Shit and Curses, and Other Updates on the Steven Salaita Affair (Updated)

7 Aug

1. Yesterday, University of Nevada professor Gautam Premnath called the University of Illinois to protest the hirefire of Steven Salaita. A giggly employee in the Chancellor’s office told Premnath that Salaita was “dehired.”

2.Within 24 hours, nearly 8000 people have signed a petition calling on the University of Illinois to reinstate Salata. You should too. While you’re at it, please make sure to email the chancellor, Phyllis Wise, at at pmwise@illinois.edu. Please cc Robert Warrior of the American Indian Studies department (rwarrior@illinois.edu) and the department itself: ais@illinois.edu.

3. This morning, the Chronicle of Higher Ed has a fuller report on the Salaita affair. Among the new facts revealed: First, it was a tenured position that Salaita was offered. Second, the offer was made last October by the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Third, the national AAUP has distanced itself from Cary Nelson, saying he “does not speak for the association.” (In this statement, the AAUP distances itself even further.) And, last, in the faculty’s deliberations on hiring Salaita, his tweets did not come “up as a topic of concern or conversation” on the reasonable ground that they did not deem “social media as being somehow scholarly content.”

4. The Illinois AAUP Committee A has a very strong statement on the affair:

The AAUP 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure states in reference to extramural utterances: “When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.” It affirms that “The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.” While Professor’s Salaita’s tweets are construed as controversial, the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure affirms the virtue of controversial speech.

Professor Salaita’s words while strident and vulgar were an impassioned plea to end the violence currently taking place in the Middle East. Issues of life and death during bombardment educes significant emotions and expressions of concern that reflect the tragedy that armed conflict confers on its victims. Speech that is deemed controversial should be challenged with further speech that may abhor and challenge a statement. Yet the University of Illinois cannot cancel an appointment based upon Twitter statements that are protected speech in the United States of America.

Furthermore, there is nothing in the Salaita statements about Israel or Zionism that would raise questions about his fitness to teach. These statements were not made in front of students, are not related to a course that is being taught, and do not reflect in any manner his quality of teaching. What one says out of class rarely, in the absence of peer review of teaching, confirms how one teaches. Passion about a topic even if emotionally expressed through social network does not allow one to draw inferences about teaching that could possibly rise to the voiding or reversal of a job appointment.

One must not conjecture about a link between extramural statements and the quality of classroom teaching, absent an unmistakable link that would raise issues of competence. None exist here. Indeed, we affirm that fitness to teach can be enhanced with conviction, commitment and an engagement with the outside world.

5. Michael Bérubé also has a strong statement:

While I do not share Professor Salaita’s sentiments with regard to content, and find them to be often intemperate expressions of opinion on the Israel-Palestine conflict, I urge you to reconsider your decision. Indeed, I urge you to reconsider precisely because I do not share Professor Salaita’s sentiments. It is a truism that academic freedom is meaningless unless it covers unpopular (and even intemperate) speech; and that, finally, is what is at stake here– the question of whether academic freedom at the University of Illinois will be meaningless.

6. It occurs to me that if tweets are now going to be taken into consideration in academic hires, I want my entire social media presence included in all future considerations of my career. I want the number of tweets and FB posts I do per year to be included in my publication count. I want the number of retweets and “likes” that I get to be included in my citation count. And I want my friend Doug Henwood to be considered for an academic appointment. As he says, “With my Klout score, I’m on my way to an endowed chair.”

7. Glenn Greenwald tweets that there’s “lots more coming on this.” If I were Chancellor Wise, I’d be nervous. Very nervous. If Glenn’s on the story, I have little doubt what the ultimate outcome will be.

8. And last, this report,  from today’s Guardian, on the most moral army in the world:

When Ahmed Owedat returned to his home 18 days after Israeli soldiers took it over in the middle of the night, he was greeted with an overpowering stench.

He picked through the wreckage of his possessions thrown from upstairs windows to find that the departing troops had left a number of messages. One came from piles of faeces on his tiled floors and in wastepaper baskets, and a plastic water bottle filled with urine.

