Over 1500 Scholars to University of Illinois: We Will Not Engage With You!

1. As of 5 pm, 1518 academics have declared that they will not engage with the University of Illinois until it reinstates Steven Salaita. I have the specific details below. But first I wanted to highlight a report that came out yesterday.

2. The indefatigable Phan Nguyen has posted a monumental analysis of Salaita’s tweets and Cary Nelson’s treatment of those tweets. If I didn’t hate the phrase “game-changer” so much, I’d say this is a game-changer.

Nguyen shows that Salaita actually has a long history of not only denouncing anti-Semitism in general but also confronting specific instances of it on Twitter. Such as when the rapper Macklemore wore a disguise that was anti-Semitic. Among other statements, Salaita tweeted these four in response to Macklemore’s costume:

Macklemore wasn’t mocking Jewish stereotypes. He was performing them.

His costume, even if random (yeah right), IS a stereotype; stupidity doesn’t mitigate ignorance.

That particular look has been used to dehumanize Jews for many centuries, to nefarious ends.

It dredges up bad memories and people know how problematic the image is in Western history.

Equal rights for everybody, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, etc.

I refuse to conceptualize ‪#‎Israel‬/‪#‎Palestine‬ as Jewish-Arab acrimony. I am in solidarity with many Jews and in disagreement with many Arabs.

Seeing so many Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Hindus join to oppose sectarianism gives me great hope.

None of this changes the legal argument that Salaita should not have been fired for his tweets. But it sure does make those who tried to mount or defend the claim that Salaita’s an anti-Semitic hate-monger look kinda douchey irresponsible. (Wouldn’t want the foul-mouth police to get on me.)

3. Back to the campaign on behalf of Salaita. As I said, 1518 academics have declared that they will not engage with the University of Illinois until it reinstates Steven Salaita.

Here are the specific reports: This general statement, which is not discipline-specific, has 744 signatures. The philosophy statement has 108 signatures. The political science statement has 144 signatures. The English statement has 214 signatures. The sociology statement has 136 signatures. The history statement has 52 signatures. The women’s studies statement has 27 signatures. The rhetoric/composition statement has 20 signatures.

There are now two new statements of refusal.

The first is from communications scholars:

In a global context where we attend to the powerful role of social media as catalysts for democratic participation as witnessed in various parts of the globe, to censor a faculty member because of his social media posts is a reflection of authoritarian censorship that is antithetical to the fundamental notions of communication and democracy.

We request you to sincerely reconsider your decision and also change hiring practices so that future individuals may not fall victim to such discriminatory hiring practices. Until then, we will not engage in any relationship with the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

Make sure to sign that statement if you’re a professor or scholar of communications. Twenty-one people already have.

The second, and my personal favorite, is a statement to be signed by contingent academic workers, the academic precariat who work as adjuncts, part-timers, and generally insecure teachers.  The critical passage reads:

For us, in practice, this lack of academic security already compromises our teaching and scholarly endeavors, and we find it deplorable that Steven Salaita’s case might usher in an era of even stricter limitations on expression, for colleagues at any rank.

Our professional insecurity clouds even this moment; many of us do not feel we have the luxury of signing our own names or institutional affiliations to this petition, and/or the professional leverage to meaningfully participate in otherwise circulating calls to refuse our intellectual services to UIUC. Despite this, we simply demand, even if anonymously, that the decision to break a commitment to hire Steven Salaita be reversed.

If you’re a contingent academic worker, please sign. Even anonymously. Fifty-two people have already signed it.

4. The News-Gazette, the local paper for the University of Illinois and its surroundings, has posted several key documents in the case, including the UI’s offer letter to Salaita and their rescission email.

5. In yesterday’s post on that Chicago Tribune piece, I neglected to mention this quote from Cary Nelson:

A lot of people have been disturbed by the character of his social media because it is in the same areas that he does his scholarship. If it was a musician saying that global warming is a bunch of nonsense, who would care? It is because the tweets are an extension of his publication, they are central to his work…

This is a theme that Nelson’s been adumbrating all week. Since Salaita’s tweets are connected to Salaita’s research, says Nelson, they can be legitimately taken into consideration by the Chancellor when she hirefires him. If an academic publicly comments on political matters about which she has no expertise, says Nelson, that’s of no interest; it is protected by academic freedom and not subject to review. In other words, the more ignorant and ill-informed your speech, the more it is protected by academic freedom. Now I can see why Nelson in particular might hold that position, but surely the rest of us can see just how preposterous it is.

