The Steven Salaita Case

Curious what people here (including phoodoo!) think about this case involving academic freedom and, I guess, rudeness.  (though I probably can guess). Here are some relevant links:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/08/08/tweeting-without-tenure/

http://academeblog.org/2014/09/29/salaita-case-university-of-illinois-committee-on-academic-freedom-and-tenure/

http://forward.com/articles/205543/de-hired-professor-steven-salaita-is-a-universitys/?p=all

http://op-talk.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/02/steven-salaita-and-the-quagmire-of-academic-freedom/

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-steven-salaita-tenure-jews-twitter-tweets-unive-20140929-story.html

Thanks for your comments!

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25 thoughts on “The Steven Salaita Case

  1. My feeling is that Salaita was treated deeply unjustly, and the University of Illinois should be embarrassed for their treatment of him. Among many other aspects of the case that are disturbing is the way in which the demand for “civility” silences the expression of perspectives that are disapproved by powerful interests. I’ve been following this closely at the group blog New APPS and can post links from there, Daily Nous (a philosophy news blog), and Leiter Reports (a de facto philosophy news blog).

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  2. I don’t know the case but it doesn’t matter. its the same equation.
    The establishment, as usual, and in these the universities are part of the establishment,
    seek to impose their priority conclusions on this and that or sometimes another thing.
    so the historic ideas of truth, freedom to seek/teach truth, and its children like academic freedom are in clash with the establishment.
    creationists know this very well. creationism is censored, or rather our conlusions are censored in public institutions and elsewhere.
    yet its a empire of thought/speech control since WW11. Even before it existed in N america but it was a society that didn’t make such a pretence to freedoms on everything.
    There was a roar abour freedom of speech from the left and really it was just to overthrow a old establishment and set up a new one and include speech control.
    just like in their heros in the soviet union.
    if the government can’t censor the people, despite being selected by the people in voting, then no one can censer the people.
    its a social contract.
    The universities are breaking the contract of a society.
    its a great time for freedom fighter to strike at this evil agenda and evil establishment.
    no one minds malice being disallowed but thats rare.
    They are simply saying everything is malice that someone doesn’t like.
    The fight for truth and the rights of mankind continues.

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  3. Moderators, could one of you turn walto’s URLs into actual links?

    walto,

    For future reference, here’s how you do a link:

    <a href=”http://www.google.com”>link to Google</a>

    …will produce this:

    link to Google

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  4. Kantian Naturalist: the case that are disturbing is the way in which the demand for “civility” silences the expression of perspectives that are disapproved by powerful interests

    I tend to agree, but would you react differently if he had referred to the Furgeson protesters as dumb niggers? This is not a rhetorical question.

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  5. Like one couldn’t find professors being as intemperate about other, “safe,” matters.

    But as long as the incivility is “for the right cause” it’s all right.

    It’s the message that’s the “problem,” that seems pretty clear. He shouldn’t have provided the excuse on the practical level, but it’s an excuse, not a reason.

    Glen Davidson

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  6. I ask this question because the Arabs, by and large, allies of Hitler. They still teach the “Protocols” as fact. So what you have is a region of undefeated Nazis, many of whom call openly for the destruction of Israel and the extermination of Jews.

    Am I seriously wrong about this?

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  7. petrushka: I tend to agree, but would you react differently if he hadreferred to the Furgeson protesters as dumb niggers? This is not a rhetorical question.

    Had he referred to “kikes” on the West Bank it would almost certainly cause a different reaction, too.

    There are just some ethnic slurs that are out of bounds, and I think one can make a reasonable case for that, even though one has to realize that completely de facto free speech isn’t thereby served (could such a thing really exist?).

    And I don’t smile on some of the things he said, but really, people get heated over politics. I’d bet a considerable portion of professors have said things not too different from that, but regarding more acceptable targets (lower-class Christians, for example). It’s not as if he did it as part of his job, or so the sources seem to indicate.

    Glen Davidson

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  8. keiths:
    Moderators,could one of you turn walto’s URLs into actual links?

    walto,

    For future reference, here’s how you do a link:

    <a href=”http://www.google.com”>link to Google</a>

    …will produce this:

    link to Google

    Thanks. I’ll try to do that next time.

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  9. GlenDavidson: There are just some ethnic slurs that are out of bounds,

    I get you point, but I don’t agree.

    My larger point is, do the people asking for academic freedom in this case actually support academic freedom, or do they just happen to agree with this guy.

    Suppose he went of against feminists or homosexuals. Or suppose he said something beyond the pale regarding the definition of date rape. Use your imagination. What’s the worst kind of politics you can imagine?

