An open thank you letter to Chancellor Wise

Dear Chancellor Wise,

I write this open letter to you as a proud alumnus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I would like to thank you personally for placing your students’ well-being as your highest priority. By cancelling Steven Salaita’s appointment, you have showed not just the UIUC family, but the greater academic community, that those who spew hate should not be welcomed at universities. While free speech and dialogue are to be respected and admired, we must never allow those tenets to be manipulated as a means of intimidation.

There are those who will condemn your decision, claiming it is a violation of free speech. I believe the people that take this stance should be mindful of three things:

1. The University did not take away anyone’s freedom of speech. Rather, UIUC exercised it’s right to hire and not hire faculty as it sees appropriate. At the same time, Steven Salaita has the right to continue his venomous Twitter tirade at his own discretion.

2. Steven Salaita himself is not one who promotes dialogue, but quite the contrary, he silences it. As a spokesman of the bigoted BDS movement, he advocates for American Universities to shun Israeli academics. These efforts prevent scholars – irrespective of their merit and even political leaning – from sharing their ideas, purely because they work at an Israeli institution.

Additionally, you can see from Salaita’s inflammatory tweets over the past few weeks that dialogue with the pro-Israel community is clearly not something he takes seriously, as he tweets,  “I stopped listening to dialogue,” and “Next time a Zionist asks you to ‘dialogue,’ remind him that you heard everything he had to say when #Israel was murdering children in #Gaza.” These types of comments, along with dozens of his tweets, are outrageous for so many reasons and show that Salaita is not suited for a teaching role. 

3. While Salaita’s writings are aggressively anti-Israel, the choice to revoke his position is neither about Israel nor politics. Rather, it is an affirmation protecting the rights of students to learn in a safe environment. I believe I can write on behalf of the pro-Israel student body when I say that I would be ashamed to be around someone who speaks about Palestinians and Muslims like Salaita writes about Israelis and Jews. And if a professor like that were to be appointed, I would similarly be opposed to their position. I hope that critics of Israel and those who promote “free speech” understand that by advocating for Salaita’s reappointment, they are endorsing someone who publicly justifies anti-Jewish behavior, as he writes in his twitter feed, “By eagerly conflating Jewishness and Israel, Zionists are partly responsible when people say antisemitic (expletive) in response to Israeli terror.” How can anyone sympathize with such hateful language? I am tremendously grateful that the University’s administration does not.

Once again, Chancellor Wise, I greatly appreciate your steadfast and caring judgment. May God continue to bless you in making courageous choices that serve as a testament to your outstanding leadership.


Jonathan Dress
Master of Architecture, Class of 2013

About the Author
Jonathan Dress, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP BD+C, works for an architecture firm in Chicago.