6. Word on the street is that a bunch of high-powered law professors are circulating a hard-hitting statement critiquing the University of Illinois’s decision. Stay tuned…


  1. melissaicd August 14, 2014 at 7:58 pm | #

    Reblogged this on MiscEtcetera v2.

  2. pcurrah August 14, 2014 at 8:36 pm | #

    Here is the letter from law professors penned by Katherine Franke and Michael Dorf: https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Flawprofessors.typepad.com%2Ffiles%2Ffaculty-letter-to-u-of-i.pdf

    Law profs who want to sign it should email Katherine Franke: kfranke AT law columbia edu

  3. nattyb August 14, 2014 at 9:55 pm | #

    Speaking of Tenure, John Yoo. Like, he’s the fixed end-point of “well, we need outrageous and ridiculous ideas in Academia, so we can have fulsome debates and seek knowledge/truth “. But seriously, that dude knowingly authorized torture. He was a “but for” cause of at least hundreds of people being tortured (including some to death). He used his position to authorize, for example, squeezing the testicles of a child (which violates every torture statute known to man (though, to be fair, is it possible to squeeze them before they’ve dropped? I digress)

    Anyway, good work all. Just kinda crazy when you think, here’s this guy, who’s clearly making statements that fall well within acceptable debate; and we’re all trying our damndest to make sure he stays within Academia (and for all our sakes, b/c if what he said was “out-of-bounds” then we’re all f’d). Whereas this straight up war criminal, was recently given an endowed chair, like WTF. I think we should hear his arguments, but, can’t he teach from jail? Or maybe the Hague?

  4. Adam Albrett August 14, 2014 at 10:02 pm | #

    Before I share my suggestions on strengthening the activism on behalf of Prof. Salaita and the goals and mission of the activism, I would like to thank 1) Prof. Robin for his civil disobedience at the Israeli consulate and polite refutation of the almost unrelenting nonsense of an anti-Salaita commenter at Crooked Timber and 2) Prof. Robin and others who have come to Prof. Salaita’s defense.

    I very much would like you to succeed on a grand scale and don’t want you to commit the strategic equivalent of Nietzsche’s dog who, in discovering irony and sarcasm, learnt how to ‘laugh,’ but forgot how to bite. Never engage in the strategic equivalent of irony or sarcasm. I hope you and others will consider the suggestions as to what you should be doing and demanding, besides the reinstatement of Mr. Salaita, and act on most, if not all, of them. While I can write at length from a strategic perspective about an analytical framework for better understanding the situation we find ourselves in and our strategic options, I think you should be able to derive most of the framework from my suggestions.

