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August 26, 2014 1:52 PM   Subscribe

Former Virginia Tech professor Steven Salaita's blocked appointment to teach at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has ignited a debate over academic freedom.

Salaita, whose tenure at Virginia Tech was itself not without controversy, received and accepted an offer letter from UIUC in October 2013 for a tenure track position in the University's American Indian studies program, but chose to postpone his move to Illinois until August 2014 so that he could finish the Spring semester at Virginia Tech. The offer letter stated that the final decision to hire was contingent on approval by the University's board of trustees, but since this has been traditionally understood to be a pro forma step in the academic hiring process, Salaita resigned his position at Virginia Tech and relocated to Illinois.

Then, mere weeks before he was scheduled to begin teaching classes at UIUC, Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise informed Salaita that she would not submit his appointment to the UIUC board of trustees, a move that effectively blocked his appointment to a position he had every reason to believe was his. Wise's decision was found to have been heavily influenced by controversial remarks tweeted by Salaita on the subject of the conflict in Gaza, which was spiraling out of control at the time.

In a blog post explaining her decision, Wise acknowledged that the move was due in large part to things Salaita had said outside the classroom, writing, in part, "[w]hat we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them." In conjunction with Wise's public statement, UIUC's board of trustees, who initially refused to comment publicly on the matter, issued a statement affirming their support for Wise and her decision to block the appointment.

Chancellor Wise's action has spawned a vigorous debate about academic freedom (previously), particularly about the ways in which professors are and aren't allowed to express themselves online (previously), and what they can and cannot say about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (previously).

These are some of the more notable contributions to the Salaita/UIUC debate thus far:
Cary Nelson: An Appointment to Reject
Although I find many of his tweets quite loathsome - as well as sophomoric and irresponsible - I would defend without qualification his right to issue most of them. Academic freedom protects him from university reprisals for his extramural speech, unless he appears to be inciting violence, which one retweeted remark that a well-known American reporter wrote a story that "should have ended at the pointy end of a shiv" appears to do. His June 19 response to the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers - "You may be too refined to say it, but I'm not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing" - also invokes a violent response to the occupation, since "go missing" refers to kidnapping.

But his right to make most of these statements does not mean I would choose to have him as a colleague. His tweets are the sordid underbelly, the more frank and revealing counterpart, to his more extended arguments about Middle Eastern history and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. They are likely to shape his role on campus when 2015's Israeli Apartheid Week rolls around. I am told he can be quite charismatic in person, so he may deploy his tweeting rhetoric at public events on campus. Faculty members are well within their rights to evaluate someone as a potential colleague and to consider what contributions a candidate might make to the campus community. It is the whole Salaita package that defines in the end the desirability and appropriateness of offering him a faculty appointment.

I should add that this is not an issue of academic freedom. If Salaita were a faculty member here and he were being sanctioned for his public statements, it would be. But a campus and its faculty members have the right to consider whether, for example, a job candidate's publications, statements to the press, social media presence, public lectures, teaching profile, and so forth suggest he or she will make a positive contribution to the department, student life, and the community as a whole. Here at Illinois, even the department head who would have appointed Salaita agreed in Inside Higher Ed that "any public statement that someone makes is fair game for consideration." Had Salaita already signed a contract, then of course he would have to have received full due process, including a full hearing, before his prospective offer could be withdrawn. But my understanding is that he had not received a contract.
John K. Wilson: Fighting the Twitter Police
One thing should be clear: Salaita was fired. I've been turned down for jobs before, and it never included receiving a job offer, accepting that offer, moving halfway across the country, and being scheduled to teach classes.

This is not the first time the University of Illinois has fired a professor for his extramural utterances. In 1960, the University fired an assistant professor of biology, Leo Koch, because he wrote a letter to the student newspaper in which he denounced "a Christian code of ethics which was already decrepit in the days of Queen Victoria," attacked the "the widespread crusades against obscenity," and urged the university to condone sex among mature students.

The AAUP was unified in opposing the lack of due process in Koch's firing, and censured the University of Illinois. But the AAUP in 1960 was deeply divided about whether extramural utterances should receive the full protection that all citizens are entitled to, or if extramural utterances must meet the standards of "academic responsibility." Eventually, the AAUP reached a strong consensus: the 1964 Committee A Statement on Extramural Utterances declared: "a faculty member's expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member's unfitness to serve."

This is an extremely high standard, and the arguments against Salaita don't come anywhere close to meeting it. The best that Salaita's critics can come up with is the belief that Salaita's pro-Israel students might feel uncomfortable (by that standard, no professor could ever take a public stand on anything), or that criticizing a foreign government makes you guilty of hate speech (which is a slogan, not a category of prohibited speech), or proves you are uncivil (whatever that means), or that swearing on Twitter means you are evil (remember those "crusades against obscenity").

Now the University of Illinois and Cary Nelson, a longtime faculty member there, a past AAUP president, and now a critic of Salaita, are marking the 50th anniversary of that important statement by trying to take academic freedom backward to a half-century ago, when extramural utterances that offend the public could justify the firing of a professor.

Scott Lemieux: Yes, Steven Salaita Was Fired, And No, It's Not Defensible
The remaining administrative approval necessary for Salaita to be hired was pro forma. He didn't resign his position and move because he was a crazy risk-taker but because he had every rational reason to believe the job was his. Whether he had signed all the paperwork might be relevant to his legal remedies, but from that standpoint of norms and ethics the job was his, and if you believe in the principles of academic freedom they clearly apply in this case.

In addition, as Wilson effectively points out even if one assumes for the sake of argument that the strong protections of academic freedom shouldn't apply here, this is still a terrible argument, an Ivan Tribble argument. People don't have due process protections when they're turned down for a job, but this still doesn't mean that "does the candidate disagree with Cary Nelson about Israeli policy too stridently?" is a criterion that any responsible hiring committee should be taking into account. The "I would choose to have him as a colleague" line gives away the show here - this is supposed to be a professional process, not a consideration of who you'd like to be sharing cognac with at the 19th hole of the country club.

Most of Nelson's bill of particulars consists of selected tweets. While they sometimes express ideas I don't agree with in language I would be disinclined to use, can't possibly be firing offenses. To add to this, he asks whether "Jewish students in his classes [will] feel comfortable" with his Tweets. At least here we're talking about something (teaching) that is relevant to whether someone should be fired, as opposed to something that isn't (whether someone disagrees with Cary Nelson's political views too vehemently.) But leaving aside his obviously erroneous assumption that no Jewish student could agree with the substance of Salaita's views, this is again a remarkably poor argument. First of all, as many people have pointed out, this proves too much; it's just an argument that no faculty member should ever express a view on a controversial topic. And, second, it's not as if this was Salaita's first job out of a British PhD program; if he had any record of treating students who disagree with him about Israeli policy unfairly this would, presumably, come out in the evaluation of his teaching. If it didn't, it's not relevant.
Corey Robin: Another Anti-Zionist Professor Punished for His Views
In accordance with Nelson's dicta, I presume the following individuals would be not hireable at the University of Illinois.

1. Denis Diderot: "Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest." (Professor Diderot has crossed a line into inciting violence.)

2. Friedrich von Schlegel: "Religion and morals are symmetrically opposed, just like poetry and philosophy." (Professor Schlegel has issued a judgment about his future students that would justify them believing they would be academically at risk in expressing pro-religion views in class.)

3. George Orwell: "As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents." (Professor Orwell has issued a judgment about his future students that would justify them believing they would be academically at risk in expressing pro-socialist or pro-Christian views in class.)

4. Mary McCarthy: "The average Catholic perceives no connection between religion and morality, unless it is a question of someone else's morality." (Professor McCarthy has issued a judgment about her future students that would justify them believing they would be academically at risk in expressing pro-Catholic views in class.)

5. Samuel Butler: "The seven deadly sins: Want of money, bad health, bad temper, chastity, family ties, knowing that you know things, and believing in the Christian religion." (See #3)

6. The Prophet Micah:
Hear this, you leaders of Jacob,
you rulers of Israel,
who despise justice
and distort all that is right;
who build Zion with bloodshed,
and Jerusalem with wickedness....
Because of you,
Zion will be plowed like a field,
Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble,
the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.
Brian Leiter: University of Illinois Repeals the First Amendment for Its Faculty
The university, of course, need not and should not tolerate the mistreatment of students in the classroom, but there is no evidence of any such pedagogical misconduct in this case; indeed, the public evidence is that Salaita is a successful and popular teacher. No serious university evaluates pedagogical fitness based on speculative inferences from twitter accounts, yet the Chancellor's statement implies that this is what Illinois has done in this instance. Faculty have pedagogical and professional obligations to their students, but that does not include the obligation to refrain from expressing views, whether about matters of public concern or matters within the purview of a faculty member's scholarship, that some student somewhere might find upsetting, leading that student to conclude that that faculty member might not "value[] that student as a human being." A student's entitlement is to be treated seriously and professionally in the classroom; students have no entitlement to never find the views of their professors offensive or upsetting.
Soon after Wise's decision was announced, a FOIA request led to the release of emails she received during this period, including emails from donors who lobbied against Salaita. Among these emails was an explicit threat from a "multiple 6 figure donor" to divest from the University, reading, in part, "our support is ending as we vehemently disagree with the approach this individual espouses."

Academics, while not able to threaten the University with a significant loss of donations, have begun to organize around the cause of academic freedom, signing numerous petitions, penning open letters, and, in the case of the American Indian Studies department that Salaita was set to join, casting a (symbolic) vote of no confidence in Chancellor Wise. In some cases, academics have stated their intention to refuse invitations to visit UIUC.

More recently, UIUC students have also gotten involved, including a sit-in outside the room where the board of trustees met, and a opinion column from the editorial board of the Daily Illini student newspaper.

Given that Wise and the UIUC board have shown no signs of reversing course in the face of this public campaign, observers have begun to speculate about the possibility of legal action, which could include a claim that UIUC has violated the First Amendment's protections against viewpoint discrimination. Further speculation suggests that Salaita may seek relief under promissory estoppel doctrine, though there is some disagreement about whether this doctrine would apply to Salaita's case.

There is also concern about what effect UIUC's actions could have on the job market for college professors:
One interesting thing about Wise's statement, however, is that it does not seem to rely on the fact that the hiring process was not formally complete. The op-ed by Cary Nelson set the basic template for most UIUC apologists: set up a rhetorical shell game where a terrible argument that firing Salaita is consistent with academic freedom is paired with a terrible argument that he wasn't really fired (even though he would have been teaching for at least a month prior to receiving pro forma approval.) When the weaknesses of one become apparent, just shift back to the other. While I'm sure their lawyers will be making different arguments, Wise's logic suggests that Salaita could have been fired if he had a tenured position at UIUC formally rather than just de facto. (This should be terrifying to faculty there.) And I think there's a reason for that. As Ben Alpers has argued, if taken seriously the assertion that Salaita wasn't really fired would create chaos in academic job markets:
IANAL, but it seems to me that if Hoffman is correct about the labor law here, the entire academic employment system will be disrupted. If faculty are forced to see regents' approval of hires as something other than pro forma, either hiring schools will have to wait an extra semester or year to bring faculty aboard or schools from which faculty are hired will be faced with tons of last minute course cancellations. The point is that this is not simply about a single letter sent to single faculty member: the academic employment system as currently constituted is absolutely reliant on what are widely seen as rubber-stamp stages of the hiring process being rubber-stamp stages of the hiring process. If Salaita's hirefire stands, it will, at the very least, make it much harder for the University of Illinois to hire senior faculty (not because of boycotts, but because of due diligence on the part of potential hires) and may well affect other institutions as well.
I assume that Wise does not want to think that senior faculty she's trying to attract that she will start arbitrarily overturning dean-approved hires at the last minute as a routine practice. But if I were in that position, I think it's pretty clear that UIUC cannot be trusted.
(For the TL;DR crowd, This podcast from Inside Higher Ed touches on many of the academic freedom issues raised by UIUC's actions, and serves as a useful primer for anyone who wants to get a sense of what's going on without reading all of the links above.)
posted by tonycpsu (540 comments total) 112 users marked this as a favorite

 
Excellent fucking post. I was going to do one but thank god I didn't cus this rules.

Anyway, this is scary as shit and UIUC's actions are indefensible. If I was less of a coward and more advanced in my career I would sign the petition to boycott the university. I'll just do it passively.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:57 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


Looks like Tony Kushner won't be getting a degree from UI any time soon, either.
posted by Mr. Six at 2:05 PM on August 26


I've signed a petition, and I also sent Wise an email back when it seemed like there was still a chance they'd reverse themselves.

At least one conference has already been canceled.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:06 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


The remaining administrative approval necessary for Salaita to be hired was pro forma.