    For phoodoo’s benefit, I personally would draw the line when a professor teaches crap in his specialty. If he has tenure, that’s a problem for the university. But if someone doesn’t teach what he’s hired to teach, I don’t think he gets tenure.

    I interpret the OP as dealing with political speech outside the classroom. Are there any limits?

    Certain kinds of speech has an aroma. I grew up in the American South, and I’m quite conversant with subtle forms of racism.I remember the code-words.

    Regarding Israel, I sniff the aroma of holocaust denial and anti-semitism. It just has the same feel as the hidden racism of my youth.

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  10. Regarding Israel, I sniff the aroma of holocaust denial and anti-semitism.

    Then how are such issues even to be discussed? You disagree on Israel, so you may as well be David Irving?

    When it comes to anti-Semitism in the Mideast (anti-Semitism is kind of a weird term there), there is a huge amount to be condemned, but I don’t see how one can rightly say that arabs are by and large allies of Hitler. On the other hand, if one is going to stick up for Salaita, it does seem that one ought at least to visibly disapprove of the appalling number of lies–and ethnic slurs–about Jews spewed in the Mideast.

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  11. At the risk of using Wikipedia as a source:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relations_between_Nazi_Germany_and_the_Arab_world

    So the relationship between Hitler and the Arab world was not unconditional and without shades of gray. But major middle eastern leaders were allies of Germany, and particularly in regard to Jews.

    In the United States, African Americans are still sensitive about slavery, and still sensitive about discrimination and racism.

    But they were not exterminated. They did not see half their population murdered.

    When the European jew were being exterminated, other countries either refused them sanctuary, or imposed severe quotas. In the United States, it was quotas.

    And in my youth, Ivy League schools either did not admit Jews, or had severe quotas. We had Jewish apartheid in housing, even in the enlightened Northeast. I live in a former Jewish ghetto. It’s a fairly classy ghetto, but it’s a fact that Jews were excluded from WASP neighborhoods.

    So let me get this straight. You have survived a well thought program of extermination. Most of the civilized nations of the world won’t admit you. Now what?

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  12. walto,

    Walto, I added links. There is a shortcut button in the editor where you highlight the text that you want to turn into a link and paste in the URL in the pop-up window.

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  13. So let me get this straight. You have survived a well thought program of extermination. Most of the civilized nations of the world won’t admit you. Now what?

    Um, stick with the principles of freedom?

    Glen Davidson

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  14. I’m going to toss out a question for which I don’t have an answer. I haven’t heard it posed, so I don’t know anyone else’s answer.

    Let’s suppose that next week the world formally recognizes Palestine as a state, with full membership in the UN.

    Now suppose one of the factions inside the Nation of Palestine starts lobbing missiles at Israel, and Israel declares war. Nations tend to do that when other nations launch missiles at them. It’s legal to declare war when another nation attacks you.

    Israel is an ally of the United States. I’m guessing we have some sort of mutual defence agreement.

    It’s one thing for Israel to be attacked by renegade groups. Quite another for it to be attacked by another nation. What’s likely to happen?

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  15. GlenDavidson: It means, in essence, that this isn’t about the history of anti-Semitism or about present-day anti-Semitism rampant in the mideast.
    Glen Davidson

    That’s what it doesn’t mean. What does it mean?

    ETA:

    And how is that different from the situation regarding American Blacks. After 150 years, why are we still talking about slavery?

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  16. Curious what people here (including phoodoo!) think about this case involving academic freedom and, I guess, rudeness.

    Yes, in my opinion, Salaita was mistreated. He probably has a good chance of winning a law suit over this.

    On the other hand, I live in Illinois and spent many years as faculty at a state University in Illinois. So I cannot say that I am shocked or that I am surprised.

    My best guess (and it is purely a guess), is that the Chancellor of U. of I. agrees with a lot of the criticism. And she probably expected the university to be sued and probably expects to lose that suit. But, pragmatically speaking, it is better to lose in court than to lose in the state legislature, which U. of I. depends on for funding. And then there was probably also concern about donors to the U. of I.

    This was politics, as it is played in Illinois.

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  17. Perhaps some here have not read the posts Walto linked to above. Here are the facts (as I understand them):

    (1) Salaita is an American historian of Palestinian descent who works on post-colonial issues;

    (2) Salaita was hired with tenure by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He had resigned from his old school, his wife had quit her job, and they had sold their house.

    (3) During the Gaza bombing, Salaita published the following “tweets” on Twitter:

    “Zionists, take responsibility: If your dream of an ethnocratic Israel is worth the murder of children, just f–cking own it already.”

    “If you’re defending #Israel right now, you’re an awful human being.”

    “If [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?”

    “Zionist uplift in America: Every little Jewish boy and girl in America can grow up to be the leader of a murderous colonial regime.”

