to me which procedures were allegedly violated. I had been working quietly with AUB faculty to see if we could get a reversal of the cancellation, but the situation went public when students made a petition and posted it." Fadlo Khuri responded to these claims from university faculty and staff by saying these were "wholly untrue." Khuri went on to say that he acted after university leaders "received several complaints from faculty members alleging conflicts of interest and misconduct" in the search process. "Violations included the presence of visiting faculty with selection and voting rights on the search committee, as well as the presence of lower-ranked faculty members voting for a higher-ranked position. Additionally, there was a conflict implied by the current incumbent chairing a committee to find their own successor."
Steven Salaita has since left academia with no plans to turn back.
- Anti-Arab Racism in the USA: Where it Comes From and What it Means for Politics (2006) – Winner of 2007 Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights' "Outstanding Book" Award.
- The Holy Land in Transit: Colonialism and the Quest for Canaan (2006)
- Arab American Literary Fictions Cultures and Politics (2007)
- The Uncultured Wars (2008)
- Modern Arab American Fiction: A Reader's Guide (2011)
- Israel's Dead Soul (2011)
- Uncivil Rites (2015)
- Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine (2016)
- Cohen, Jodi (September 11, 2014). "U. of I. trustees vote 8–1 to reject Salaita". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 4, 2015.
- Manchir, Michelle (January 28, 2015). "Steven Salaita sues U. of I. over lost job". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 4, 2015.
- Alexander, Neta (January 30, 2015). "Anti-Israel professor sues University of Illinois for rescinding job offer". Haaretz. Retrieved February 6, 2015.
- Cohen, Jodi S. (November 12, 2015). "University of Illinois OKs $875,000 settlement to end Steven Salaita dispute". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved October 16, 2020.
But that summer, after getting feedback from donors, students and parents, then-Chancellor Phyllis Wise started raising concerns about Salaita's anti-Israel Twitter posts. Salaita had been posting prolifically about the Israeli government and its military actions in Gaza. In one tweet he wrote: "Let's cut to the chase: If you're defending #Israel right now you're an awful human being."
- "'Ousted' From Academe, Steven Salaita Says He's Driving a School Bus to Make Ends Meet". The Chronicle of Higher Education. February 19, 2019. Retrieved September 1, 2020.
- "Steven Salaita author profile". Goodreads. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
- Steven Salaita, Israel's Dead Soul, Temple University Press (2012), p. 111.
- Erakat, Noura. "Interview with Steven Salaita on the ASA Academic Boycott". Jadaliyya. Retrieved February 6, 2015.
- Salaita, Steven (December 4, 2013). "Academics should boycott Israel". Slate. Retrieved February 6, 2015.
- AAUP report: Academic Freedom and Tenure: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, April 2015, p. 6
- Christine Des Garennes; Julie Wurth (September 7, 2014). "Who is Steven Salaita?". The News-Gazette. Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.
- Michael Hiltzik (August 11, 2014). "Is US academic freedom a casualty of the Israeli-Palestinian debate?". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
- "Salaita pens award-winning book on anti-Arab racism". Virginia Tech News. February 15, 2008. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
- Antoon, Sinan (Autumn 2010). ""The Holy Land in Transit: Colonialism and the Quest for Canaan," by Steven Salaita". Journal of Palestine Studies. 40 (1): 103–04. doi:10.1525/jps.2010.xl.1.103. JSTOR 10.1525/jps.2010.XL.1.103.
- "Professor fired for anti-Israel tweets finds work in Beirut's American University". Haaretz. JTA. July 4, 2015. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
- "Reports circulate that American of Beirut has blocked a permanent appointment". Inside Higher Ed. April 14, 2016. Retrieved February 25, 2017.
- Korth, Robby (July 25, 2017). "Embattled Virginia Tech ex-professor Salaita to leave academia". The Roanoke Times.
- Flaherty, Colleen (July 25, 2017). "Steven Salaita Says He's Leaving Academe". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved September 12, 2020.
- Pettit, Emma (February 19, 2019). "'Ousted' From Academe, Steven Salaita Says He's Driving a School Bus to Make Ends Meet". The Chronicle of Higher Education. ISSN 0009-5982. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
- Salaita, Steven (August 25, 2013). "No, thanks: Stop saying "support the troops"". Salon. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
- "Va. Tech Professor's Military Op-Ed Sparks Outcry". CBSlocal.com. August 30, 2013. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
- Schmidt, Peter (November 20, 2013). "Virginia Tech Professors Fault University Over Tepid Defense of Colleague". The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- "Gaza crisis: Toll of operations in Gaza". BBC News. September 1, 2014. Retrieved February 16, 2022.
- "University of Illinois censured for pulling Steven Salaita job over anti-Israel tweets". The Guardian. Associated Press. June 14, 2015. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved October 12, 2020.
- Mackey, Robert (September 12, 2014). "Professor's Angry Tweets on Gaza Cost Him a Job (Published 2014)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 12, 2020.
- Anderson, Nick. "U. of Illinois settles with professor in a free-speech dispute over anti-Israel tweets". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved October 12, 2020.
- "U of I facing scrutiny over job-offer decision | State and Regional | pantagraph.com". www.pantagraph.com. Retrieved October 12, 2020.
- "Professor's Angry Tweets on Gaza Cost Him a Job". The New York Times. September 13, 2014. Retrieved October 12, 2020.
The trustees of the University of Illinois voted on Thursday to block the appointment of Steven Salaita, a Palestinian-American professor who had been offered a tenured position last year, following a campaign by pro-Israel students, faculty members and donors who contended that his Twitter comments on the bombardment of Gaza this summer were anti-Semitic. ... donors to the university who threatened to stop giving if Mr. Salaita was allowed to teach at the school.
- "U of Illinois releases inappropriately withheld emails on controversies over Salaita and Kilgore".
- Jaschik, Scott (August 7, 2015). "Chancellor of U of Illinois Urbana-Champaign resigns". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved September 1, 2020.
- Cohen, Jodi S. (November 12, 2015). "University of Illinois OKs $875,000 settlement to end Steven Salaita dispute". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved September 1, 2020.
Salaita, who lost a tenured faculty position after posting a string of anti-Israel comments on social media, will get $600,000 in the deal in exchange for dropping two lawsuits against the university and agreeing he will never work at U. of I. Salaita's attorneys will get $275,000.
- Salaita, Steven (2016). Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine. University of Minnesota Press.
- "Salaita: Falsely accusing Palestinians of anti-Semitism is malicious". US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. May 25, 2018. Retrieved February 23, 2021.
- "Reports circulate that American of Beirut has blocked a permanent appointment". www.insidehighered.com. Retrieved February 16, 2022.
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- 'I Am No anti-Semite' Says Steven Salaita, Lecturer-cum Celeb Who Was Fired for Tweeting, December 5, 2014. Neta Alexander. Haaretz
- The holy land in transit: colonialism and the quest for Canaan, PhD dissertation, 2003. Steven Salaita, University of Oklahoma.