Well, no, not really. I mean, when we send off the paperwork on a hire to the upper administration at our university we pretty much assume it will be approved, but we never regard it as simply a done deal which can't possibly get overturned (for any number of reasons). And I know lots of colleagues who've accepted job offers at various institutions--but don't completely breathe easy about them until the contract is actually signed. I think there's a desire here for the case to be a nice, juicy, clear-cut one which is making people skew the facts somewhat to fit their position.

If this came to a lawsuit, it would be a pretty weird outcome if it ruled that people counted as "hired" prior to the signing of a contract and prior to upper levels of administrative review weighing in. The fact that those upper levels rarely nix the contract hardly seems to me grounds for saying that the review is "pro forma."

As to the merits of the decision itself, I think it's actually quite a challenging case--and it's not fair to say that the administration's actions are "indefensible." Those tweets are really pretty disgusting. It's not his political positions that are at issue here, but the extravagant intemperance of his mode of expression and his casual celebration of violence. I, personally, wouldn't want to have someone who thinks that that is a reasonable form of public debate as a colleague and I wouldn't want such a person let loose on a bunch of undergraduate students. On the other hand, I think it's extremely dangerous for the administration to get into second-guessing the academic qualifications of departmental hires and dangerous to set out to preemptively dodge "controversy" in this manner.

I guess all I really want to say is that I can see that both sides here have some solid arguments on their side and some weaker ones as well and that they're being a little selectively blind to the weak parts of their cases. I would encourage anyone who thinks that this is a "simple" case (pro or con) to try hard to examine both sides of the question.
posted by yoink at 2:12 PM on August 26 [24 favorites]


For what it's worth: let's all remember that this thread about a professor being fired/not hired over anti-Israel viewpoints, is unlikely to benefit from being a referendum on Israel/Palestine relations.
posted by Riki tiki at 2:12 PM on August 26 [13 favorites]


Even if your opinions on the matter are the opposite of Salaita's, this should outrage you.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:13 PM on August 26 [20 favorites]


(feel free to think of my comment as a follow on from Riki tiki's, even though the timing was accidental)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:13 PM on August 26


Excerpted from a letter to the Chancellor by Michael Rothberg, Director of the Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies at UIUC:
Let me pose the question this way: Should Professor Salaita’s outrage at the siege of Gaza really be the center of our concern? Or should it rather be those who—much more frequently and from positions of considerable power—excuse or minimize that state-sponsored violence? Isn’t such minimization of violence much more dangerous to the goals of peace, civility, and reconciliation than anger over its perpetration?
posted by boo_radley at 2:13 PM on August 26 [7 favorites]


Outstanding post. I've been following this issue over at Lawyers, Guns and Money (which has several updates). One point raised there is this kind of administrative cowardice is another effect of the corporatization of universities, which has been going on steadily for decades as public financing has declined.
posted by Gelatin at 2:14 PM on August 26 [10 favorites]


This isn't Phyllis Wise's first experience with Twitter and free speech issues.
posted by bgrebs at 2:15 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


The fact that those upper levels rarely nix the contract hardly seems to me grounds for saying that the review is "pro forma."

Salaita resigned from his current tenured position, was scheduled to teach classes at his new institution, and moved across the country. The fact that he didn't sign a contract may have legal bearing but it doesn't speak to the fact that UIUC's actions are horrendous precedents for academic freedom.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:18 PM on August 26 [9 favorites]


It makes me very upset that the FOIA requests don't include the name of the people who actually wrote the emails to Wise that are pretty damn close to extortion.

Its one thing to redact a name in a conversation, but these people chose to email a state figure.
posted by JPD at 2:19 PM on August 26 [4 favorites]


yoink: Well, no, not really. I mean, when we send off the paperwork on a hire to the upper administration at our university we pretty much assume it will be approved, but we never regard it as simply a done deal which can't possibly get overturned (for any number of reasons).

Okay, but, as noted in the FPP, Salaita would have been teaching for a month before the board would have had a chance to reject his appointment. Pro forma doesn't mean there aren't exceptions to the formality, and among the many wrinkles in this story is that Wise initially attempted to hide behind the fact that the board would be "unlikely" to approve him rather than take responsibility for herself blocking it by refusing to pass it on to them. Given her own unwillingness to make it clear that this was her decision, and given how long she and the rest of the UIUC administration had to approve him, there is no doubt that, at a minimum, this was handled unfairly, and that UIUC's public announcement of the hire and scheduling of Salaita to begin teaching classes constituted a contract, albeit one with a disclaimer.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:19 PM on August 26 [11 favorites]


The FIRE weighs in:
Here’s the key section: “What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.”

The university forbids “personal and disrespectful words” that “demean and abuse” “viewpoints themselves”? Is this meant to be serious? If I am an Illinois student or professor, am I actually to be prohibited from “disrespectfully” “abusing” ideas with which I disagree? What about racism, fascism, or communism? What if I am “disrespectful” of a colleague or fellow student’s belief that the world is flat, or that the Sun circles the Earth? What if I “demeaned” another student’s racist tweets about Chancellor Wise?
posted by el io at 2:20 PM on August 26 [24 favorites]


For what it's worth: let's all remember that this thread about a professor being fired/not hired over anti-Israel viewpoints, is unlikely to benefit from being a referendum on Israel/Palestine relations.

I agree, but I think it's tendentious to suggest that the reason he was not hired was because of his "anti-Israel viewpoints." You might want to ask yourselves how you'd feel about this decision if the tweets in question had been, say, in response to the revenge killing of that Palestinian teen and he'd tweeted "Don't you just wish all the Palestinians could be killed that way?" Or if he'd been tweeting about Michael Brown and said "that's the way the cops should deal with all that scum"? Would you still be so convinced that academic freedom prevails regardless?
posted by yoink at 2:21 PM on August 26 [7 favorites]


People in the BDS movement are trying to strangle Israel, to blockade everyone and everything in Israel without respect to those individuals' or organizations' actual positions or motivations. And then they're surprised when the people they are targeting for economic destruction turn around and use the tools they have at their own disposal to fight back? Surely you jest. The BDS movement is playing with fire. Israel and its supporters are fighting back with fire. If you're not prepared for your proclaimed enemies to fight back against you, to try to damage you in exactly the same way you're trying to damage them, then you shouldn't be fighting.

If I posted a comment on MeFi wishing death on someone it would be deleted immediately, and rightfully so. Should we hold university professors to a lesser standard?
posted by 1adam12 at 2:23 PM on August 26 [9 favorites]


Even if your opinions on the matter are the opposite of Salaita's, this should outrage you.


The thing is, I was ready to be outraged when this all came out, as somebody who regularly rolls their eyes at anti-Israel sentiment being labeled as anti-Semitic, and gets outraged at things like college Hillel's blocking anybody who's even remotely pro-Palestinian from speaking.

And then I actually read the tweets. I'm not somebody who thinks that undergraduates should never be made "uncomfortable" (see discussions about racism, sexism privilege, etc., that *should* make students feel uncomfortable), but there's something crossing the line when your potential future professor is tweeting that he thinks you're a terrible person, and that anti-Semitism is honorable.

There's a difference between "Professor not hired for views on Israel" and "Professor not hired due to being kind of an asshole about views on Israel", and I think this falls squarely in the latter category. Whether or not that should prevent somebody from being hired is a different story.

On preview, for el io's quote:

The problem is that we (generally) as a society have decided that racism and fascism are Bad Things and you should feel bad/you are a terrible person if you support them. I'm uncomfortable with throwing "Any support of Israel" into that category (which is pretty clearly what Salatia does).
posted by damayanti at 2:23 PM on August 26 [13 favorites]


People in the BDS movement are trying to strangle Israel, to blockade everyone and everything in Israel without respect to those individuals' or organizations' actual positions or motivations. And then they're surprised when the people they are targeting for economic destruction turn around and use the tools they have at their own disposal to fight back?

The "I" in UIUC stands for Illinois.
posted by theodolite at 2:25 PM on August 26 [16 favorites]


Would you still be so convinced that academic freedom prevails regardless?

The very definition of academic freedom is the ability to put forth viewpoints that might be unpopular or inconvenient to the academy without fear of retribution.
posted by k8lin at 2:26 PM on August 26 [22 favorites]


You might want to ask yourselves how you'd feel about this decision if the tweets in question had been, say, in response to the revenge killing of that Palestinian teen and he'd tweeted "Don't you just wish all the Palestinians could be killed that way?" Or if he'd been tweeting about Michael Brown and said "that's the way the cops should deal with all that scum"? Would you still be so convinced that academic freedom prevails regardless?

Those things are not remotely analogous to anything he wrote.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:27 PM on August 26 [21 favorites]


You might want to ask yourselves how you'd feel about this decision if the tweets in question had been, say, in response to the revenge killing of that Palestinian teen and he'd tweeted "Don't you just wish all the Palestinians could be killed that way?" Or if he'd been tweeting about Michael Brown and said "that's the way the cops should deal with all that scum"?

Unless I can't find the tweets you are referring to, those aren't even remotely analogous.

Even if they were, academic freedom trumps all and they should not be fired.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:28 PM on August 26 [4 favorites]


Freedom schmeedom, you aint got shit before the contract is signed.

He shoulda kept his piehole shut.

I mean, I feel bad and all, but what - this was his second job ? Maybe next time don't work so hard to give people a reason to get rid of you.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:28 PM on August 26 [5 favorites]


mullingitover, admittedly the First Amendment isn't my practice area but I was under the impression that public universities (as governmental institutions) do in fact have responsibilities when it comes to free speech issues.
posted by 1adam12 at 2:28 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


Those things are not remotely analogous to anything he wrote.

Really? This is one of the tweets: "At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised? #Gaza"
posted by gertzedek at 2:29 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


As to the merits of the decision itself, I think it's actually quite a challenging case--and it's not fair to say that the administration's actions are "indefensible." Those tweets are really pretty disgusting. It's not his political positions that are at issue here, but the extravagant intemperance of his mode of expression and his casual celebration of violence.

Okay, fair enough; perhaps it's not totally open and shut. There's a case to be made there, though it's not one that I agree with. But what about the likely scenario where Salaita is more or less fired because a wealthy donor didn't like a political viewpoint he expressed outside the classroom and clearly without the endorsement or support of the university itself? How is that defensible?
posted by clockzero at 2:30 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


gertzedek: Really? This is one of the tweets: "At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised? #Gaza"

Not even close to yoink's hypothetical examples in degree or kind.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:31 PM on August 26 [22 favorites]


Really? This is one of the tweets: "At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised? #Gaza"

The only thing analogous would be: "At this point, if Darren Wilson appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of black children, would anybody be surprised?"

or " At this point, if Khalid M'shal appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Israeli children, would anybody be surprised?"
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:31 PM on August 26 [12 favorites]


The Law trumps contract terms, every time.
posted by mikelieman at 2:31 PM on August 26


Oh, good, we've already moved to the Imperfect Analogy portion of the discussion.
posted by Etrigan at 2:32 PM on August 26 [20 favorites]


How does the First Amendment even apply here? Could he also sue for violating his Second Amendment rights if he was fired for bringing a rifle to campus?
posted by mullingitover at 2:32 PM on August 26


Really? This is one of the tweets: "At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised? #Gaza"

I don't agree with Salaita's views entirely, but I think it's pretty clear that he's making a suggestion about the character of a public politician which is not defamatory, doesn't entail an incitement to violence, and really isn't all that outrageous as far as clearly-rhetorical questions go. How can that be considered legitimate grounds for dismissal?
posted by clockzero at 2:34 PM on August 26 [7 favorites]


America: Does the First Amendment even apply here?
posted by el io at 2:35 PM on August 26 [13 favorites]


How can that be considered legitimate grounds for dismissal?

You can't logically understand an illogical act.
posted by mikelieman at 2:35 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


The very definition of academic freedom is the ability to put forth viewpoints that might be unpopular or inconvenient to the academy without fear of retribution

I think the "academic freedom" defense would hold up if he had actually signed a contract with the university. As he had not, the question becomes rather different. A university might be required to continue to employ a scholar who decides he wants to pursue scholarship into the area of, say, inherent racial superiority and inferiority; they obviously are not required to hire such a scholar. There is no "academic freedom" defense at the stage of hiring (you can reject a potential applicant for a job because you don't happen to like the particular flavor of their research--but after they've been hired they're free to evolve into exactly the kind of thing you were rejecting in their favor).
posted by yoink at 2:35 PM on August 26 [4 favorites]


(Also, yoink, have you seen what Netanyahu's been tweeting lately?)
posted by Sys Rq at 2:36 PM on August 26 [4 favorites]


I should add that this is a specific issue of not just academic freedom, but pro-Israel pressure against academics who speak out against Israel. Juan Cole wasn't fired, but his appointment to Yale was blocked by donors who did not like his views of Israel. The same happened to Norman Finkelstein. This does not happen with other issues.