If that was not clear enough, the words “Fuck Hamas” had been carved into a concrete wall in the staircase. “Burn Gaza down” and “Good Arab = dead Arab” were engraved on a coffee table. The star of David was drawn in blue in a bedroom.

It’s a strange universe we live in, where high-minded professors fret more about the “foul-mouthed” tweets of a scholar than the shit and curses soldiers leave in the destroyed homes of civilians.

Update (3 pm)

Just received a copy of a very strongly worded letter from the Center for Constitutional Rights. In addition to making all the right arguments re academic freedom and the First Amendment, it contains three factual statements, which I had not read anywhere else

The first:

As you well know, in October 2013, the University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences made an offer to Professor Salaita for an appointment, with tenure, in the College’s American Indian Studies program; he soon after accepted your offer (which the University confirmed in writing) and resigned from his tenured position in the English Department at Virginia Tech University. Your offer letter expressly stressed the University’s adherence to the American Association of University Professors’ Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure….His views (which he has long aired passionately and openly in many forums, including social media) are no doubt considered highly controversial by many in this country, but Professor Salaita could rest assured that his tenured position and the foundational principles of academic freedom and expression would permit him to share his views without fear of censure or reprisal.

That express affirmation in the offer letter of the AAUP principles seems like it could pose a potential problem for the University.

The second:

Nevertheless, despite Professor Salaita’s obvious reliance on the terms of the University’s appointment – by resigning from his tenured position at Virginia Tech, renting his Virginia home and preparing his entire family to move – you summarily terminated his appointment to a tenured position, without notice or any opportunity to be heard or to object. Your August 1, 2014 letter references your Office’s failure to seek or obtain final authorization from the Board of Trustees as the reason for the termination of Professor Salaita; yet, leaving aside the procedural irregularities in your rationale,³…

And then, in the footnote, comes this:

Although Professor Salaita’s appointment was effective August 16th, your termination letter stated that his appointment would not be recommended for submission to the Board in September, after his start date.

In other words, even under the best of circumstances, Salaita’s appointment was scheduled to be effective before the Board was scheduled to vote to approve it.

Last, the CCR letter references a letter from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, expressly requesting that the University of Illinois rescind its offer. I wasn’t aware of this letter, but it’s discussed here. The letter states:

We strongly believe that a person… with such aberrational views cannot be trusted to confine his discussions to his area of study. We urge you to reconsider his appointment and look forward to immediately discussing this serious matter with you.

Aberrational views. They used to be the pride and joy of the Jewish people, from Abraham to Kafka and Freud. Now we fire people for having them.

Update (midnight)

Another strong letter, signed by Natalie Davis, Talal Asad, Judith Butler, A’sad Abukhail, and many more, calling “upon UIUC in the strongest terms to reverse its decision immediately and reinstate Professor Salaita”:

We should not forget why John Dewey, Arthur Lovejoy, and Edwin Seligman, the founders of the AAUP, sought to protect academic freedom—to ensure that academics could act as a check on the tyranny of public opinion. Furthermore, academics are free to address issues of public concern, as are all American citizens. Indeed, Dewey, Lovejoy, and Seligman recognized that university boards had become the major threats to academic freedom.

24 Responses to “Shit and Curses, and Other Updates on the Steven Salaita Affair (Updated)”

  1. JOANNA A. August 7, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    The Israeli Defecation Force strikes again. Old tactics.

    The email I sent to ais@illinois.edu bounced back.

    Joanna

  2. David M. Perry (@Lollardfish) August 7, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    I don’t have the energy to do it, but I’d really like to go find academics swearing on twitter about Crimea, about #CancelColbert, about Hobby Lobby, about really everything. Twitter is a space where people swear. This is ok.

  3. Gautam Premnath August 7, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

    “Giggly employee” is an overstatement–the conversation I had was awkward, but serious and civil (I encourage everyone to call). But yes, after using that term the person did giggle nervously.

  4. Marc Spooner August 7, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

    RE: 6.
    Of course your social media/public engagement activities should all count; also included should be your op-eds, letters to the editor, other public engagements, etc. Our faculty criteria document is clear in that regard here in the Faculty of Education at the University or Regina.

  5. hophmi August 7, 2014 at 3:03 pm #

    “Yet the University of Illinois cannot cancel an appointment based upon Twitter statements that are protected speech in the United States of America.”

