University of Illinois

In this Monday, Sept. 22, 2014 photo, protesters stand in the back with signs during the University of Illinois’ Faculty Senate meeting in Urbana, Ill., where university Chancellor Phyllis Wise spoke about the decision not to hire professor Steven Salaita over his profane, anti-Israel Twitter messages.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/The News-Gazette, Robin Scholz | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: Rathi is a student who has been involved in a campaign of UT students, staff and faculty against the implementation of Shared Services, which is part of the “Business Productivity” plan mentioned in this article.

Over the summer, Steven Salaita resigned from his tenured position at Virginia Tech to take up a faculty position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After Salaita readied himself to move with his family, ordered course books and had even been invited to the faculty welcome luncheon, he was informed by UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise that his appointment would not be submitted for what was supposed to be a symbolic confirmation by the Board of Trustees. Weeks later, Wise finally released a statement explaining the sudden rejection — her objection was to unspecified “personal and disrespectful words” that Salaita allegedly used, which contradict traditions of “civility.”

In August, Inside Higher Ed published its findings from an open records request for communications regarding the Salaita appointment, and they “show that Wise was lobbied on the decision not only by pro-Israel students, parents and alumni, but also by the fund-raising arm of the university.” The emails sent to Wise object to Salaita’s outraged tweets during the recent Israeli military invasion of Gaza — the invasion destroyed much of the occupied territory and killed over 2,000 Palestinians (disproportionately more children than adults). Tweets cited in the emails include: “Zionists, take responsibility: if your dream of an ethnocratic Israel is worth the murder of children, just fucking own it already.”

The criterion of “civility” that drove Wise’s decision has never been an accepted scholarly norm, as the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has long held that such a criterion is used to “[ensure] homogeneity” and “threaten academic freedom.” The UIUC faculty search committee that hired Salaita, unlike Wise, included legitimate criteria such as peer and student evaluations from his eight years at Virginia Tech. These evaluations consistently (over 90 percent) attest not only to Salaita’s “knowledge of subject,” but also “concern and respect” for students, pre-emptively addressing Wise’s (illegitimate) concerns about “civility.”  In a statement of support for Salaita, AAUP noted that Wise’s overriding decision may also violate the academic freedom of those “Illinois faculty members who recommended hiring him.”

The anti-Salaita campaign was a concerted effort, as “most of the emails [to Wise] … are nearly identical, suggesting the use of talking points or shared drafts.” One email from a longtime donor states, “Having been a multiple 6 figure donor to Illinois over the years I know our support is ending,” and that “this is doubly unfortunate for the school” as he has “accumulated quite a balance sheet over [his] 35 year career.” The senior director of development for the University of Illinois Foundation, which handles fundraising and donor relations, forwarded to Wise “a letter complaining about the Salaita hire.” Moreover, a cover-up by UIUC is becoming increasingly apparent, as documents about the decision-making process are being withheld. Wise sent an email to the Foundation which noted that during a meeting with a major donor, “he gave me a two-pager filled with information on Steven Salaita and said how we handle this situation will be very telling.” The Electronic Intifada, a nonprofit news source on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a Palestinian perspective, FOIA’d this document, and was rejected with the dubious reason that “no records responsive to [the] request could be located.”

The rejection of Salaita is part of a wider campaign in academia against Palestinian solidarity. In March 2014, for example, Northeastern University suspended the university’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) for their activism. SJP had been distributing “mock eviction” leaflets to raise awareness about Israeli expansion into the occupied Palestinian territories. Moreover, the administration launched a police investigation and threatened to expel involved students. However, students are fighting back against these anti-Palestinian politics. The SJP chapter was reinstated after, as The Electronic Intifada puts it, “an outpouring of condemnation by Northeastern SJP activists and supporters across the US.” TV news and syndicated radio program “Democracy Now!” reported that “thousands of academics have signed petitions calling for Salaita’s reinstatement, and several lecturers have canceled appearances in protest.” The Texas State Employees Union passed a resolution, submitted by UT communication studies professor Dana Cloud, in support of Salaita. The resolution notes that “all public employees should be able to speak their mind without fear of losing their jobs” and “labor should not abstain from movements for social justice.”