And it works. Its effective. I wrote my MA thesis on the I/P conflict. I published and presented it. Never again. It was a pretty clear lesson that if I'm going to write about the I/P conflict, even if I'm exploring a pretty mundane and esoteric topic, I'm going to have to deal with a lot more shit than I already have to.

So back to studying WTO ratification and foreign direct investment for me.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:37 PM on August 26 [46 favorites]


yoink: “I think the ‘academic freedom’ defense would hold up if he had actually signed a contract with the university. As he had not, the question becomes rather different.”

You're completely ignoring the letter from Chancellor Phyllis Wise, which is frankly the locus of all this. Do you really agree with it? Do you really agree that any person who would "demean or abuse... viewpoints themselves" should never be hired, should perhaps even be dismissed?
posted by koeselitz at 2:37 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


Those things are not remotely analogous to anything he wrote.
His June 19 response to the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers - "You may be too refined to say it, but I'm not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing"
I mean, do we really think that he was under the impression that the three missing Israel teenagers were on a road trip or had decided just to leave Israel and settle in Poland or something?
posted by yoink at 2:38 PM on August 26 [11 favorites]


How does the First Amendment even apply here

Public universities are constrained by the Bill of Rights by way of the 14th Amendment. Public employees certainly have free speech rights, although there are some limitations on their exercise, defined in case law.
posted by suelac at 2:39 PM on August 26 [6 favorites]


I wrote my MA thesis on the I/P conflict. I published and presented it.

You are a gazillion times braver than I.
posted by mikelieman at 2:40 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


Follow the Money at the University of Illinois
Steven Salaita’s legal claim — a dissenting view
Chicago Tribune, August 14, 2014: Free speech and U. of I.'s Steven Salaita By Steven Lubet
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:41 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


not brave, just Pollyannaish. Not anymore!
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:42 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


Time for a reality check:

Universities receive a large portion of their capital income from alumni and donors. It varies from University to University, but in general there are a number of alumni or other donors who have massive leverage over the administration.

If you, as a professor, piss off these donors -- you're done. You are totally, completely done. There is no university in the entire world that is going to forgo a seven-figure donation so that you can mouth off about whatever you want.

That sucks for us free-spirited types, but it's also reality.

So, if you want to see this happen less in the future, you'll need to radically restructure how universities in the United States are funded and maintained. Barring that, there are going to always be some topics (such as I/P) in which you better agree with certain positions ("I") unless you want to take a very extended sabbatical.
posted by Avenger at 2:44 PM on August 26 [13 favorites]


Do you really agree that any person who would "demean or abuse... viewpoints themselves" should never be hired, should perhaps even be dismissed?

I think yoink has been crystal clear about the line he's drawing between your two "should"s there, and it's churlish to keep trying to stretch his argument across that line.
posted by Etrigan at 2:45 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


yoink: “I think the ‘academic freedom’ defense would hold up if he had actually signed a contract with the university. As he had not, the question becomes rather different. A university might be required to continue to employ a scholar who decides he wants to pursue scholarship into the area of, say, inherent racial superiority and inferiority; they obviously are not required to hire such a scholar. There is no ‘academic freedom’ defense at the stage of hiring (you can reject a potential applicant for a job because you don't happen to like the particular flavor of their research--but after they've been hired they're free to evolve into exactly the kind of thing you were rejecting in their favor).”

Another thing – this is not really how contracts work in the real world. He was led to believe that the job was assured; this arguably counts as a contract. Because he resigned his former position in expectation of the new one, he can clearly claim damages.

Or what is your position with regard to promissory estoppal?
posted by koeselitz at 2:45 PM on August 26 [13 favorites]


Etrigan: “I think yoink has been crystal clear about the line he's drawing between your two ‘should’s there, and it's churlish to keep trying to stretch his argument across that line.”

yoink has not been "crystal clear" about that at all. yoink has ignored the issue totally in this thread, focusing solely on the question of whether the university has a narrow legal right not to hire him. But what the university says about academic freedom is worth examining. That's what I was saying.
posted by koeselitz at 2:47 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


I'm very pro-academic-freedom. But he didn't have the job yet. This isn't a tough case. UIUC doesn't have to hire someone who says toxic things.

Having read many of the tweets: It seems Salaita isn't particularly anti-Semitic, but he definitely does not believe Israel should exist. That is a considerably more unpopular opinion than merely supporting Palestine.

Midwestern universities were basically the nexus of anti-Semitism in the US pre-WWII, and unfortunately that history persisted well into the 1990s. So you can understand why the board of trustees would be extremely sensitive to hiring anyone who might be perceived as anti-Semitic.
posted by miyabo at 2:49 PM on August 26 [4 favorites]


Do you really agree that any person who would "demean or abuse... viewpoints themselves" should never be hired, should perhaps even be dismissed?

I think any university would be inclined to consider the profile of anyone it hires who sets themselves up to be a public intellectual. And if that person's preferred mode of expression is like a 14 year old arguing on Fark I think that university has good reason not to offer that person a job.

If you hire a person and then they reveal hitherto 14-year-old-on-Fark tendencies you're probably stuck with them, but I don't see that you have any obligation to ignore their intemperate and ill-considered statements.

Again, it's disingenuous to pretend that this is simply because the guy is pro-Boycott or that he's pro-Palestinian. It's the unhinged nature of those public statements that was at issue.

All that said, the way the decision was arrived at was deeply unfortunate. Had it been the chair of the department making this decision (or even the Dean of the School) I think it would all have been uncontroversial (it would also never have become public). Once the guy had made it through those levels of review and consideration, however, I think it a very dangerous thing for the Chancellor to choose to overrule. I'm not saying that this is a cut-and-dried case. But her decision is also not a crazy one and it's not a case of infringement of academic freedom (or, to the extent that it is, it's the freedom of the department and the School to decide its own hiring, teaching and research agenda that is at stake--not the academic freedom of this individual guy).
posted by yoink at 2:49 PM on August 26 [6 favorites]


yoink: I mean, do we really think that he was under the impression that the three missing Israel teenagers were on a road trip or had decided just to leave Israel and settle in Poland or something?

No, of course not, but your analogies were still not just imperfect, but total distortions. Analogies are hard enough when they're apt, but when you inject your own spin on the content into them, they're toxic to having a good conversation.

The content of that tweet was absolutely eliminationist in its message, and the kind of thing that would and should absolutely land a professor in hot water. However, as noted in the FPP, the bar that must be met is "a faculty member's expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member's unfitness to serve." Technicalities about not being officially hired aside (since, by that definition, he would have been teaching classes and drawing a paycheck before he was ever officially hired) UIUC had no right to revoke the offer based on that tweet, as offensive and uncalled for as it was.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:50 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


Again, it's disingenuous to pretend that this is simply because the guy is pro-Boycott or that he's pro-Palestinian. It's the unhinged nature of those public statements that was at issue.

Oh bullshit.

Its because he's pro Palestinian. How many hirefires are there from people who make 'unhinged' comments? Are the donors who are pressuring the university operating from a fastidious application of the 'no unhinged tweets' principle?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:51 PM on August 26 [18 favorites]


miyabo: But he didn't have the job yet.

Would he have had the job when he began to teach classes three weeks later, given that the next opportunity for the board to meet to discuss his appointment wasn't for another month after that?
posted by tonycpsu at 2:51 PM on August 26 [7 favorites]


There is no "academic freedom" defense at the stage of hiring

I think whether he had already been hired is a big part of what's at issue.

Legally? I get it -- there's a formal loophole that says that everything is in the end subject to the whim of the Trustees. It seems quite plausible to me that what they're doing is legal.

I'm not really talking about legal, though. On purely legal grounds I guess we could say "OK, if he sold his house and resigned from his former position he's an idiot, because he didn't really have a job at Illinois, just a suggestion that he might at some point be getting a job at Illinois."

But if we're saying that, then we're saying that everyone who's accepted a job at the University of Illinois is an idiot. Because they are all, every last one of them, picking up and moving themselves and their families to Urbana without, on this account actually being employed there.

If I were at UIUC trying to hire other people, this would concern me. How can I tell a candidate that they should accept a tentative job offer from Illinois if they have an actual offer somewhere else?
posted by escabeche at 2:52 PM on August 26 [13 favorites]


koeselitz: "Or what is your position with regard to promissory estoppal?"

From the same article:
Academic freedom in private colleges and universities is entirely a matter of contract law, but state institutions—like the University of Illinois—are also bound by the First Amendment. And as the Supreme Court explained in the 1967 case of Keyishian v. Board of Regents, academic freedom is “a special concern of the First Amendment.”Whether the university violated the federal First Amendment by, in essence, punishing Salaita for his speech on a matter of public concern, should not simply depend on whether state contract law happens to recognize the doctrine of promissory estoppel.
posted by boo_radley at 2:54 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


"...a rhetorical shell game where a terrible argument that firing Salaita is consistent with academic freedom is paired with a terrible argument that he wasn't really fired (even though he would have been teaching for at least a month prior to receiving pro forma approval.) When the weaknesses of one become apparent, just shift back to the other."

Nailed it. Nobody in their right mind would give up a tenured position and move halfway across the country if they didn't think the employment was a guarantee, within reason. What would have happened if he had already begun teaching but had not been approved?

I'm not going to touch the first "terrible" argument because it is a grim reality that the circle of influence on university hiring is quite large. However, the sheer number of weird scholars with unpopular opinions out there makes me think the punishment really doesn't fit the crime on this one.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 2:55 PM on August 26 [16 favorites]


But he didn't have the job yet.

There's a long history of case law upholding a contract in an instance where nothing was signed by both parties, but where one of the parties relied upon the representations of the other to their own detriment. This is exactly the sort of situation where that sort of thing applies. Salaita was told he had the job, quit his previous job and moved halfway across the country. It was an entirely reasonable action on his part, based on the verbal or emailed assurances of the university that he had, in fact, been hired.

Besides, I'm quite sure he had a written job offer by this point: the academic hiring process is nothing if not burdened by administrative paperwork. What more was he supposed to have in hand before giving notice and moving?
posted by suelac at 2:55 PM on August 26 [12 favorites]


He was led to believe that the job was assured; this arguably counts as a contract. Because he resigned his former position in expectation of the new one, he can clearly claim damages.

He would have to be a bizarrely sheltered and naive academic indeed if he was entirely unaware that no contract is in place simply on the say-so of the department and the school. I mean, come on--every grad student on the job market for the first time knows that much. And I will happily bet you anything you like that every communication he received from the Chair about the job included language to the effect that it wasn't finalized until the contract was signed.

Or what is your position with regard to promissory estoppal?


That lawyers who are experts on the subject think he has a weak case?
posted by yoink at 2:55 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


I would also like to point out that the anonymous wealthy donor's political positions aren't being interrogated. Because that person doesn't have to justify himself.

Public universities need to be accountable to the public, not to anonymous donors with fat wallets and reactionary political attitudes.

This isn't even about academic freedom, really, to my mind. It's about who universities answer to.
posted by clockzero at 2:56 PM on August 26 [35 favorites]


yoink: “I think any university would be inclined to consider the profile of anyone it hires who sets themselves up to be a public intellectual. And if that person's preferred mode of expression is like a 14 year old arguing on Fark I think that university has good reason not to offer that person a job.”

That doesn't really answer the question. Isn't it clear that Chancellor Phyllis Wise is vastly out of line as far as she describes academic freedom as the University of Illinois? She actually claims that anyone who demeans a viewpoint should not be tolerated at the University.

That seems more than slightly ridiculous, doesn't it?

I am not really concerned about Salaita. I agree that he should not have been hired, though the University was almighty foolish in handling it this way. But Wise has been making big statements about academic freedom for the past year and a half, and following them is important; they set a precedent for the future. And the way things are going, they are setting a bad precedent.
posted by koeselitz at 2:57 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


[In order for this thread to continue, it needs to avoid turning into a general brangle about Israel. Thanks! ]
posted by restless_nomad at 2:57 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


The news is reporting this as a "rescinded job offer" not a "termination," so I have to believe that his employment had not formally begun.

