Guilford College has moved tonight’s lecture by a controversial Palestinian scholar from one campus venue to another.
Steven Salaita was scheduled to speak in the auditorium at the Frank Family Science Center. On Monday, the college said it would move the talk to Hege Library.
The lecture will still start at 7 p.m.
The reason for the change? Guilford College President Jane Fernandes said a member of the Frank family asked her if the college had someplace else to hold Salaita’s lecture.
Fernandes did not identify the person who contacted her but said “the donor did not decide to move the event. I made that decision in cooperation with its faculty organizers.
“If another suitable location had not been available, the lecture would have been held in Frank Family Science Center,” Fernandes said in a statement released by the college.
Salaita gained notoriety this summer for a series of anti-Israel remarks he made on Twitter shortly before he was supposed to start work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Salaita is a scholar in comparative ethnic, Arab American and indigenous studies and had written books about Arab-American literature and anti-Arab racism. His critics have called him inflammatory and anti-Semitic.
In late 2013, Salaita accepted a professorship in the American Indian Studies program at Illinois. He was scheduled to start work there last fall, so he resigned his position at Virginia Tech, where he had been a tenured associate professor of English since 2006.
What he tweeted last summer isn’t in dispute. One Tweet read: “Let’s cut to the chase: If you’re defending #Israel right now you’re an awful human being.” Another read: “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the ... West Bank settlers would go missing.”
What garnered headlines was the unusual and very public dispute over his job status at Illinois.
University trustees revoked Salaita’s job offer in September. Salaita said he was fired.
In a federal lawsuit filed last week, Salaita said the university violated academic freedom and his First Amendment rights. He also sued unnamed university donors who, he claimed, illegally pressured the university’s chancellor to reverse its hiring decision.
Prior to filing suit, Salaita had gotten support from online petitions and about 1,200 scholars, who said they would not speak at Illinois until Salaita was reinstated.
The university in a statement last week said that Salaita “lacks the judgment, temperament and thoughtfulness to serve as a member of our faculty in any capacity, but particularly to teach courses related to the Middle East.”
The original venue for Salaita at Guilford opened in 2000 and was named for the Frank family, who are Jewish and long-time supporters of the Quaker college.
Family patriarch Stanley Frank owned a Greensboro rendering company, served on the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority for three decades and was a founding member of the Greensboro Sports Council and the original Greensboro Generals professional hockey team.
At Guilford, Frank served on the college’s Board of Trustees for 27 years until his death in 2006. He is a past recipient of the college’s Distinguished Service Award, and the college has a scholarship named for him and his late wife, Dorothy.
Some Greensboro residents used Facebook this weekend to criticize the college’s decision to invite Salaita.
But Max Carter, director of the Friends Center at Guilford College, one of the groups sponsoring Salaita’s speech, said several pro-Israeli speakers have lectured on campus in the past year. Among them were intelligence analyst Avi Melamed in October and investigative reporter Edwin Black in November.
Said Fernandes: “Guilford College is committed to providing a forum for diverse points of view, as it has since its founding.”
Contact John Newsom at (336) 373-7312 and follow @JohnNewsomNR on Twitter.