    Why?

    “Furthermore, there is nothing in the Salaita statements about Israel or Zionism that would raise questions about his fitness to teach. ”

    How can one have faith in Salaita to grade fairly if he believes people who support Israel are “awful people”? That category includes most American Jews.

    ” It is a truism that academic freedom is meaningless unless it covers unpopular (and even intemperate) speech; and that, finally, is what is at stake here– the question of whether academic freedom at the University of Illinois will be meaningless.”

    In what way is Steven Salaita’s failure to be hired for a job a free speech issue? What restriction is there on Salaita ability to speak or conduct research on any topic he chooses?

    TENURE IS NOT A RIGHT.

    This is not like Brooklyn College. Glenn Greenwald didn’t “win” anything at Brooklyn College. There was never any chance that Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti would not be permitted to appear, and you know that.

    It’s a strange world we live in, where professors think that they have an unfettered right to employment and tenure regardless of who they are and how they conduct themselves, in a field where getting tenure is extremely difficult to begin with and where the competition is fierce.

    Since the vast, vast, vast majority of tenure and hiring decisions are made by departments themselves, and since the vast, vast, vast majority of candidates do not get hired for jobs, I doubt anyone in the academy can assure me, or anyone else, that none of those decisions are political in nature. This, by the way, is not a political decision. It’s a sane one.

    • jacklewis2012 August 7, 2014 at 10:52 pm #

      Let’s pretend for the sake of argument that you actually mean the things you wrote:
      “How can one have faith in Salaita to grade fairly if he believes people who support Israel are “awful people”?”

      So you would have more faith in his grading abilities if he kept his views private?
      If he believed that people who support genocide and child killings are wonderful, you would also think more highly of his grading skills?
      Obviously none of these notions make any sense.

      “It’s a strange world we live in, where professors think that they have an unfettered right to employment and tenure regardless of who they are and how they conduct themselves”
      It would be even more of a strange world if people were not outraged at what is going in Gaza and kept their voices silent on these sort of activities because of fear. I’m sure plenty of German teachers were also afraid to voice dissent for fear of getting fired a few decades back. I guess you are saying that it was a good thing they were afraid and kept their mouthes shut? Tell me it ain’t so.

  6. Matthew Hart August 7, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

    Just to confirm that the discrepancy between Salaita’s start date and the point at which his appointment would be confirmed by the Board of Trustees isn’t unusual. I had a tenure-track position at UIUC from 2004-10 and was surprised–some weeks after I’d started teaching, bought equipment, ordered business cards, been paid, borrowed library books, etc.–to receive a letter congratulating me on my appointment to the job I’d moved hundreds of miles to take up.

  7. Nathaniel B August 7, 2014 at 10:30 pm #

    Since UI is a public university, does Dr. Salaita have an actionable claim on 1st A. grounds? IU doesn’t seem to deny that it’s his extracurricular speech (and contents therein) which was cause for his dismissal/withdrawn offer.

    And WTF is up with the Simon W. Center? I thought they hunted Nazis. They’re comfortable just straight up accusing people to be anti-semites as a matter of fact. Aren’t they incurring significant defamatory legal liability?

    I wonder what Glenn has planned?

    • Corey Robin August 7, 2014 at 10:38 pm #

      “And WTF is up with the Simon W. Center? I thought they hunted Nazis.” I suspect they think they are.

      • GerardO August 8, 2014 at 4:46 am #

        The Wiesenthal Center has little relation to Simon Wiesenthal apparently; it’s just another AIPAC-style pressure group riding on the coat-tails of someone famous (and dead).

      • Jeff Melnick August 9, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

        Ah the Simon Wiesenthal center knows a bad guy when they see one–in 2010 they commissioned a consultant, Harold Brackman, to write a 30+ page essay whose main point was to prove that the late Michael Rogin and I were carrying forward the “hateful” work of Louis Farrakhan. As Brackman saw it, Rogin and I (I’m still honored he put me in this company!) were at the head of an “influential coterie of academics, many of them Jewish, who use the latest in postmodern theories about race to give trendy respectability to age-old anti-Jewish defamations.”