At least at my job, the steps were like this: 1) I accepted the job offer 2) I showed up for the first day of work 3) I got my first paycheck 2 weeks later 4) my appointment was officially approved by the board of directors (at the end of the following quarter). I believe his offer was rescinded between steps 1 and 2. (Is this right?)
posted by miyabo at 2:59 PM on August 26


Setting aside the controversial tweets: from what I understand, this type of action (refusing to present the appointment to the Board of Trustees after the new hire has resigned his prior position and moved across the country) is unprecedented, and uproots the standard hiring process for universities. As idiotic as it seems to make a massive career move without a contract in place, it seems that this is the SOP for hiring of tenure-track faculty. Were I established faculty that UIUC were recruiting, or a new faculty member fresh from a post-doc, I would demand to have that contract in hand prior to making any moves. It undermines all trust in their hiring process. It reminds me of the firing of the UVa President.
posted by Existential Dread at 3:00 PM on August 26 [9 favorites]


yoink has ignored the issue totally in this thread, focusing solely on the question of whether the university has a narrow legal right not to hire him.

That is precisely the difference between your two "should"s, though, and yoink has quite clearly stated that dismissal is an entirely different argument.
posted by Etrigan at 3:01 PM on August 26


miyabo: The news is reporting this as a "rescinded job offer" not a "termination," so I have to believe that his employment had not formally begun.

The news reports a lot of bullshit things. You really can't transport logic from outside of academia, so your hypothetical example doesn't work. What happened here is laid out in detail in the FPP -- Salaita was offered the job and accepted it, the hiring was publicly announced, and he was scheduled to begin classes. The earliest the board could have met to say "no" was a month after he started teaching classes. By this time, UIUC would have provided him with health benefits, sent him paychecks, enrolled him in a retirement plan, etc. That sure sounds like being hired to me.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:02 PM on August 26 [11 favorites]


I don't understand how someone with no previous academic experience in American Indian Studies ends up with a tenure track position in that field. He has published 8 books and none of them had anything to do with Native American Culture or History.
posted by humanfont at 3:02 PM on August 26 [8 favorites]


Etrigan: “That is precisely the difference between your two ‘should"s, though, and yoink has quite clearly stated that dismissal is an entirely different argument.”

Dismissal is the essential problem of this argument, because Phyllis Wise literally says they will dismiss anyone who does what Salaita did.
posted by koeselitz at 3:05 PM on August 26 [5 favorites]


The content of that tweet was absolutely eliminationist in its message

If you agree with that, how on earth are my hypothetical anti-Palestinian or anti-black tweets "distortions"? It would appear simply that you aren't much bothered by appeals to "kill all the West bank settlers" and are bothered by appeals to "kill all the Palestinians"--which was pretty much my point.

Technicalities about not being officially hired aside


But you can't just waive this aside as a "technicality"--that's just begging the question. It's clearly not a simple issue--highly qualified, experienced lawyers who are specialists in the area disagree about it. And continuing to harp on "well, would he have been hired if he'd taught for three weeks..." is rather silly given that he didn't.

I'd agree that the university's legal position would be a lot shakier if he had, in fact, been allowed to come to campus and start teaching classes. But he wasn't. So it's simply not relevant.

And anyone in this thread talking about "verbal contracts" and so forth, if you're not yourselves academics you're almost certainly misunderstanding the context. It is absolutely standard in academia for a "job offer" to come from the chair of the department you've applied to (and from the Dean of the school in which that department resides) well before the formal contract is finalized and signed. And it is absolutely standard to receive a ton of warnings about how the offer is, of course, conditional upon the approval of the Chancellor and the Board. So unless you are saying that every single case (and while they're rare, they really are not unheard of) of a Chancellor and the Board overturning a hire is a "promissory estoppal" then you really need something more striking to adduce to explain why this particular case is so "obviously" one where the contract had gone into effect de facto when it hadn't de jure.
posted by yoink at 3:06 PM on August 26 [6 favorites]


Dismissal is the essential problem of this argument, because Phyllis Wise literally says they will dismiss anyone who does what Salaita did.

Only if you ignore the meaning of "literally" and "dismiss." In other words, no, she doesn't say that, and it's kinda silly to pretend she does. If you think the facts of the case are outrageous then you should be able to base your case on those outrageous facts; you shouldn't have to make things up.
posted by yoink at 3:08 PM on August 26


yoink: “Only if you ignore the meaning of ‘literally’ and ‘dismiss.’ In other words, no, she doesn't say that, and it's kinda silly to pretend she does. If you think the facts of the case are outrageous then you should be able to base your case on those outrageous facts; you shouldn't have to make things up.”

How in the world do you read "we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois"?
posted by koeselitz at 3:09 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


On the legality question, among other things it'll be interesting to find out whether "you're hired contingent on the approval of the Board" can actually mean "P.S. I've decided not to forward your hiring to the Board." I've seen lawyers analyzing the case saying UIUC is in breach on that question alone.
posted by gerryblog at 3:10 PM on August 26 [7 favorites]


It is absolutely standard in academia for a "job offer" to come from the chair of the department you've applied to (and from the Dean of the school in which that department resides) well before the formal contract is finalized and signed. And it is absolutely standard to receive a ton of warnings about how the offer is, of course, conditional upon the approval of the Chancellor and the Board.

So this is what I'm trying to get -- do you really think every professor who accepts a senior offer and moves is a total idiot?

Because I was curious I went back and looked at an old offer letter I got for a senior position. I won't name the school since the letter is presumably confidential, but it's also a state university. The letter contains the following language.

"This appointment is subject to final approval by the Regents of the University, but we know of no case in which final approval has not been accorded an endorsed offer."

UIUC can no longer say that in their offer letters. I can't see how that's a good thing for UIUC.
posted by escabeche at 3:10 PM on August 26 [39 favorites]


Or to put a fine point on it -- do you think I would have been an idiot had I accepted that offer?
posted by escabeche at 3:11 PM on August 26 [4 favorites]


As far the "not hired" dodge, this is one of the most intellectually dishonest things I've ever seen a professor say, and would essentially make academic hiring impossible if anyone were to take it seriously. Classes were about to start. He'd moved across the country. How is any university supposed to hire anybody, ever, if the ink isn't REALLY dry until a month after classes start?
posted by gerryblog at 3:12 PM on August 26 [19 favorites]


How in the world do you read "we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois"?

As a rather vague and sloppy statement in a letter about this one particular decision, and not as a brand new official policy statement about how they're going to start weeding the ranks of the faculty? You know--sensibly.

What it quite clearly is not is "explicit" in any way at all and it involves no mention of "dismissal" whatsoever. So to claim that it is an "explicit" threat to "dismiss" people on the grounds of their beliefs is quite self-evidently false.
posted by yoink at 3:13 PM on August 26


yoink: If you agree with that, how on earth are my hypothetical anti-Palestinian or anti-black tweets "distortions"?

Because there is a semantic difference between going missing and being killed, and I think it's wrong to use an analogy to make explicit what is implicit. You and I know what he meant, but your analogy is a distortion of what he said.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:13 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


UIUC can no longer say that in their offer letters. I can't see how that's a good thing for UIUC.

I doubt UIUC gives a shit. Given the state of academic hiring, all the power is on the side of the insitutions.

Or to put a fine point on it -- do you think I would have been an idiot had I accepted that offer?

No, but "not an idiot to believe" is not the same as "100% guaranteed".
posted by fatbird at 3:13 PM on August 26


UIUC can no longer say that in their offer letters. I can't see how that's a good thing for UIUC.

I doubt UIUC gives a shit. Given the state of academic hiring, all the power is on the side of the insitutions.


U Mass Dartmouth just paid out a million dollars over improper process on a tenure case, not counting legal expenses; what is UIUC going to have to pay to Salaita after completely destroying his life over this nonsense? He'll have to wait a bit, but he's pretty likely to win his lawsuit.
posted by gerryblog at 3:18 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


So this is what I'm trying to get -- do you really think every professor who accepts a senior offer and moves is a total idiot?

No, because the chances of the decision being overturned are low. But whether or not he would be an "idiot" to move across the country is not the issue here. The issue is whether or not the very sentence you quote from your letter has any meaning at all: "This appointment is subject to final approval by the Regents of the University." Are you saying that when you read that you thought "oh, that claim is meaningless, and if, in fact, the Regents refuse to endorse this contract, I'll sue"? You had good statistical grounds for assuming that the contract would be forthcoming and acting accordingly. That doesn't mean, however, that you had any legal grounds for insisting that the hire had, in fact, gone through and that the contract was, in fact, already in force. I have never heard anyone in academia anywhere make such a claim. I have heard many talk anxiously along the lines of "geez, I've already hired this apartment, I sure hope that contract comes through soon." It simply is not the case that higher level review is usually regarded as meaningless; it may be regarded as highly unlikely to be negative, but that is not the same thing as being regarded as pro forma.

I regard a plane I board as highly unlikely to crash, but that does not mean that I regard plane crashes as unreal or impossible. The fact that I consider plane crashes as a real possibility does not mean, by the same token, that I regard people willing to take a trip on a plane as "total idiots."
posted by yoink at 3:21 PM on August 26 [5 favorites]


I will bet his life is not destroyed, and that in fact the controversy leads to him getting a job elsewhere.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:21 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


yoink: “As a rather vague and sloppy statement in a letter about this one particular decision, and not as a brand new official policy statement about how they're going to start weeding the ranks of the faculty? You know--sensibly. What it quite clearly is not is ‘explicit’ in any way at all and it involves no mention of ‘dismissal’ whatsoever. So to claim that it is an ‘explicit’ threat to ‘dismiss’ people on the grounds of their beliefs is quite self-evidently false.”

It is not explicit – which is why I said, "literally," not "explicitly" – that is literally what it says: that they "will not tolerate" such demeaning.

And I agree that it's vague and sloppy. I agree that the sensible reading of the letter is that she's just talking about hiring standards. But – well, you keep talking about how, if anybody is familiar with academia, they know that offer letters are not the same as contracts; on the same token, you have to know that the last thing academics are wise to do is read any letter from their chancellor that seems to be vaguely threatening dismissal sensibly and assume she didn't mean any harm. Academia is not sensible, and for that reason this stuff needs to be spelled out carefully and correctly.

I would not be surprised if the faculty of the University of Illinois is ever so slightly concerned to read this ridiculous letter from the Chancellor. All she had to say was that he was basically wishing death on people. She went a lot farther than she had to, for no apparent reason beyond her inability to communicate clearly. I've seen too many people dismissed for silly reasons not to be at least a little worried at hearing things like that.
posted by koeselitz at 3:21 PM on August 26


what is UIUC going to have to pay to Salaita after completely destroying his life over this nonsense[?]

My response was to the narrower point about UIUC being unable to say "never not approved" in their offer letters. I suspect Salaita has a good case, but I think it's not a slam dunk at all.
posted by fatbird at 3:22 PM on August 26


do you really think every professor who accepts a senior offer and moves is a total idiot?

Not a total idiot, but perhaps a cock-eyed optimist.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 3:23 PM on August 26


I agree that the sensible reading of the letter is that she's just talking about hiring standards.

Quite.
posted by yoink at 3:25 PM on August 26


I suspect Salaita has a good case, but I think it's not a slam dunk at all.

Well, as I was saying about, I tend to agree with those who say that refusing to forward the offer to the Board at all is probably a breach of contract on its face. Salaita was hired pending approval of the Board, but the Board never got the document... Looks like a slam dunk to me.
posted by gerryblog at 3:29 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


And I will happily bet you anything you like that every communication he received from the Chair about the job included language to the effect that it wasn't finalized until the contract was signed.

If the formal and notionally-binding offer letter he received and signed looked like this standard UIUC one, then it did indeed say that the offer was contingent on approval by the trustees.

Note, though, that the standard letter doesn't say that the offer is contingent on the approval of the university president, who was the one who actually nixed it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:30 PM on August 26 [5 favorites]


escabeche: “So this is what I'm trying to get -- do you really think every professor who accepts a senior offer and moves is a total idiot?”

Well – to be totally fair, I think the idiot would be the professor who accepts a senior offer and moves and then posts a bunch of ridiculously inflammatory tweets before his position has been formally approved by the board.
posted by koeselitz at 3:31 PM on August 26 [5 favorites]


yoink: “Quite.”

You don't know anything about academia if you expect sensible letters from Chancellors.
posted by koeselitz at 3:31 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


Putting the “Trust” Back in Trustee: The Role of the Trustee in College Governance
If change is to occur – as it must – as American colleges and universities adapt to the dramatic shifts affecting them in the 21st Century, it will happen only if trustees, faculty, and staff approach each other as equals. Name calling under the guise of ideology or politics only causes the offended parties to dig in their heels deeper.
posted by audi alteram partem at 3:33 PM on August 26


If I was less of a coward and more advanced in my career I would sign the petition to boycott the university.

This pretty much sums up the entire debate. They pulled the rug out from under Salaita, and this is what universities do.

Respectfully, "You may be too refined to say it, but I'm not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing" is a pretty awful thing to say. Nobody wants to go to bat for a dipshit like that teaching kids on campus.
posted by phaedon at 3:34 PM on August 26 [5 favorites]


yoink: Oh, FFS.