    (4) The UIUC Board of Trustees withdrew Salaita’s job offer. This is completely unheard-of in academic hiring — the Board’s approval is always a rubber-stamp, with the actual decision-making in the hands of the department, the deans, the provost, and the president. In this case, the Board intervened after Salaita had already been offered the position.

    Whether Salaita’s tweets are anti-Semitic is contentious, though in my judgment they are not. It’s a hard call, and I know other Jews who think that his tweets are anti-Semitic. My point is, saying that it’s morally obscene to support Israel is not the same as saying that all Jews are evil or whatever.

    The more difficult question is, do we have any reason to believe that his tweets are any indication of how he manages a classroom? His former students certainly rushed to his defense quickly enough; according to them Salaita is respectful of all views within the classroom. Which is to say, he is an excellent professional educator. And if he hadn’t been an excellent professional educator, he wouldn’t have been hired by UIUC in the first place.

    A further question is, are tweets protected by ‘academic freedom’? This is uncharted territory. Part of what is making the Salaita case complicated is that there’s a question here of who has the authority to police the boundaries of acceptable speech. According to UIUC, Salaita’s tweets count as the kind of speech that educators make in classrooms, and are therefore unacceptable. According to Salaita, his tweets count as expressions of solidarity with the Palestinian people and, while of course quite angry, he would say that anger is the morally correct response to injustice. (As the old saying goes, “if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”.)

    And finally — and most importantly, I think — does a university board of trustees have the right to refuse appointment to a professor who has already been vetted by every other decision-maker and stake-holder (faculty, students, administrators) because that professor’s tweets offend some of the school’s wealthy donors?

    I cannot see how the answer to that question can be “yes”, which is why I think Salaita’s treatment is a disgrace to UIUC.

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  18. Kantian Naturalist: (2) Salaita was hired with tenure by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He had resigned from his old school, his wife had quit her job, and they had sold their house.

    That’s not quite correct, I think.

    Salaita was given a letter of conditional appointment. The appointment was conditional on approval by the Board of Trustees.

    The Board of Trustees declined to approve the appointment.

    On paper there was no contract violation. That there is an issue, is because Salaita was given verbal assurances that board approval is a mere technicality, and was encouraged to resign his previous position and make preparation for moving. These conditional appointments are pretty my standard operating procedure at U. of I.

    That the appointment was conditional gave the Chancellor a way out when she concluded that there were political objections to Salaita.

    The court cases will be interesting. Brian Leiter seems to think that the courts will probably conclude that there was an implicit oral contract.

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  19. For the record, I would favor him winning the case, provided it is a general case and not one tailored to this particular political situation. If he wins, I would expect protests against less admired speech to evaporate.

    Good luck with that.

    But of all the possible sins, I despise hypocrisy the most.

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  20. Its still all establishment control over peoples beliefs and expressions. right and wrong is being judged and punished by those who have no right to do so.
    They wouldn’t have trouble if a rant had been made against creationists, WASPS, whites, white protestants, men, Robert Byers, and so and on.
    It shoes how bring foreigners into North america brings it their problems.
    These obscure third world nations/peoples bring troubvle.
    however America has historic freedoms, rights, and a way of life in dealing with peoples opinions on things.
    the internet is allowing expression and testing the faith and loyalty of america to the old freedoms.
    There was nothing wrong with this guys statements except they were inaccurate.
    There is a bigger problem with segregated identies fighting out their ‘other” nations problems while gaining the American mans home, wealth, and glory.
    If people are passionate about the motherland then go live there and make it better.
    By the way. A line of reasoning here.
    if allowing a course on POST COLONIAL mideast with a implication colonialism was wrong then how can it be surprising if the place, Israel, which only exists because of the colonial power. doesn’t rattle the natives who were conquored!!
    Its all cause and effect. why not replace the course with a creationist course! !!
    Then the abuse will be morally acceptable.

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  21. petrushka: For the record, I would favor him winning the case, provided it is a general case and not one tailored to this particular political situation.

    I was thinking that the particulars of the case, which are, presumably, what it will be decided upon, are of less academic interest. It seems pretty horrible to have encouraged the guy to resign and move and then ditch him. So I’m guessing he’ll win his case.

    But what’s interesting is, as you’ve said, the general matter of free speech. I do think there are important utility grounds for allowing a lot of latitude for faculty members. But, of course, it hasn’t been ENTIRELY public interest considerations that have been behind that–and tenure generally. The political effectiveness of various unions have played a key role here too.

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  22. What I have been seeing at universities is a tendency to shout down anything that the mob does not approve of. I don’t think there is any tendency to support free speech.

    Of course it cuts both ways. What I call “the mob” changes from year to year and decade to decade. But I can’t recall protests supporting the general concept of free speech.

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