Economist Cancels Illinois Lecture Due to Salaita Decision

September 23, 2014

Steve Cicala, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Chicago, says he has canceled the lecture he was scheduled to deliver to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's College of Business next month. In a letter to Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise, Cicala calls Wise's stated reasons for pulling controversial scholar Steven Salaita's tenured job offer in the American Indian studies program weeks before the start of school -- namely that Salaita's anti-Israel remarks on Twitter were "uncivil" -- a "fig leaf" for other concerns. Cicala says he can't support the fact that Wise's decision may have been influenced by donors who emailed her about their concerns about Salaita before she made her decision to revoke his offer.

"I understand that you are in a difficult position," Cicala wrote. "It's quite easy for people like me to take potshots from the moral high ground without having to ensure sufficient funds to keep the lights on. I urge you to consider the long-term damage wrought by gutting the guarantee of inquiry free from outside interference. It far exceeds any short-term gain in donations from donors who don't understand the difference between a university and a political action committee."

Cicala sent his letter late last week, but has not heard back from Wise, he said. A spokeswoman for Illinois did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Cicala said he hopes more economists will join the Illinois boycott movement stemming from the Salaita decision.


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