Such a trenchant response! However, if you're trying to laugh me off the stage for suggesting that what people say actually matters as much as what we think they mean, I'm afraid I'm not fazed.

A tweet is a snapshot in time of what someone is feeling at the time, not any reasonabe proxy for what they generally believe. It's clear that a tweet like that one doesn't come from a place of reasoned concern or compassion, but your transformation of it from a generic sentiment of wishing the settlers would "go missing" into a desire to replicate specific high-profile killings is at the very least harmful to the discussion, and in my opinion, actively attaches your own interpretation of what you think he meant to your analogy of what he actually said.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:40 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


I mean, come on--every grad student on the job market for the first time knows that much.

I am 99% sure that this is empirically false. Care to place some money on it?

Also, yoink, I think you're ignoring the First Amendment case here, which applies even if there is no contract, provided that Salaita can show (which seems really easy at this point) that the reason he was not hired was because of his saying something politically controversial or because of his saying something in a controversial way. If UIUC were private, there would be no First Amendment issue, but there is in this case since UIUC is public.

Only if you ignore the meaning of "literally" and "dismiss." In other words, no, she doesn't say that, and it's kinda silly to pretend she does.

As a professor at UIUC, I'm not entirely sure that she means to say that even tenured professors could be dismissed owing to uncivil language, but I am worried enough that I have been censoring my own speech ... and we're only two days into the new semester.

I doubt UIUC gives a shit. Given the state of academic hiring, all the power is on the side of the insitutions.

This might be true for junior hires, though I suspect it will affect our ability to hire the best possible junior people. For example, if I were fresh out of grad school and had two offers -- one from UIUC and one from some comparable school at a slightly lower salary -- I can tell you for sure I would take the slightly lower salary and go to the non-UIUC school. Given that two years ago, several of the junior people we were trying to hire had multiple offers, I think this is not an unlikely scenario at all.

But the more serious concern for UIUC is senior hires. If you already have a job and are looking to move up in the academic world, are you going to come to UIUC under these circumstances? I think the answer to that is pretty clearly no.

I know that right now, I am planning to be back on the job market looking to get out. I would have added an intensifier there, but you know, civility.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 3:40 PM on August 26 [36 favorites]


When I took my current job---which required moving 4000 miles across the country---I did so on the strength of an offer letter dated in May signed by the dean of the college my department's in.

I did not receive the formal offer letter dated July 1 (featuring "Under the appointment authority of [the system president], and with the concurrence of [the chancellor] and [the provost], I am pleased to offer you the following position with [my current university]...") until i arrived on campus in August, having put my house on the market, etc.

It makes me sick just thinking about the letter Salaita received.

I'm sure UIUC had already paid his relocation expenses. Wonder how that's going to work.
posted by leahwrenn at 3:43 PM on August 26 [14 favorites]


The bottom line here is that any public figure who takes an impolite stance against Israel is taking a massive risk. I think that is a terrible state of affairs. First amendment issues aside, I do not believe that the tweets here are so far outside the realm of acceptable discourse that they should interfere with an academic's livelihood.

Leave the squabbling about the technicalities of employment law to the lawyers.
posted by leopard at 3:46 PM on August 26 [10 favorites]


I agree that the sensible reading of the letter is that she's just talking about hiring standards.

I don't agree at all. Chancellor Wise wrote:
What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them. We have a particular duty to our students to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals.

As chancellor, it is my responsibility to ensure that all perspectives are welcome and that our discourse, regardless of subject matter or viewpoint, allows new concepts and differing points of view to be discussed in and outside the classroom in a scholarly, civil and productive manner.

A Jewish student, a Palestinian student, or any student of any faith or background must feel confident that personal views can be expressed and that philosophical disagreements with a faculty member can be debated in a civil, thoughtful and mutually respectful manner. Most important, every student must know that every instructor recognizes and values that student as a human being. If we have lost that, we have lost much more than our standing as a world-class institution of higher education.

As a member of the faculty, I firmly believe that a tenured faculty position at the University of Illinois is a tremendous honor and a unique privilege. Tenure also brings with it a heavy responsibility to continue the traditions of scholarship and civility upon which our university is built.
I don't see anything limiting these announced principles to hiring decisions. She applies standards to "every instructor" and a generic "faculty member" without differentiating between tenured and non-tenured faculty. If anything, the statement that "Tenure also brings with it a heavy responsibility to continue the traditions of scholarship and civility upon which our university is built" seems to me to be aimed directly at tenured faculty - the only people who bear this heavy responsibility.
posted by burden at 3:51 PM on August 26 [8 favorites]


Following up a bit on whether the Chancellor's remarks apply to professors already at UIUC, I think it is important to look toward the end of the letter, where she writes:
As a member of the faculty, I firmly believe that a tenured faculty position at the University of Illinois is a tremendous honor and a unique privilege. Tenure also brings with it a heavy responsibility to continue the traditions of scholarship and civility upon which our university is built.
I think this could be read in a couple of different ways, but as I read it, she is implicating two things: (1) that promotions at UIUC will take civility into consideration, and (2) that since civility is now supposed to be a responsibility that comes with tenure, failing to be civil is, in the Chancellor's view, cause to dismiss tenured professors.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 3:55 PM on August 26 [6 favorites]


I don't think the first amendment will cover gross douchbaggery in this case. When a public entity is acting as employer, it can take into account whether said douchebaggery will impact public perception of the employer's objectivity.
posted by jpe at 3:57 PM on August 26


The simplest -- and right, in my opinion -- solution is for UIUC to lose the case on basis of promissory estoppel, because no corporate entity should tender an offer that it reserves the right to reverse later because mumble mumble mumble it's an offer but not REALLY an offer of employment, its provisional. For reasons.

Before the offer is made, all relevant authorities should approve an appointment.
posted by chimaera at 3:58 PM on August 26 [4 favorites]


The bottom line here is that any public figure who takes an impolite stance against Israel is taking a massive risk.

In academia? I was under the impression that anti-Israel on campus was pretty mainstream. Not so? Anyway, I see that he's writing along these lines for years. Just with less swearing. A little higher in tone. As befits a professional.

A tweet is a snapshot in time of what someone is feeling at the time, not any reasonabe proxy for what they generally believe.

Good reason for excitable people never to use twitter.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:59 PM on August 26 [7 favorites]


I doubt UIUC gives a shit. Given the state of academic hiring, all the power is on the side of the insitutions.

This has been said before, but here's a case where Rice snapped up three big-name tenured professors from UCSD. Rice has subsequently been killing it on the research front in STEM, largely because they offer very competitive salaries, lab space, and research amenities to their faculty. UIUC has a very strong reputation in my area of expertise, chemistry, with folks like Suslick and Girolami. If their hiring practices discourage star faculty from considering them as a viable destination, then their research output and their very reputation will take a huge hit.
posted by Existential Dread at 4:01 PM on August 26 [5 favorites]


In a different direction, I can tell you that the philosophy department at UIUC is already having problems with its upcoming colloquium schedule. We have had a couple of people cancel already, and I expect more to cancel soon. In connection with one of the cancellations -- and because of others taking up the boycott -- a conference I was planning to run in December is not going to happen.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 4:02 PM on August 26 [6 favorites]


IndigoJones: In academia? I was under the impression that anti-Israel on campus was pretty mainstream. Not so?

Without knowing what you mean by anti-Israel, this is a meaningless statement, and linking to a Google search for "anti israel academia" isn't going to cut it as any kind of factual support for that position.
posted by tonycpsu at 4:02 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


The simplest -- and right, in my opinion -- solution is for UIUC to lose the case on basis of promissory estoppel, because no corporate entity should tender an offer that it reserves the right to reverse later

The first thing you learn in 1L contracts is that promissory estoppel doesn't really exist.
posted by jpe at 4:22 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


I'm curious, if someone says that Bush or Obama is a war criminal in a tweet, does that person deserve to be fired from their job? What if you add in some colorful language?

To me, if you're a powerful political figure making decisions about life and death, you should be able to handle some impolite tweets. It kind of goes with the territory of having the power to order the deaths of human beings.
posted by leopard at 4:23 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


This isn't about whether a firing is a deserved, it's about whether an expressly non-binding offer can be retracted.
posted by jpe at 4:27 PM on August 26


"academic freedom" as an actual living philosophy was killed decades ago by publish or perish, privatization (and host of other pressures) e.g.:
If I was less of a coward and more advanced in my career I would sign the petition to boycott the university. I'll just do it passively.
academics are subject to so many professional, political, and financial pressures that there's little actually at stake here other than the professorial class's idea of themselves. professors are also notably reluctant to risk anything when anyone else in the academic leviathan gets screwed so... here come the tiny violins.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:27 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


Jpe, really? I didn't realize we were attorneys in a court of law tasked with deciding a narrowly defined issue.
posted by leopard at 4:29 PM on August 26


This isn't about whether a firing is a deserved, it's about whether an expressly non-binding offer can be retracted.

As many have pointed out in this thread, the "expressly non-binding" nature of the offer is routinely ignored in academia, where people use the job offer -- despite it clearly stating that it's contingent on blah blah blah -- as a reason to move to a new school and actually start teaching before getting the final approval.
posted by Etrigan at 4:31 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


Good reason for excitable people never to use twitter.

As an academic, my takeaway from this is don't use twitter.
posted by leahwrenn at 4:33 PM on August 26 [10 favorites]


The university's actions may be narrowly legal, but they are certainly harmful to common practice in academic hiring. They could also have far-reaching negative repercussions for the academic job market if this tactic ends up being sanctioned by the courts.
posted by anifinder at 4:34 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


I think Saliata will have a hard time finding another tenure track position in the humanities. There are very few of these positions open at any given time and competition is intense. What dean or department chair is going to want that headache.
posted by humanfont at 4:41 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


I didn't realize we were attorneys in a court of law tasked with deciding a narrowly defined is

It's pretty much a legal question at this point, I thought.
posted by jpe at 4:41 PM on August 26


Lots of issues to discuss here, as the wider discussion linked in the FPP indicates, including contested approaches to teaching and scholarship in the US and the financial and governance troubles public higher education institutions have faced for decades.
posted by audi alteram partem at 4:42 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


Shut down Twitter. None of it can come to any good.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:42 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


I mean seriously has there ever been a story PERSON IN PROMINENT POSITION IMPROVES THEIR LIFE THROUGH BLURTING OUT THEIR IMMEDIATE REACTIONS TO THE ENTIRE WORLD
posted by Sebmojo at 4:43 PM on August 26 [13 favorites]


Public universities need to be accountable to the public, not to anonymous donors with fat wallets and reactionary political attitudes.

This isn't even about academic freedom, really, to my mind. It's about who universities answer to.
posted by clockzero


I agree strongly with this perspective. There is a public, of course, for pro-Israel ideology. It's disproportionately powerful in state legislatures and governor's offices, perhaps especially in the Midwest. Chancellors and trustees in part answer to those interests. This goes back to other issues, especially civil rights and anti-war politics.

But lately there are powerful private interests not only behind those politicians, from whom university regents and trustees and presidents and chancellors are a buffer, but directly in the offices of the university. We are witnessing the sort of disciplinary spectacle that will become characteristic of the "public" university system in coming years (it really already is, it's just coming for tenured faculty directly now). The tenure system will hold in at elite private universities but blink out elsewhere.

We are all working for people who go to Davos every year now. So shut up about freedom, dorks, is the message from the muscle boys.
posted by spitbull at 4:45 PM on August 26 [8 favorites]


I mean seriously has there ever been a story PERSON IN PROMINENT POSITION IMPROVES THEIR LIFE THROUGH BLURTING OUT THEIR IMMEDIATE REACTIONS TO THE ENTIRE WORLD

Chauncey Gardiner.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:53 PM on August 26 [8 favorites]


I doubt UIUC gives a shit. Given the state of academic hiring, all the power is on the side of the institutions.

Not when it comes to trying to lure senior professors away from some other institution. They may have some difficulty persuading anyone to quit their current position with just a provisional offer.
posted by straight at 4:54 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


If this case hinges on whether or not a formality is actually meaningful, doesn't that just force universities to re-order their paperwork? Instead of "approval has never been witheld," they'll have to organize the process so the offer letter can say "approval was obtained on X date". They just won't be able schedule the vote as a leisurely rubber stamping.
posted by fatbird at 5:00 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


They could also have far-reaching negative repercussions for the academic job market

They could, but is it likely they will? If UIUC's reaction was extreme, so was its stimulus. I'm not an expert on academic hiring and I'd defer to someone who is, but I'd be surprised to learn that in six or twelve months many academics are looking back at this circumstance with anxiety that it might happen to them.

