When Chris Kennedy shredded the first amendment.


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 Allegedly, as a result of his tweeting his well-known views, his contract with the university was withdrawn.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.

11 thoughts on “When Chris Kennedy shredded the first amendment.

  1. Speaking of “shabby roles”, one of Chris Kennedy’s opponents JB Pritzker has played a few himself. Somebody should tell the building trade unions already endorsing Pritzker over Kennedy, how the Pritzker-owned Hyatt Hotel chain treats its labor force.
    -Pete Kuttner

      1. Fred, what do you think of Pawar. I’ve generally been impressed. He doesn’t have the Springfield (or pension theft) baggage of Biss, he got elected without the machine, and he’s done genuinely good work like the sick leave ordinance. I saw him speak a few weeks ago, and I was impressed. He seems to really get it. Labels aside he seems to understand and explicitly reject the privitization and austerity mentality that grips both Madigan and Rauner (which also allows both to simply blame the other). But I don’t feel like he’s running an “anti” campaign. He’s running on positive ideas and policies that don’t require blame (but easy shots at Rauner come easily). When I’ve brought him up to other people it’s usually met with skepticism that I find unwarranted or just a general feeling that he can’t win. I generally think that ANY Democrat should be able to win, but if the Illinois Democrats are going to blow it, it’s going to be by coronating a candidate that everyone assumes has enough money to simply win. And that’s not a dig at Clinton. It’s a dig at Mary Burke, who completely blew the opportunity to defeat Scott Walker in the Wisconsin recall election a few years back. I truly think Pritzker is capable of blowing the general after being handed the primary on a silver platter. Why not rally behind Pawar?

      2. Laughing. You’re not really asking me what I think of Pawar. That’s okay. You have made an early endorsement. But tell me this: Why is Pawar not a member of the Council’s Progressive Caucus?

      3. Fred, I’m just a dude who supports him based on what I’ve read and seeing him speak a few weeks ago. And I’m an occasional reader of your blog. I’m not sure if that’s an important enough set of credentials to be considered an “endorsement.” I was genuinely asking what you think of him. I’m a Cook voter, not a Chicago voter. I don’t know why he’s not on the Progressive Caucus other than the city council politics are bizarre to say the least. I know there’s some people that don’t think he’s “progressive” enough, but I haven’t heard anything concrete from a policy perspective. Certainly nothing as damning as Biss’ support for Quinn’s pension theft. The sick leave ordinance is a huge deal though, and affects my workplace and my wife’s. So I’m genuinely asking, why not Pawar?

      4. Pawar has not distinguished himself from the crowd. Each claims to be a progressive but none stands out. “Why not” is not a good enough reason. Sick leave is not enough of a reason. If you are an elected official you should have at least that. It is only May. I’m in no rush. I want to see more

      5. Fair enough on the wait and see, but requiring every Chicago employer to provide sick time to their employees is groundbreaking. It’s not the norm around the country or in major cities. It was his bill and he successfully shepherded it through the council. I think very few elected officials have that kind of clear cut legislative accomplishment. I agree that it may not be enough for everyone.

        To me the only two “progressive” choices were Pawar and Biss, and Biss very quickly disqualified himself once I read up on him, including right here on this blog. I don’t want a Democratic billionaire mirror of Rauner, and Kennedy has “distinguished” himself in many poor ways among people I know who work in Urbana (not just what you bring up in this post). The only other declared candidate is (looking at wikipedia) Bob Daiber, Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools. I guess it’s somewhat a process of elimination to back Pawar, but I also find a lot to genuinely like in him. I’m most worried that if there isn’t a clear challenger to Pritzker to rally around soon, he’s just going to steamroll everyone.

        But yeah, it’s early. Maybe Madigan will have a stroke,and Lisa will run.

      6. Is this fellow Biss the guy? If not when are we going to find someone who is more interested in social justice than money?

  2. Just a suggestion–Bob Daiber deserves some consideration, as he’s a candidate, as well–check out his appearance on Chicago Tonight (he was on last night–you can get it off the WTTW website).

  3. We should hear Daibar but I wonder if he will be able to even get enough signatures.I hate to be cynical but Madigan and Daley have wrecked the party and the gop is totally nuts or run by Russia.So we are at the point where a billionaire who can get rid of a Rauner and help tip the us house may have to do.

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