  8. beedle August 8, 2014 at 11:24 am #

    Professor Robin, I’m sure that if any IDF soldier who trashed a Palestinian house were up for a tenured faculty position in the United States, we’d all consider their war record fair game to be considered in the hiring decision… and, I suspect, so would you.

    • Ash (@ActivistGal_UK) August 13, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

      Are you seriously trying to equate the right to freedom of expression and academic debate with criminal and abusive activity?!

  9. beedle August 8, 2014 at 11:47 am #

    BTW, I should make clear that, in my opinion, Prof. Salaita should not have been fired (or unhired or whatever).

  10. delta August 8, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

    prof salaita’s tweets were right on the money.
    compare to the lunatic, racist, hate remarks/lies from dershowitz and many other zionist profs.

  11. samantha August 8, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

    Those who support the university’s decision. Uncover your eyes and ears and watch something besides Fox news and READ the history. Those of you in the comfort of their houses in the US can not understand the pain of the people of Gaza.
    If he has strong feelings against what Israel is doing, that makes him a BETTER HUMAN and if he shares them in social media strongly that makes him a BRAVE MAN.
    If the University doesn’t fix its mistake I will believe that the US has lost what all American people are most proud, what they think makes them special in the world, FREEDOM!

    • Philippa August 24, 2014 at 4:14 pm #

      I agree. I would hire him BECAUSE of tweets. It was high time for someone in US academia to stand up to the Israel lobby.

  12. VanessaVaile August 9, 2014 at 11:38 am #

    Reblogged this on As the Adjunctiverse Turns and commented:
    politics, media, global conflict. AAUP and academic freedom

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Networks of tension and conflict | George Veletsianos - August 7, 2014

    […] developing story regarding Dr. Salaita’s revoked job offer is an example of this, and, as numerous others have pointed out, of so much more. The area around academic freedom, social media, and […]

  2. In Support of Reinstating Professor Steven Salaita & Restoration of Academic Freedom | KADAITCHA - August 8, 2014

    […] Shit and Curses, and Other Updates on the Steven Salaita Affair (Updated) University of Illinois fires professor Steven Salaita after Gaza massacre tweets Jewish group that sent email promising action denies role in Steven Salaita firing USACBI Condemns UIUC Firing of Arab-American Scholar Steven Salaita Return of the blacklist? Cowardice and censorship at the University of Illinois […]

  3. Friday: Steve Salaita Link Roundup and More | Gerry Canavan - August 8, 2014

    […] * Shit and Curses, and Other Updates on the Steven Salaita Affair. Return of the blacklist? Cowardice and censorship at the University of Illinois. Academic Freedom, Except When I Disagree. Bérubé on Salaita. The national AAUP’s statement. Cary Nelson, the AAUP, and the privilege of bestowing academic freedom. Cary Nelson’s Case. John K. Wilson. The definition of academic freedom, for many, does not accommodate dissent. The University of Illinois Is Not an Island. A Love Letter to Twitter. A New Birth of Academic Freedom. […]

  4. Friday: Steven Salaita Link Roundup and More | Gerry Canavan - August 8, 2014

    […] * Shit and Curses, and Other Updates on the Steven Salaita Affair. Return of the blacklist? Cowardice and censorship at the University of Illinois. Academic Freedom, Except When I Disagree. Bérubé on Salaita. The national AAUP’s statement. Cary Nelson, the AAUP, and the privilege of bestowing academic freedom. Cary Nelson’s Case. John K. Wilson. The definition of academic freedom, for many, does not accommodate dissent. The University of Illinois Is Not an Island. A Love Letter to Twitter. A New Birth of Academic Freedom. […]

  5. The Salaita Affair and Other Links | The Hyperarchival Parallax - August 9, 2014

    […] have been many responses by notable people to the Steven G. Salaita issue. Corey Robin has a ton of links on the issue, including a tweet by Glenn Greenwald, and a piece by Peter Schmidt in The Chronicle of Higher […]

  6. Respect for others’ perspectives | Common Infirmities - August 19, 2014

    […] Salaita, which I commented on here. Much more information from Corey Robin here and here, including links for various subject-specific petitions; a general academic petition (which I have […]

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