I think Saliata will have a hard time finding another tenure track position in the humanities.

I would think so, too. His tweets tie the bow; but I couldn't help laughing when I saw one article quote him as having responded to criticism by saying, "The first rule for any serious writer is to agitate the contentious and embrace the disreputable," which is the kind of insight you expect from a seventh-grader learning about punk rock. Whatever anyone's beliefs about academic freedom, I doubt anyone feels UIUC is losing a great mind.

The first thing you learn in 1L contracts is that promissory estoppel doesn't really exist.

You also learn about efficient breach.
posted by cribcage at 5:02 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


You might want to ask yourselves how you'd feel about this decision if the tweets in question had been, say, in response to the revenge killing of that Palestinian teen and he'd tweeted "Don't you just wish all the Palestinians could be killed that way?" Or if he'd been tweeting about Michael Brown and said "that's the way the cops should deal with all that scum"? Would you still be so convinced that academic freedom prevails regardless?

It did.
posted by PMdixon at 5:05 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


"Wouldn't you be a giant hypocrite about this issue if the shoe was on the other foot?" is a pretty disingenuous question. Call people out on their hyoocrisy, don't coyly presume it and ask them to defend themselves against hypothetical accusations. As for this issue, there are a lot of conservative professors out there, the one who comes to mind as being targeted by liberals is John Yoo but he wasn't targeted for his tone.
posted by leopard at 5:12 PM on August 26 [7 favorites]


Good reason for excitable people never to use twitter.

As an academic, my takeaway from this is don't use twitter.


I'm sure there's wisdom to this, but I'm getting really tired of the public's reactions to controversy being "don't put yourself in a situation that might possibly be regarded as controversial, ever" whether it's being dumb on the internet, or having a Facebook photo of yourself drinking a beer, or being black and doing anything a white person might find threatening.

I'm of the opinion that many of the powers-that-be are very eager to frame compliance as "common sense" or "civility" and anything that isn't compliance as a personal lapse of judgment.
posted by daisystomper at 5:16 PM on August 26 [52 favorites]


If this case hinges on whether or not a formality is actually meaningful, doesn't that just force universities to re-order their paperwork?

It also delays when new hires start teaching by another year, so people you searched for in fall of 2014 won't show up and start teaching until fall 2016. And of course that's a year for other departments to poach them out from under you, and you can hardly complain since your university is insisting that it hasn't made an offer until the trustees eventually sign off.

It would be easy to say that the university should just get its ducks in a row and get it done, but where final decisions lie with boards of trustees, that's hard. Trustees aren't really part of the university and don't work at the university. They're a band of outsiders who meet a few times a year to vote on stuff. Typically a collection of business types, donors, or other assorted low grade muckamucks the governor wanted to make feel important and possibly chuck a little pay at.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:17 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


Also, if we want to play barroom lawyer: The contract said it was at the discretion of the trustees. It didn't say anything about the discretion of Phylis Wise in bringing his appointment to the trustees.
posted by PMdixon at 5:21 PM on August 26 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure who the hell the U of I thinks it's going to hire in as an associate or full professor of American Indian Studies who isn't every bit as outspoken (one way or another) as Salaita when it comes to post-colonial worldview and focus on massively subverting the mainstream discourse. It's kind of the job description of a cultural studies teacher and scholar. What do you think they do in that department, Chancellor Wise, sit around all day talking about how Custer was just misunderstood?
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:38 PM on August 26 [26 favorites]


I haven't experienced it myself, but several close friends have gone through academic hiring, and yes, it's a multi-year process that most often seems run by people totally uninterested in getting their ducks in a row. So another duck to be lined up seems like small potatoes to me, when it's a most often a clownshow anyway.

As a practical matter, either UIUC will continue to say that their trustees have never rejected a candidate (which will be true because he wasn't submitted for their consideration), or hiring parties will arrange provisional assent from the trustees. Most corporate hiring includes probationary periods that can see someone move across the country only to be fired within 90 days of starting.
posted by fatbird at 5:39 PM on August 26


Most corporate hiring includes probationary periods that can see someone move across the country only to be fired within 90 days of starting.

Yes, and that's a shitty thing, not an ideal to be matched.
posted by PMdixon at 5:46 PM on August 26 [7 favorites]


But whether or not he would be an "idiot" to move across the country is not the issue here.

It's the issue I was talking about -- doesn't mean everybody else has to talk about it!


The issue is whether or not the very sentence you quote from your letter has any meaning at all: "This appointment is subject to final approval by the Regents of the University." Are you saying that when you read that you thought "oh, that claim is meaningless, and if, in fact, the Regents refuse to endorse this contract, I'll sue"?

I would have said -- and did indeed say -- "oh, that claim is meaningless, I can start making commitments based on the fact that I have this job, and if, in fact, the Regents refuse to endorse this contract, it would be a huge fiasco for the university and the department." But suing? I doubt it. As I said, I'm thinking not about whether UIUC legally can get rid of Salaita -- I'm not a lawyer, I have no idea -- but whether it's a good idea for them to do so, which is a totally different question.

I regard a plane I board as highly unlikely to crash, but that does not mean that I regard plane crashes as unreal or impossible. The fact that I consider plane crashes as a real possibility does not mean, by the same token, that I regard people willing to take a trip on a plane as "total idiots."

Very true. But at the same time, you know what happens when an airline experiences a plane crash? People don't want to fly on that airline for a while afterwards. If you ran an airline, it would be really bad policy to let a plane crash if you had other options.
posted by escabeche at 5:58 PM on August 26 [8 favorites]


What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them. We have a particular duty to our students to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals.

Obviously a different school with different ways of doing things and guidelines, but Harvard seems fine with one of its law professors who says things like:

* Stephen Hawking is an ignoramus and a lemming

* "I am not opposed to students sponsoring an event like this [a BDS event]. Students have the right to be foolish and damn fools and immoral" regarding an event he called a "hate orgy."

* "The Goldstone report is a defamation written by an evil, evil man."

* "Jimmy Carter has now become an all-out cheerleader for Hamas" and "Jimmy Carter wants the United States and the European community to recognize Hamas, to legitimate it. It's against the law in the United States, even if you're a former president, it's against the law to provide material support to a listed terrorist organization and Jimmy Carter's coming awfully close to that line."

* Attempted to block the book publication of another professor and sent threatening letters to the publisher of the book, then asked the governor (Schwarzenegger) to intervene--actions that may have affected the tenuring decision for the other professor despite departmental recommendation for tenure *

Genuine question: Would these words be actionable under the new UIUC policy/framework? It seems to me that it's pretty hard to adjudicate these things--people get upset about contentious issues and so nasty stuff comes out. But certainly if students at UIUC would be upset by a professor like Salaita, then some at Harvard could feel uncomfortable with the speaker of these words.
posted by faux ami at 6:07 PM on August 26 [7 favorites]


Tangential to this particular case, but are there historical reasons for trustees not approving hires until they've already moved across the country and held the job for a month? If it's usually a rubber-stamp process, surely it wouldn't be that difficult to move one of the occasional meetings a few months ahead, even if they're all very important captains of industry and so on. Or is the system actually intended as a loophole to be used like this?
posted by No-sword at 6:11 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


No-sword: Or is the system actually intended as a loophole to be used like this?

That's a damned good question, and this is an angle I wish I'd focused more on in the post. The offer was extended in January, and the firing/un-hiring happened in August. What could possibly justify that kind of delay?
posted by tonycpsu at 6:14 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


That's a damned good question, and this is an angle I wish I'd focused more on in the post. The offer was extended in January, and the firing/un-hiring happened in August. What could possibly justify that kind of delay?

I would have guessed that it's because the trustees only vote on appointments a couple of times a year and they just hadn't gotten around to it yet, but it looks like they voted on a bunch back in May.

They meet every other month.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:25 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


Even if the job was 10 minutes away from where I live now, if I had given up my tenure to take this position only to have these bastards do the G.E. Handshake on me, I would be saying things way, way worse than the stuff in those tweets to basically anyone who'd listen. The fact that he's a member of the same minority ethnic group as the subject people he's tweeting about makes the intent-to-muzzle and the fact that the scandal has made him an un-academically-employable blackballed pariah extra chilling and offensive to me.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:29 PM on August 26 [5 favorites]


As an academic, my takeaway from this is don't use twitter.

Close! But not quite complete: "Don't use Twitter to wish that an entire class of people would be murdered" is more apt.

(that, btw, is the difference between this and the tweets above. It's generally understood that one can say anything about individual politicians and public figures. But when you call for the slaughter of a class of people, you start to make folks uncomfortable, and not in that silly cultural-studies-prof way)
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:36 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


I would have guessed that it's because the trustees only vote on appointments a couple of times a year and they just hadn't gotten around to it yet, but it looks like they voted on a bunch back in May.

Even if the May thing weren't the case, though, doesn't it seem kind of nuts that no-one in the system is going "Hey, maybe we should decide whether we want people working for us before they actually start working for us"? I get that this is just how academia works but I'm wondering what lies behind this way of doing things, since it's unlike any other workplace (it may be functionally equivalent to a probationary period as pointed out above, but if that's how it's supposed to be perceived, why isn't it framed that way?)
posted by No-sword at 6:37 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


1. I don't one way or the other. The guy seems a fool, but if the dept wants him, so be it. The Chancellor, legally it seems, has the right to do what he has done
2. The prof, I have learned from one in the field, has a very questionable scholarship record, writing a book that, I was told, filled with falsehoods...but that is not the issue here at this juncture.
3. the faculty is feckless and has done nothing discernible about this issue other than letters etc... but that seems the nature of academics, afraid to unionize and go on strike. Instead they count on outsiders sending in protests.
4. I am Jewish, very pro Israel, and fully aware that lots of anti-Israeli folks say things that in most cases matter not at all but that in this instance the remarks seem to have harmed the guy. For that, I am still a believer that a dept should grant tenure to those they deem worthy of it...and not an administrator holding a club over the head of a teacher and a dept.
5. That said, though I am also aware that in some instances a dept will get to know a colleague and decide to take him into the club--the dept--because they like him or feel sorry for him or for whatever reason.
6. Been there. Done that. Went on active strikes three separate times at a university for rights I believed the Board and the administration were denying faculty..that is why I left academia when scabs brought in.
7. The nation will endure, as messy as this seems
posted by Postroad at 6:39 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


The prof, I have learned from one in the field, has a very questionable scholarship record, writing a book that, I was told, filled with falsehoods...but that is not the issue here at this juncture.

Which one? The Beyond Dominant Paradigms series that he published in is an idiosyncratic but very respected series.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:42 PM on August 26


Oh come the fuck on, he did not wish that entire class of people be slaughtered.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:47 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


Can we pay attention to what he actually said rather than what people pretend he said?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:47 PM on August 26 [6 favorites]


not in that silly cultural-studies-prof way

Why Needs Cultural Research? - Ien Ang
This, I would argue, is why the world needs cultural studies more than ever. As contemporary society has become increasingly opaque to most citizens, what is in shortest supply is the kind of knowledge and skill that enables citizens to “read” their own environments, to understand their own multiple contributions to the shaping of those environments, and to interrogate their own mindsets.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:49 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure who the hell the U of I thinks it's going to hire in as an associate or full professor of American Indian Studies who isn't every bit as outspoken (one way or another) as Salaita when it comes to post-colonial worldview and focus on massively subverting the mainstream discourse. It's kind of the job description of a cultural studies teacher and scholar. What do you think they do in that department, Chancellor Wise, sit around all day talking about how Custer was just misunderstood?

This. Seriously, what the fuck does the University of Illinois think American Indian Studies even is? Frybread cooking classes or something?
posted by threeants at 6:49 PM on August 26 [16 favorites]


"We never could have imagined that the author of Israel's Dead Soul would have strong opinions on the Middle East!"
posted by threeants at 6:51 PM on August 26 [5 favorites]


the faculty is feckless and has done nothing discernible about this issue other than letters etc... but that seems the nature of academics, afraid to unionize and go on strike. Instead they count on outsiders sending in protests.

I believe the UIUC faculty is unionized. I'm not sure what the Illinois law is, but in Michigan and other places, public school and university faculty unions cannot legally strike except in direct response to unfair labor practices. They can all get summarily fired if they engage in an illegal strike.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:53 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


Or get sanctioned, etc.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:54 PM on August 26


I have a real problem with the idea that the influence of alumni/fundraising activities should have any bearing on the hiring of academics at any university that wishes to be taken seriously as such.
posted by modernnomad at 6:54 PM on August 26 [6 favorites]


> Can we pay attention to what he actually said rather than what people pretend he said?

