Christopher Kennedy walks unrecognized through Chicago’s May Day crowd.
Not many people recognized gubernatorial candidate and millionaire Democrat Chris Kennedy as he walked among the thousands of marchers at Monday’s May Day gathering.
But I did.
And I also remember the shabby role he played in the firing of professor Steven Salaita from his job at the University of Illinois. Kennedy was chairman of the U of I board at the time.
Professor Salaita is an outspoken critic of Israel and its policies towards Palestinians. Allegedly, as a result of his tweeting his well-known views, his contract with the university was withdrawn.
Following the FOIA requests of the emails of U of I Chancellor Phyllis Wise, it became known that Kennedy himself was involved in the illegal firing of Professor Salaita.
Philanthropist Lester Crown, left, presents the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s “Spirit of Courage” award to former Univ. of Illinois trustee Christopher Kennedy for overseeing the firing of Steven Salaita, 11 June, 2015 in Chicago.
Chancellor Wise was later fired for illegal use of university emails.
Kennedy said he first heard Salaita’s name when he came across a story about the professor’s tweets in daily news clips provided to trustees, just before the board’s July 23 meeting in Chicago. He asked President Bob Easter about it, and the president told him Salaita would be discussed during the board’s executive session.
Chancellor Phyllis Wise attended the meeting and told the board that the university had recruited Salaita, that after he’d accepted the job he used social media to comment on Israel, and that his tweets had “crossed the line” in her opinion, characterizing them as “hate speech,” Kennedy said.
The board discussed the free-speech ramifications, “and the rights that we had as a board and that she had to make that decision,” he said. With two lawyers and a judge among trustees, the board was sensitive to free-speech concerns, he said.
A week or so later, Wise and Vice President Christophe Pierre wrote to Salaita, advising him that they were not recommending his appointment because it was “unlikely” to win board approval. Kennedy said he didn’t understand at the time that that phrasing could be “misinterpreted as hijacking the chancellor’s authority.”
Steven Salaita sued the University and settled out of court for a payment of over $800,000 for breach of contract.
Wise later blamed Kennedy for pushing to fire Salaita.