    1. By boycotting Nike, for which Ms. Phyllis Wise is a director and from which she received almost $300,000 in 2013, you would be sending a valuable and reassuring signal to UIUC that the problem is not with UIUC per se but 1) an administrator, who has been presciently criticized by AAUP for being a Nike director, 2) arguably illegal, unethical, and immoral procedures for engaging in misconduct of the type engaged in by Ms. Wise and Zionist groups, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center and 3) possibly financial regimes, in the guise of outside directorships, to compensate Ms. Wise for engaging in arguably illegal, unethical, and immoral conduct.
    a. Nike and UIUC should both end their association with Ms. Wise, and
    b. UIUC should implement publicly accessible transparency procedures that make it much more difficult to discover belatedly that a university official is engaging individually or with outsiders in a ‘crucify at midnight without witnesses and dump the body for viewing later operation.’ Correspondence and information about meetings with representatives of organizations like the ADL, Simon Wiesenthal Center, CAIR, ADC, or even law enforcement, given that most if not all agencies in the US have become agents, accomplices or extensions of some Zionist or ‘Jewish’ groups, should be accessible to the public.
    c. I am going to be sending (registered mail return receipt requested) at least one pair of used sneakers to a) Nike’s CEO, Mike Parker (Nike World Headquarters, One Bowerman Drive, Beaverton, OR 97005), b) the Israeli embassy, c) the White House, and d) Ms. Wise along with a note indicating that I will be boycotting Nike products, services, and affiliated events for at least 3 years if, within one week, Ms. Wise is not removed from her position as Nike director and her association with UIUC terminated.
    2. By boycotting the textbooks and other academic materials or services provided by UIUC professors or UIUC as an institution, you will be quickly sending an enormously powerful message to UIUC and book publishers who expect to earn millions of dollars in profit in the next few weeks when books by UIUC professors that have been adopted by professors at other universities are sold.
    3. First Busey’s banking and lending services should be boycotted and activists should demand that Ms. Wise’s directorship be terminated immediately. I am sure that there are many in the UIUC community and other academic communities who would be willing to boycott First Busey given the strong likelihood, if not certainty, that her directorship is a form of compensation for acting against academics who are not in favor with the powers that be,….
    4. The people who support Mr. Salaita’s right to academic freedom and support the people who were the subject of the content of his expressions that were a very sane and reasonable combination of analysis, grief, and outrage should be encouraged to boycott Nike, First Busey, and others who are complicit in the violation of the rights of the Palestinians and those who speak in their defense. I can easily imagine several million people around the world sending several million pairs of shoes to Nike, the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC, the White House,… While the cost of sending them is not negligible, given the cumulative value of the losses (some of which cannot be associated with a price given that thousands of lives have been lost (including the lives of US servicemen who fought or were involved in unnecessary wars (don’t forget the Marines who were blown up in Lebanon in 1983) on Israel’s behalf)) at the hands of Israel and its accomplices these past few decades and the enormous return that can be expected if millions, or even just hundreds of thousands, were to act soon, the cost would be worth it and should have an effect that it far greater than were an equivalent sum of money to be donated or put to a good use, assuming of course the right demands, which is the subject of item 6 below, are made. We should have no problem in telling adversaries that we are going to get out of the adversaries multiples of what we expend in money, time and effort and extracting multiples in a timely manner.
    5. You should indicate willingness, nay eagerness, to expand the activism to hold accountable parties beyond those that have been identified.
    6. What you should demand beyond what has been explicitly stated is something we can get into at the appropriate time. It is sufficient to say that you don’t want to be fighting this type of fight or another one anytime soon or when your opponents next decide they want to have one, something which is almost a certainty unless you react properly this time. You want to be in a much stronger position than you were when this incident arose and force at the very least the witting or unwitting accomplices of your adversaries to serve your interests and share the burdens of your academic, legal, social and moral mission whether they will be happy to do so or not. You definitely want to make it very difficult for anyone to create arrangements in the future for a character like Ms. Wise with an institution and another party (e.g., a corporation) in order to facilitate misconduct that harms your mission. I am not going to apologize for not being clearer regarding demands other than those I have explicitly stated, because I know from experience that this type of uncertainty serves your interests, will disturb your adversaries and those who are almost certainly manipulating them behind the scenes and drive a wedge between them.

  5. Nurit Baytch August 15, 2014 at 4:36 am | #

    The ADL says that it plays “a leading role in exposing and combating anti-Muslim bigotry” and condemns Pamela Geller:
    By Nguyen’s (and apparently Robin’s) logic, the ADL is thus acquitted of the charge of Islamophobia.

    Also, Nguyen’s attempt to explain away Salaita’s wish that all West Bank settlers “go missing” fails on its face:
    “Go missing” isn’t a euphemism for getting kidnapped. “Go missing” means kidnapped and/or killed, and journalist Max Fisher, who is not a pro-Israel partisan, took Salaita’s tweet to mean that Salaita was endorsing the murder of Israeli kids:

    • Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant August 15, 2014 at 8:34 am | #

      In the world of academia, employed professors have said and — importantly — done far worse. Such as assist and defend illegal and immoral acts of state, such as that of this, our own, government. Why are they not in prison as convicted war criminals? Who has lost life or limb because of Professor Salaita? Saying things is one thing, acting out human rights violations with impunity is another.