But we're all so gifted at that "What they're really saying is..." form of second sight. Couldn't parse dogwhistles without it.
posted by jfuller at 6:56 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


misanthropic pain forest

ISRAEL'S DEAD SOUL BY salaita

Steven Salaita is the subject of a controversy about the rescinding of his appointment at the U. of Illinois, probably over his juvenile anti-Israel tweets (http://fw.to/Ie7qmXR). But what about his “scholarship”? Example: “It is well known by Palestinians that anytime one of them enters or exits Israel, regardless of nationality, he or she will likely undergo an anal or vaginal probe. These probes… aren’t intended to be pragmatic. They are acts of psychological domineering and political assertion. The agents of these coercive actions are rehearsing their own depravity through fulfillment of their Orientalist notions of Arab and Muslim sexuality.” A totally fact-free fantasy (and in a university press book, too).
posted by Postroad at 6:56 PM on August 26 [4 favorites]


My pet theory on this (and I don't have any proof) is that his letter was sent to the Board of Trustees, and that they silently passed on it. I think that the message the Chancellor was getting under the table was don't send this guy up because he will be rejected. I think the Chancellor is just the bearer of bad news to insulate the Board from criticism.

You have to remember that just laster semester the university fired James Kilgore for being part of the SIL and on the run until 2002. There was a lot of controversy about his employment locally. I think that every new hire at the moment is getting increased scrutiny.

Personally, while I strongly disagree with professor Salaita's position on P/I, I don't think that anything he said on Twitter should cost him his job. I looked it over and compared to some of the other statements I've seen about the Gaza military actions, I thought he was rather reserved. But perhaps being an Internet addict has given me a much tougher skin.
posted by sbutler at 7:05 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


Postroad: I hope your happy. My google history now includes "israel anal probes". I blame you.
posted by el io at 7:06 PM on August 26


A totally fact-free fantasy (and in a university press book, too).

does he not source his claims?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:07 PM on August 26


I have to be a bit circumspect here as I know some of those involved and have heard stuff behind the scenes. But a couple brief points. 1. Brian Leiter, of whom I'm not a fan but whom I trust on these sorts of things, said on Chicago Tonight yesterday (sorry can't link with phone) that if this goes to court, U of I will lose.

Second, there is a powerful pro-Israel lobby, both on the faculty and among donors. They had a large impact on this, I understand.

Third, Wise's argument is laughably flimsy.

Fourth, that someone is a total asshole is a reason not to hire them, even in academia. You have to live with that person, potentially for a long time.

Fifth, that said, I'm not sure why this doesn't sit well with me. Suppose they'd seen his assholeish behavior earlier on and not offered the job on the basis of that. That seems fine to me. Yet this functionally-equivalent behavior seems wrong to me. I'm not sure how to square those two intuitions.
posted by persona au gratin at 7:08 PM on August 26


I believe the UIUC faculty is unionized.

The non-tenure-track faculty at UIUC are unionized as of last year, though the administration has been fighting unionization efforts tooth and nail and has not yet entered negotiation talks with the NTT faculty union. The tenure-track (and tenured) faculty are not unionized. (TT and NTT faculty are treated as separate bargaining units and so have to unionize separately.)

I hope that the administration's decision in the Salaita case leads to unionization of the TT faculty.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 7:10 PM on August 26 [8 favorites]


MisantropicPainforest: does he not source his claims?

The book is available here. He cites many claims in end notes, but not that one. Quite obviously, the data resolution on how often Israeli soldiers are performing cavity searches on Palestinians isn't very high, but Google does turn up a fair number of first-hand accounts of people who claim they received these searches.

I do, however, think Salaita's leap from "Israelis do cavity searches on Palestinians" to "they're obviously doing it for this particular reason" needs supporting evidence if he expects anyone to believe it. Maybe he has a reason to draw that conclusion, but the reader has no reason to go along with him.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:13 PM on August 26


Fifth, that said, I'm not sure why this doesn't sit well with me. Suppose they'd seen his assholeish behavior earlier on and not offered the job on the basis of that. That seems fine to me. Yet this functionally-equivalent behavior seems wrong to me. I'm not sure how to square those two intuitions.

Could it be because telling someone that you never noticed how awful they really were until a third party with immense power over your own livelihood "pointed it out" is insultingly stupid and implausible?
posted by clockzero at 7:13 PM on August 26 [6 favorites]


I think that the biggest problem here is that it would have been impossible to fire Salaita for espousing hatred after the employment contract was signed. It should be possible to discipline or fire anyone for hateful, outrageous and racist public comments. Schools and universities shouldn't have fewer rights over their employees than any ordinary private employer that wouldn't tolerate such a thing.
posted by knoyers at 7:14 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


Suppose they'd seen his assholeish behavior earlier on and not offered the job on the basis of that. That seems fine to me. Yet this functionally-equivalent behavior seems wrong to me. I'm not sure how to square those two intuitions.

I have a similar opinion. For me it's because civility and collegiality live at the level of the department. I have never even seen Chancellor Wise in person, let alone eaten a meal with her or had a long academic discussion with her. I will probably never meet the Trustees.

If the people at the department and the college think that a person will be a good colleague, then it isn't the place of the Chancellor or the Trustees to dispute that.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 7:15 PM on August 26 [8 favorites]


The non-tenure-track faculty at UIUC are unionized as of last year, though the administration has been fighting unionization efforts tooth and nail and has not yet entered negotiation talks with the NTT faculty union. The tenure-track (and tenured) faculty are not unionized. (TT and NTT faculty are treated as separate bargaining units and so have to unionize separately.)

Thanks for the correction -- that's how it is at NIU (NTT unionized but not TT), so I should have realized the flagship wouldn't likely be more progressive than the regionals.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:21 PM on August 26


"Schools and universities shouldn't have fewer rights over their employees than any ordinary private employer that wouldn't tolerate such a thing."

Oh, yes, yes they should. Ever worked in a 'right to work' state? IE: a right to fire you for any reason at any time? Odd framing this as 'employers rights' instead of 'employee rights'.

Yeah, you're job as a baker can be in jeopardy because you tweeted something that someone didn't like in much of America (on any side of any issue). You can get fired for wearing plaid pants (actually, that one is pretty reasonable) in many states.
posted by el io at 7:26 PM on August 26


Let me try to catch up on a few arguments here. First, Salaita’s academic qualifications should be judged by faculty in the field. Salaita is an expert in comparative colonialism, which is part of the classes taught in the program. Interestingly, the only reason why UIUC has an American Indian Studies program is because it was an attempt by the administration to head off attacks on their dancing Chief Illiniwek mascot in 2004 during a brief “we are deeply committed to Native Americans” PR phase before the NCAA declared it a “hostile or abusive” mascot in 2005 and the university was forced to retire Chief Illiniwek in 2007. Actually, the only time I know of U of I trustees voting to reject a hire was Jay Rosenstein, who had made a documentary called “In Whose Honor?” that was critical of Chief Illiniwek, featuring some trustees who objected to how he depicted them, and those trustees voted against hiring him (but enough trustees voted for him).

Next, on the question, was this a hire or not? In terms of contract law, that’s an ambiguous issue I am not qualified to answer (promissory I-stomp-on-you?). But in terms of Constitutional law and moral principles of academic freedom, it doesn’t really matter. The point is that a public university is not allowed to make academic hiring decisions based on extramural political comments. Otherwise, you would have to argue that it’s perfectly Constitutional and in accord with academic freedom for a university to ban the hiring of any Communists, as long as you don’t fire any current employees. Academic freedom doesn’t begin with a finalized contract. It’s a constant obligation of a university to use academic criteria, not political comments, as the basis for academic decisions. The AAUP has noted that its standards apply to hiring decisions, and it once censured the University of Maryland for overturning a hiring decision due to politics.

In addition to my essay quoted at the top, you can read my many posts about the Salaita case on Academe Blog, including why the letters by the Chancellor and the Board of Trustees are so dangerous to academic freedom.
posted by JohnKarlWilson at 7:27 PM on August 26 [23 favorites]


I think that the problem here is that it would have been impossible to fire Salaita for espousing hatred after the employment contract was signed. It should be possible to discipline or fire anyone for hateful, outrageous and racist public comments. Schools and universities shouldn't have fewer rights over their employees than any ordinary private employer that wouldn't tolerate such a thing.

I completely, completely disagree with this, and I think it gets right to the heart of the matter.

I think Salaita's comments are ... well, I guess I can't really say what I think they are because of civility to viewpoints. With as much respect as I can muster, I think they were misguided, unnecessarily inflammatory, maybe outrageous (at least, the one about all the West Bank settlers going missing)? does that go too far?

But the test of our commitment to academic freedom and even more importantly in this case, to freedom of speech (since this is employment by the government) is not how we react to speech that we find comfortable and agreeable. The test is precisely in how we react to speech that we find disgusting, vulgar, offensive, inflammatory, repugnant, ugly, intemperate, and false.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 7:32 PM on August 26 [7 favorites]


Fifth, that said, I'm not sure why this doesn't sit well with me. Suppose they'd seen his assholeish behavior earlier on and not offered the job on the basis of that. That seems fine to me. Yet this functionally-equivalent behavior seems wrong to me. I'm not sure how to square those two intuitions.

Because an unacknowledged aspect of this whole affair is that controversy and controversial professors are beneficial to a university when their radicalism is attracting the best grad students, garnering invitations to conferences, and leading the topics in the relevent journals. Controversy and radicalism serve academic careers and by extension the university that employs them, until suddenly it tips over into too much, and the donors revolt and the media angle cuts against you.
posted by fatbird at 7:35 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


Claire Potter: Could I Have Been Steven Salaita? Could You?
posted by tonycpsu at 7:35 PM on August 26


I wonder what happens if the trustees meet after a new professor has been on campus teaching for a month or two and then decide not to approve the appointment after all. Do they not pay the person, on the grounds that when he was teaching his class and grading papers, he wasn't actually working for the university, he only thought he was?
posted by escabeche at 7:36 PM on August 26


I'm not sure who the hell the U of I thinks it's going to hire in as an associate or full professor of American Indian Studies who isn't every bit as outspoken (one way or another) as Salaita when it comes to post-colonial worldview and focus on massively subverting the mainstream discourse. It's kind of the job description of a cultural studies teacher and scholar.

To be fair, when I was an undergrad, I was in a discussion group formed for those interested in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. There were lots of people with strong feelings on both sides, including a grad student whose research seemed very much in line with Salaita- anti-Colonialist, anti-nation state, etc. She had very, very strong feelings about Israel but was perfectly willing to sit down and talk with Pro-Israel folks. I learned a lot from that discussion group, and it definitely changed my view on the issues. So you can be outspoken on this issue, and still have a fruitful discussion.

This tweet makes it seem like Salaita wouldn't be willing to do that.
posted by damayanti at 7:41 PM on August 26 [4 favorites]


I heard someone suggest today (I think) that the humanities departments at UIUC that are having trouble getting colloquium speakers should invite Salaita to give lectures and pay out honoraria as a kind of improvised salary.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 7:41 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


Controversy and radicalism serve academic careers and by extension the university that employs them, until suddenly it tips over into too much, and the donors revolt and the media angle cuts against you.

I see no reason to suppose that Salaita's comments were "too controversial" in general, as opposed to being too controversial about Israel-Palestine, a specific issue on which many people have very strong and inflexible opinions.

There are probably a million college professors in the United States, and probably tens if not hundreds of thousands of them are assholes.
posted by leopard at 7:47 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


I see no reason to suppose that Salaita's comments were "too controversial" in general, as opposed to being too controversial about Israel-Palestine, a specific issue on which many people have very strong and inflexible opinions.

Well, this is the nub of the difficulty of courting the controversial: you only know you've crossed the line when Twitter erupts and CNN is calling your office for comment.

There are probably a million college professors in the United States, and probably tens if not hundreds of thousands of them are assholes.

And successfully so. Do you think Ward Churchill thought he'd get fired for his comments after 9/11?
posted by fatbird at 8:00 PM on August 26


Many thousands of Palestinians enter Israel every day and it is crazypants nonsense to say, as Salaita does, that "anytime one of them enters or exits Israel, regardless of nationality, he or she will likely undergo an anal or vaginal probe". I mean, look at this: Million Palestinians to enter Israel during Ramadan. That's an exceptional time, of course, but lots of Palestinians in the West Bank actually work in Israel and commute daily. And Israel's population is about 20% Arab/Moslem and I suppose Salaita would probably count most of those as Palestinian. If his claim were factual you would have how many probes going on per day?
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:02 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


I was interrogated, strip searched and given an anal probe when I flew out of Ben Gurion in the early 1990s. I'm a geeky white American though. Palestinians probably go right through.
posted by humanfont at 8:07 PM on August 26 [7 favorites]


Joe: Orthogonal to discussion?
posted by el io at 8:33 PM on August 26


Well, this is the nub of the difficulty of courting the controversial: you only know you've crossed the line when Twitter erupts and CNN is calling your office for comment.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the reason Salaita is a national story is because his job offer was rescinded. It's not like CNN was replacing its Malaysian Airlines coverage with 24/7 reporting on his tweets and then the university had no choice but to deal with the controversy.
posted by leopard at 8:33 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


In this case, it was donors sending emails threatening to withdraw major funding. The point remains that Wyse was likely quite happy with the hire until it became... troublesome. For Salaita the tweets were, I'd guess, just another day at the office. Both parties are at least somewhat self-interested here, but Wyse is far more hypocritical.
posted by fatbird at 8:39 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


Wise probably had spent zero time thinking about the hire, and then pro-Israel donors complained, and then Wise decided to make the donors happy. I mean, no kidding.

