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 email@example.com. Please cc Robert Warrior of the American Indian Studies department (firstname.lastname@example.org) and the department itself: email@example.com.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.