    • T.T. August 17, 2014 at 2:45 pm | #

      You know perfectly well that Salaita posted that tweet before the settlers’ bodies were found. In fact, in a previous comment [1], you explicitly observed that (“as the teens had been missing for a week at the time Salaita wrote his tweet, many already suspected by that time that the teens were likely dead”), and called the idea that Salaita was calling for mass murder (not just—under your already fanciful interpretation—mass kidnapping) “an even darker interpretation” that was “possible”. So you know that’s even less plausible than your notion that the tweet seriously advocates mass kidnapping. But you found a useful quote from Max Fisher, and so you conveniently neglected to mention the chronology, knowing that (since we all know *now* that the settlers were killed) many readers will assume that Salaita must have known they were dead when he posted the tweet.

      [1] http://mondoweiss.net/2014/08/reading-salaita-illinois-1.html/comment-page-1#comment-701328

      • Nurit Baytch August 18, 2014 at 11:30 pm | #

        You have misunderstood my comment. Nguyen’s logic was: “Since Salaita acknowledged he was being unrefined, why didn’t he just say ‘I wish all the settlers would be kidnapped!’ Why would Salaita use the euphemism ‘go missing’ if he really meant ‘kidnapped? Hence, Salaita didn’t actually mean ‘kidnapped.'” This logic fails on its face since “go missing” means kidnapped or killed. On June 19th, when Salaita wrote the tweet, many already suspected the teens were dead, and Salaita must have known there was a distinct possibility the teens had been killed. Saying “go missing” encompasses both scenarios.

        I cited Max Fisher b/c he is one of the few people to comment on that tweet who is not a pro-Israel or anti-Israel partisan, as pro-Israel partisans have been saying that tweet is nefarious, while anti-Israel partisans have been arguing otherwise. I have yet to see anyone who is not an anti-Israel partisan argue that tweet is inoffensive.

        Also, I linked to Salaita’s tweet itself so anyone can see that Salaita’s tweeted that before the teens were found dead. I never implied otherwise.

  6. Neil Schipper August 16, 2014 at 6:02 pm | #

    Corey Robin, satirizing Nelson:

    In other words, the more ignorant and ill-informed your speech, the more it is protected by academic freedom.

    How about: the more knowledgeable and deeply informed an academic is about Isr-Pal, the less tolerance we should have for his spewing, in public, boilerplate 1964-era rejectionist talking points, sexed up with the style of hip, entitled youth?

  7. Jasmine mario August 17, 2014 at 11:50 pm | #

    Whether Salaita is antisemitic or not is not the point. The point is that his style of aggressive and abusive language, such as wishing for settlers to go missing (which is to my mind incitement to violence) or claiming that antisemitism is honorable (which I see as approving the waves of antisemitism currently swiping the Western world) is not appropriate to academia. Such language only serves to inflame and incite and to shut up any opposition. Salaita is a demagogue. His tweets are designed to evoke strong emotions, dangerous emotions. What can students learn from him? Certainly not how to use their brains .

    • Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant August 18, 2014 at 9:34 am | #

      Yeah, right.

      Here is a thought experiment. Alan Dershowitz instead of Steven Salaita. Instead of tweets, Prof. Dersh has a history of public bluster and professional bullying to keep other intellectuals out of employment — including the denial of tenure for Norman Finkelstein at DePaul University. Dersh tried to get the Governator (California Governor Arnold Schartzenegger) to force a University of California imprint to stop the publication of Finkelstein’s book, which sought to refute the claims of a book published by Dersh. The battleground in question in their books is the history of the formation of the State of Israel and the fate of the Palestinian Arabs living in the territories that became Israel and the Occupied Territories. Finkelstein’s book found on the record support by other historians after being askedby Dersh to plumb the book for falsehoods and errors.

      Now, given the actual acts taken by Dersh, how many people seeking to defend UIUC would take up a defense of Alan Dershowitz should he be hired-fired in a similar fashion? Your description of Salaita certainly applies to Dershowitz given his public behavior.