Students, staff and faculty at UT should be particularly concerned about donor-corporatization of the University and its effect on our community’s free expression. President William Powers Jr. has been touting the importance of the recently completed Campaign for Texas, a fundraising program that successfully raised $3 billion from donors. Infographics on the campaign’s website emphasize “the need for philanthropy,” and Powers has stated that this undergirds core academic projects such as “[helping] our faculty change the world through their research and scholarship.” Powers has long pushed for commercializing faculty, having advocated the January 2013 “Business Productivity” report which recommended restricting recruiting and funding to “commercially relevant activity among faculty.” That report was authored by 13 businesspeople, led by Accenture executive Steve Rohleder, who were given $1 million by the University for these recommendations. As Palestine solidarity activism continues on our campus, we must be vigilant of attempts by the increasingly corporatized UT administration to follow in UIUC’s censoring footsteps.

Rathi is a computer science honors junior from Austin.

Members of UT’s Queer Students Alliance are working on legislation with the goal of convincing University administrators to expand health care benefits available for transgender students. 

Legislation author Devon Howard, women’s and gender studies junior, said the ultimate goal of the legislation is expanded medical services for transgender students, including hormonal treatments, gender reassignment surgeries and mental health counseling covered by the University.

“It’s really important that we address the needs of students and what they need to transition to not only feel comfortable with their body, but to be able to function and get a good education at the University,” Howard said. 

According to national nonprofit organization Campus Pride, many of UT’s peer universities, including the University of California system, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign cover hormone and gender reassignment services for students. 

UT does not offer these services because of the expenses associated with specialized medical care, according to Theresa Spalding, medical director for University Health Services. Spalding said the University does offer general medical care for all transgender students, including pap smears for students who identify as male, and said the University is committed to working with transgender students as much as possible.  

“It would be wonderful if we could provide all services to all patients, but we just don’t have the ability to do all that,” Spalding said. “Trying to be as gender neutral as possible is what we try to do.”

Spalding said the University does offer many resources for mental health to all students, including students who may be suffering from depression as a result of the stigmas associated with gender identity issues.

“Mental-health services wise, we have a lot that we offer,” Spalding said.

Currently, the insurance plan available for students to purchase, offered through Blue Cross Blue Shield, meets the minimum essential health requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Insurance coverage for one year is $1,432 per student. 

Adrienne Howarth-Moore, the director of Human Resource Services, said employee healthcare coverage does not include gender reassignment. 

“Certain treatments may be covered if the absence of that treatment would cause a decline in their physical health,” Howarth-Moore said. “Gender reassignment in general is not currently covered because that is currently not considered medically necessary.”

Marisa Kent, co-director of the Queer Students Alliance, said many students do not understand certain transgender students’ desire for sex-related surgeries.

“It’s not something most people can understand,” Kent said. “Nobody really understands the pain and the struggle [of] living in a body they feel like is not even their own.”

Howard said although some students may view gender reassignment surgeries as purely cosmetic, for some transgender individuals, medical intervention is a critical issue.  

“A lot of people see these surgeries as something that is elective and it’s not,” Howard said. “It’s something that needs to be done for survival.”

The alliance already passed a resolution for gender inclusive housing through Student Government, and Kent said she hopes SG members are equally receptive to the transgender health care benefits resolution. 

“We are definitely taking steps in the right direction, but transgender health benefits is our biggest focus,” Kent said. 

Once the resolution is  written, it will be sent to SG for a vote. If the resolution passes, it will be sent to the UT System Board of Regents, who are under no obligation to act.  

“It’s really problematic because we are ranked one of the most liberal and forward-thinking universities in the world, but we don’t have a lot of things other universities have,” Kent said. 

The alliance will hold a town hall meeting Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. in Room 420 in Waggener Hall for students to give their input on the resolution.

Update: This article has been clarified from the original version. Adrienne Howarth-Moore is the director of Human Resource Services, an office under University Operations which deals with employee health benefits.

Men's Track

The Longhorns travel to Illinois this weekend to face off against Northwestern University and the University of Illinois.

They look to sustain momentum they garnered at home, as they defeated both of their last two opponents, South Florida and Arizona State in Austin.

At No. 24, Texas (4-3) is slowly gaining recognition by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. They have been on a roll since their 6-1 loss to Southern California in early February.

However, this weekend will be a sufficient test for the squad as they are facing a Northwestern team ranked No. 9 in the country. In the previous meeting on April 10, 2010, the Longhorns topped Northwestern, ranked No.5 at the time, 6-1.

The Longhorns beat Illinois 7-0 their last time out in March 2007.

Aeriel Ellis (16) is the top-ranked singles player in the event, followed by Maria Mosolova of Northwestern (25).

Northwestern claims the top-ranked doubles team, with Linda Abu Mushrefova and Nida Hamilton at No. 8, followed by Illinois’s Rachael White and Allison Falkin at No. 9.