      Needless to say, regarding the fact that the standard being discovered to deny offered employment to Salaita has certainly been met by someone like Dersh. I hope someone can find it in his/her heart to forgive me if I confess to a suspicion that this standard would not be applied to Dersh given the current political context. Indeed, Dersh’s actions could be used to pad his resume.

      • Jasmine mario August 18, 2014 at 7:59 pm | #

        I searched Dershowitz twitter going back a few months and did not find anything inflammatory there. You can criticize him for interfering with DePaul internal affairs, or for his forceful campaign against Finkelstein (what you call bullying) but there is nothing that is comparable to Salaita. Apples and oranges. In regards to Finkelstein, he was denied tenure because, according to DePaul president, he does not “honor the obligation” to “respect and defend the free inquiry of associates.”(NYT). According to blog post by Peter Kirstein, he was denied tenure because of rhetoric that was deemed “hurtful,” “inflammatory” and lacking “civility.”
        Notwithstanding the above, I think Finkelstein’s case is different. Contrary to Salaita’s hate mongering slurs, Finkelstein expressed rational opinions. You can agree or disagree with his assertions, (and he does have errors and omissions, just like everybody else In politics) but he doesn’t come from the same place as Salaita.

        • Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant August 19, 2014 at 9:15 am | #

          I did not mention Dersh’s twitter for a reason, and deliberately moved to a more accepted realm of public debate — published books — to show that the project of denying tenure to an experienced and accomplished scholar by a reactionary hack on a hasbarist jag is exactly the same as the case involving Salaita and UIUC. The unmitigated nerve of a scholar to criticize Israeli policy puts one’s employment at risk if the AIPAC-lites have their way.

          Hurtful and inflammatory rhetoric is NOT the problem — my point is that if it were, Dersh would be selling pencils from a tin can at the Port Authority Bus Terminal under the condition that a consistent standard (also a point I tried to suggest) had been applied to him as is now being applied to Salaita. By the way, “hurtful and inflammatory” was NOT Finkelstein’s offense — his offense was to critique the accepted mythology of the birth of a nation and to follow it up with a critique of that nation’s policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians. My observation was not a comparison of Finkelstein’s case with Salaita’s — it was a comparison of Salaita and Dershowitz, pointing to inflammatory rhetoric (twitter) versus inflammatory action (a campaign to deny a job to scholar because of his books and doctoral thesis — and I call it “bullying” because that is a factually accurate characterization of the campaign).

          If Salaita had persued a campaign that Dersh had, that would strengthen the hand of those who support UIUC’s decision to hire-fire him, as it would clearly exemplify a temperament that cannot abide scholary contention. Someone like that likely should not be on a university’s professorial staff, as he would be a concrete menace to anyone who disagreed with him and with a university’s mission to protect the right of a scholar to her freedom of expression. This is the main charge (“uncivility”) against Salaita — a charge meant to obscure the real reason for the hire-fire: his sometimes disagreeably expressed views regarding Israeli policy on twitter. Salaita has never gotten between those who disagree with him and their views finding expression. Dersh has — more than once. The issue is Israel and its policies and the permissability of critique, not “hurtful and inflammatory” (to whom and why should anyone give a good god-damn?!) rhetoric.

      • Jasmine mario August 20, 2014 at 2:19 am | #

        The issue is precisely about hurtful and inflammatory rethoric. I don’t think American universities lack professors who are highly critical of Israel. Some of them even vote for an academic boycott of Israel. Such professors are hired and tenured routinely. However,no matter how incensed they are with Israel, or whatever vitriol they use against its leaders (and its people), most of them stay clear of anything that could even remotely be interpreted as antisemitic. Common sense.You can say pretty harsh things about Israel in a million different ways without ever needing to resort to the kind of hate speech that Salaita uses. (That lack of imagination in his part is enough to disqualify him.What exactly can he teach students about debate? To shout slogans, maybe).
        Salaita is not alone in his hate mongering. There is a professor in Kent State, Julio Pino, a convert to Islam, who became famous when he shouted ‘death to Israel’ during a presentation by an Israeli diplomat (a muslim, actually) two years ago. A couple days ago he said that Allah is planning a painful punishment for Israel. He also praised a suicide bomber who murdered Israelis. And he called for Jihad.When confronted about his politics, he wrote that “”the only politics I have are ‘there is no God but God, and Mohammed is His Messenger.’”” Kent State has condemned his hate speech but he has tenure so it would be difficult to do much against him (but not impossible). Some may be inclined to protect his freedom of speech (and his freedom to call for death to Jews), and some did defend him. Personally, I would stay clear of a university that offers this kind of “education.” I would also demand that my tax dollars do not support incitement to violence, religious indoctrination and very poor educational standards. Salaita and Pino are not suitable to educate anybody, unless we define hate as the purpose of education. You don’t need to pay money for college to hear that kind of hate talk. Just go on utube or Facebook,for free.

  8. Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant August 21, 2014 at 9:35 am | #

    For those seeking a little more context and nuance (no snark, please – “nuance” is used here to suggest an avoidance of black-or-white moral dualism for the sake of clarity) here is a fuller account of the story referenced by my interlocutor. Please note that Cary Nelson makes a guest appearance in the story – and here, irony rears her/his head. On this occasion, Nelson – Lawd fo’giv me – is actually right in this case. The question now is, Where is THAT Cary Nelson now?

    It is worth noting that a meme has begun to emerge in the various comments sections’ in reply to news articles and blog posts discussing controversial comments by university professors. That meme also makes it presence here (see “Jasmine mario”‘s entry for just one example, above) and that is what prompts my contribution here. That meme is that “uncivil” outbursts is the teaching method of choice by controversial professors who make rude, obnoxious, stupid, and maybe even scary, comments in public or in on-line forums. However, and on the contrary, most students and colleagues of these profs – folks who see, work with, or take courses taught by, these profs – experience first hand personages whose classroom behavior, methods of study and research, and interactions with staff all suggest persons who do indeed play well with others. No colleague or student of any “controversial” professors, professors with whom they have only the most direct and face-to-face interactions – until someone provides a link to a story clearly and unequivocally stating otherwise – has been willing to publicly come forward and denounce, by name, a working prof as a sloganeering and obnoxious incompetent who should therefore not be provided with employment as an educator. Rather, these attacks on them seem to derive from people who neither attend their classes nor even stand behind them at the university’s cafeteria line. Where are the students of Salaita or Pino who witnessed them at work first hand and then publicly wondered how these guys could have gotten their jobs in the first place? Who out there is going to rat out her own professor or colleague, on the record? Who will point to her professor or colleague and state publicly, “I will work to get you fired because I don’t like what you said here, or what you said or wrote outside this classroom?”

    Many of those seeking the ouster of a controversial professor rely upon the public’s ignorance of the reality of day-to-day life in academia, including those who make their living in academia. For that reason, some of us who learn of these stories seem to have it in our heads that (left-leaning) professors shouting hateful slogans in front paying students is the current state of higher ed these days. For many, the public story of a public controversy is merely a display – in public, finally – of what is supposedly routine in America’s university classrooms and lecture halls, thanks to permissive rules of classroom decorum, political correctness, affirmative action, and rampant campus socialism: unchecked professors anti-American/anti-Israel rhetoric-izing to a young, impressionable, and captive audience. This, allegedly, is “college” in America today: intellectual libtards brainwashing “our” kids. Oddly, though, no one has done the actual sociological research to back up that emerging meme yet it runs rampant and unchallenged, and the ignorance of the public regarding the actual, concrete labor constituting just how profs teach their students and work within the university setting generally – along with a general cultural suspicion of intellectuals – feeds this meme’s continued existence and propagation. This meme also acts as a cover for the more reactionary project of cleansing the professorial ranks of thinkers who don’t meet the approval of some whose political interests are a matter of some contention. But then, that is the point, isn’t it?

    Anyway, I hope some will keep that in mind when reading the following. It is from an online journal called Inside Higher Ed.

    (btw, “Jasmine Mario” – you claim that Pino has a “freedom to call for death to Jews”. Ok, can you please provide a link to where he actually used his freedom to say “death to Jews”? Do you routinely make [or, more subtly, suggest] accusations of comments made without providing evidence of attribution? Or, are you hoping WE do that for you by not reading carefully what you wrote, allowing the inference that because one HAS the freedom to do something we don’t like – he must therefore have DONE it?)

    Here it is, cut and pasted whole without any edits from me:

    When a Prof Shouts ‘Death to Israel’
    October 31, 2011
    Scott Jaschik

    A professor at Kent State University last week set off a debate over appropriate and inappropriate ways to express views when he shouted “death to Israel” during the question period of a lecture by an Israeli diplomat.

    The professor’s remarks are being condemned by some — including Kent State’s president — as inappropriate. But others say that he engaged in a legitimate expression of his political views.

    The shout came from Julio Pino (seen at left), an associate professor of history. The speaker at whom Pino shouted was Ishmael Khaldi, formerly the deputy consul general at the Israeli consulate in San Francisco. Khaldi, as a Bedouin and Muslim, lectures on his experiences as an advocate for Israel.

    According to multiple press accounts, Pino posed a question to Khaldi after his talk, and then shouted “death to Israel” and left the auditorium. It is the latter statement that has set off the controversy.

    There is a wide consensus in higher education that it is appropriate for people who oppose the views of various campus speakers to ask them tough questions, to boycott, to picket outside, to invite speakers with alternative views, and so forth. In fact, such activities are routine on most campuses. There is less consensus on activities that seek in some way to interrupt a presentation or that involve shouting at a speaker.

    In September, 10 Muslim students were found guilty of misdemeanors for heckling the Israeli ambassador to the United States when he spoke at the University of California at Irvine. The students, one by one, stood and interrupted his talk until they were escorted from the event. The students and their supporters have said that they were engaged in political speech — while many others have said that this sort of tactic is antithetical to free speech as it prevents someone (in this case the ambassador) from giving an invited talk.

    The Kent State incident — while also involving an Israeli speaker defending his country — was notably different from what happened at Irvine in that Pino did not interrupt the talk and make repeated exclamations. But critics have noted that his shout was not an attempt to engage in discussion, and have also questioned the appropriateness of shouting “death to” anyone.

    Via e-mail to Inside Higher Ed, Pino gave his rationale as follows: “What I spoke was for the sake of the children of Palestine, and no other reason. The only politics I have are ‘There is no God but God, and Mohammed is His Messenger.’ ” Asked about the controversy over his comments, he quoted the Koran: “They try to put out the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah will allow nothing but the perfection of that light, though the disbelievers dislike it.”

    Lester A. Lefton, president of Kent State, issued a statement in which he said that the way Pino had treated Khaldi was “reprehensible, and an embarrassment to our university.” Lefton said that while it “may have been” Pino’s right to speak out, “it is my obligation, as the president of this university, to say that I find his words deplorable, and his behavior deeply troubling.”

    Lefton added, “We value critical thinking at this university, and encourage students to engage with ideas that they find difficult or make them uncomfortable. We hope that our faculty will always model how best to combine passion for one’s position with respect for those with whom we disagree. Calling for the destruction of the state from which our guest comes (as do some of our students, faculty and community members) is a grotesque failure to model these values.”

    The Kent State president’s condemnation of Pino was praised by the Anti-Defamation League. Nina Sundell, the ADL’s Ohio director, said that “statements such as ‘Death to Israel’ extend beyond legitimate political discourse. When the statement is shouted by a university professor at a university student organization event on campus, it is even more harmful.”

    But Cary Nelson, national president of the American Association of University Professors, criticized the president’s statement, and said that professors can shout out statements as a form of expressing their views.

    “Calling out a political slogan during a question period falls well within the speech rights of any member of a university community,” he said. “Expressive outbursts do not substitute for rational analysis, but they have long played a role in our national political life. More surprising, to be sure, is President Lefton’s invention of an absurd form of hospitality: you must not question the moral legitimacy or the right to exist of a guest’s home country. Awareness of history would suggest such challenges are routine elements of international life.”

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