I don't know where you're getting this idea that college professors generally advance their careers by stirring up shit.
posted by leopard at 8:44 PM on August 26


So you can be outspoken on this issue, and still have a fruitful discussion.

This tweet makes it seem like Salaita wouldn't be willing to do that.


The first point is excellent, but we shouldn't assume that he comports himself in class or professional situations as he does in his private, off-duty time, particularly since his tweets are (in his mind) an act of protest or demonstration.

Lots and lots of academics take part in loud, unruly, rude, even violent political/social demonstrations, but most of them don't stand in class bellowing at students through a bullhorn. What if instead of writing these tweets, Salaita had been "rescinded" for uploading a YouTube video showing him spitting at a cop or shouting "Fuck the police, die die die!" during a demonstration in Ferguson?
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:56 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


But the test of our commitment to academic freedom and even more importantly in this case, to freedom of speech (since this is employment by the government) is not how we react to speech that we find comfortable and agreeable. The test is precisely in how we react to speech that we find disgusting, vulgar, offensive, inflammatory, repugnant, ugly, intemperate, and false.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 7:32 PM on August 26


Freedom of speech should prevent prosecution for speech under nearly all circumstances. That doesn't mean it should force any employer to keep and pay an employee who, say, uses racial or ethnic slurs, promotes murder and violence, or some other extremely outrageous and hateful speech that creates a hostile environment and distracts from the institution's purpose. Employing an individual represents a general endorsement of them (and the reverse is also true). Another part of free speech is that the employer should always be free to cease endorsing the views of an employee by continuing to employ them, just as the employee can quit suddenly to immediately cease endorsing an action by the employer. No class of employee is special enough to deserve guaranteed employment after they act in a way that would ordinarily, and according to common sense, cause them to deservedly lose their job for hateful speech or despicable views.
posted by knoyers at 8:56 PM on August 26


knoyers, you seem to be missing the fact that the employer in this case is the government. The government cannot hire on the basis of political views or mode of speech.

I would have serious reservations about the Chancellor's statements just on academic freedom grounds, but here there is a clear Constitutional protection for exactly the sort of thing that Salaita said.

I might feel differently if the tweets were recordings of things that Salaita had said during regular classroom lectures. (I'm not entirely sure that I would feel differently because I place such a high premium on academic freedom, but I could at least see where people were coming from in such a case.) But they aren't. We have absolutely no evidence (and some evidence to the contrary) that Salaita says these sorts of things in the classroom. If his tweets were really indicative of his classroom behavior, I might be able to see an argument from professional obligation -- that we have an obligation to treat our students a certain way. In this case, though, we don't have any reason to think that Salaita is vulgar or abusive or offensive or inflammatory in the classroom.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 9:07 PM on August 26 [4 favorites]


(And yes, I would also say it was wrong to can him if the video showed him attending a Tea Party rally and wishing pro-choice people dead.)
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:09 PM on August 26


A Letter from Bonnie Honig to Phyllis Wise, on empathy.

I also, though, felt something. I felt that whoever wrote that tweet was tweeting his own pain. And I felt there was something very amiss when he was chided for his tone, by people who were safely distant from all of it, while he was watching people he maybe knew or felt connected to die as a result of military aggression. This, frankly, seemed evil. And then to have the major charge against him in the UIUC case be that he lacked empathy: now that seemed cruelly ironic. The real charge, it seems to me, is that he suffers from too much empathy.

posted by Pyrogenesis at 9:14 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


El io: As far as I can tell, we don't actually know specifically which acts or statements by Salaita were deemed to be unacceptable. The idea that it was those Twitter messages seems to be from this article, and ascribed to "sources familiar with the university's decision". My feeling is that the wild allegations he makes on Twitter are part and parcel with the wild allegations he makes elsewhere, and that someone as careless as that has no business being an academic.

The "anal probe" passage is one in point: he starts by arguing that "Zionists" have a mental image of homosexuality and homophobia, and they project their understanding onto Arab and Muslim societies when they call them homophobic. Well, leaving the need for citations aside, that's not an unreasonable position. He then says (p. 110)
It is a ruthless irony that those who project sexual simulacra onto Arabs and Muslims like to perform those perceptions on Arab and Muslim bodies.
At first I thought that "perform" had some specialised meaning here; he wasn't actually saying what it seems to mean. But no, he then confirms that he literally means that people (academics?) who claim that Arab and Muslim societies are homophobic are really people who derive pleasure from engaging in coercive homosexual acts with Arabs and Muslims:
It is well known by Palestinians that anytime one of them enters or exits Israel, regardless of nationality, he or she will likely undergo an anal or vaginal probe. These probes, as in the American prison system and in police stations around the world, aren’t intended to be pragmatic. They are acts of psychological domineering and political assertion. The agents of these coercive actions are rehearsing their own depravity through fulfillment of their Orientalist notions of Arab and Muslim sexuality.
There is just so much confused thinking here: the identification of border guards with critics of homophobia; the ascription of "Orientalist notions" to them; the idea that one cannot criticise homophobia without being an Orientalist; the innumerate and ignorant assertion that huge numbers of anal and vaginal probes are going on, "anytime".

I have no idea whether the Chancellor knew about this passage (which is not atypical) but my point is: if this is the quality of his thinking, he shouldn't be an academic. If he can't criticise people or their views without asserting that they are (literally!) rapists, he shouldn't be an academic. If he can't distinguish between his interlocutors and people whom (he thinks) are doing horrible things, he shouldn't be an academic. Students should not be forced to deal with teachers who make ridiculous, unfounded allegations against people they disagree with.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:24 PM on August 26 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty sure I think Salaita was wronged, but "academic freedom" seems like such a phony grandstanding misuse in the situation. I have not seen any suggestion in any of the coverage that what lost him the job was his actual scholarship, such as it may be, unless the implication is that unhinged tweets get to be scholarship just in virtue of their provenance, which, Fuck that.
posted by batfish at 9:33 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


According to her bio, Chancellor Wise holds a doctorate in zoology. She conducts "research in issues concerning women’s health and gender-based biology."

She's probably an excellent scientist, but I don't see any reason to think that she is better qualified to judge the relevant qualifications for a professor who will teach in the American Indian Studies Program than are members of that program.
posted by burden at 9:40 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


batfish,

If the tweets are part of his scholarly output, then Salaita's case is a matter of academic freedom. I tend to agree with you that they are not part of his scholarly output. But if the tweets are not part of his scholarly output, then they are personal statements made with respect to events of concern to the public and protected as free speech under the First Amendment. In this case, the administration of a public university has no business considering the tweets in its hiring decision. Either way, the administration has done something wrong.

In any event, even if you think (reasonably) that Salaita's case doesn't have much to do with his academic freedom, the explicit responses from the Chancellor and the Trustees seem to me and to many other academics to be a threat to academic freedom as well as to freedom of extramural speech.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 9:56 PM on August 26 [8 favorites]


Joe in Australia: lots of academics have blogs. Some of them are remarkably well-written, nuanced, and thoughtful, as you might imagine. Others have forced me to sadly realize that an advanced degree from an elite institution and a strong record of scholarship in a narrow field do not necessarily imply a strong level of intellectual honesty in general.

I don't know anything about the quality of Salita's work, but it's simply not relevant. If it turns out he murders his students in his spare time, that would not retroactively justify the university's decision.

Batfish: the intended effect of the withdrawal of the job offer is to make people much more careful about what they say about Israel. This is a chilling effect that surely has an impact on scholarship about Israel but also goes well beyond academic work. I personally find this chilling effect to be outrageous and indefensible.

A few months ago this story was in the news. I understand that a civilized society draws lines to demarcate unacceptable speech; I just think that the lines on this particular issue are being drawn in ridiculous places.
posted by leopard at 10:00 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


Joe in Australia:

I think a lot of Academics who talk about global affairs often say shit that is irresponsible, incorrect, and inflammatory. More than that, I don't expect an Academic to know *anything* other than their specific field (and focus) of study.

If teachers (professors and others) all lost their jobs upon saying unsupportable nonsense of one vein or another (outside their actual area of study), we'd live in a world with very very few teachers.

I'm *so* not interested in discussing the particulars of his viewpoints on Israel. For the sake of argument I'll agree that he says things that cannot be factually supported and are upsetting.

I will assert with some confidence that if all Professors (and or other teachers, and/or other professionals in other fields) were held to the standard "What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them" then we'd be living in a country without schools (or professionals of any sort if we extended this level of discourse to everyone).

As it is, I strongly suspect that the above quote is not intended to cover all areas of discourse, just particular ones, and not all viewpoints 'disrespectful words' on all subjects, just some disrespectful words on some subjects. This is troubling.
posted by el io at 10:09 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


Employing an individual represents a general endorsement of them (and the reverse is also true).

That's absolutely not true.
posted by clockzero at 10:09 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


Joe, even from the bits you pasted I'm surprised at how badly you managed to mangle the meaning of that text. You describe its "confused thinking," but I think you've misunderstood what he's talking about. When anyone writes about what happens at a border crossing, do you honestly think they're talking about the individual decisions and beliefs of border guards?

I'm also surprised that you think "Moslem" is an okay word to use. It's really not.
posted by Hildegarde at 10:18 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


Jonathan: if someone interviews for an academic job, and the interviewing committee discovers the person is an intemperate asshole, surely it's permissible not to hire her, right?

I think that what bothers me here is that he was de facto hired. Also, as you said, that he's an asshole is something that if it doesn't bother the dept and college of LAS, Wise doesn't get to veto the hire on that basis.

And, as I said above, her statement about the importance of being inoffensive in a university setting! is troubling.
posted by persona au gratin at 10:20 PM on August 26


She's probably an excellent scientist, but I don't see any reason to think that she is better qualified to judge the relevant qualifications for a professor who will teach in the American Indian Studies Program than are members of that program.

Really, it's not like the search committee hired the guy after a ten-minute phone interview. If this was your typical search, he and two or three others would have been chosen out of a pile of candidates, done a full-day (or two) campus visit, probably gave a talk, possibly taught a class, met with students, attended interviews with the search committee, department chair, and dean, fielded questions at an open forum. The committee read some of his publications, talked on the phone for 10 or 20 minutes with each reference who provided his rec. letters, asked those folks for additional off-list references, and talked to them too. He may have been asked to provide course evaluation results, and probably someone glanced at the "rate your professor" sites and skimmed what students were saying about him.

And no, that doesn't prevent getting a bad apple sometimes, but if the guy couldn't get through a committee meeting or class without ranting about Palestine, someone probably would have noticed.

Indeed, this Mondoweiss blog post has a detailed analysis of Salaita's student course evaluations and a recommendation letter from a colleague who observed his classes.
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:27 PM on August 26 [8 favorites]


The quotation isn't from a blog or anything: it's from his book Israel's Dead Soul, published by Temple University Press a few years ago. This is a book in his academic field, published by an academic press; it's arguably a lot more relevant to the situation than anything on Twitter.

"Moslem", incidentally, is an alternate spelling of "Muslim" and it's the one I'm most familiar with (although my fingers lately have been switching between the forms). It's not meant to be offensive and is still very commonly used.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:36 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


[This is not the place for a debate about the spelling issue. Let's please just use 'Muslim,' as a number of people have said over the years that the other spelling is dispreferred and even considered offensive now.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:40 PM on August 26


> the philosophy department at UIUC is already having problems with its upcoming colloquium schedule. We have had a couple of people cancel already, and I expect more to cancel soon. In connection with one of the cancellations -- and because of others taking up the boycott -- a conference I was planning to run in December is not going to happen.

This frustrates the hell out of me. I appreciate the impulse to protest UIUC's decision, but as a tactic, an invited-speaker boycott totally misses the mark. It hurts people with the least power -- UIUC faculty & students (esp grads & jr faculty who benefit from making external connections during those visits) -- who were not responsible for UIUC's decision, and who are likely very worried themselves about what "will not tolerate disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse viewpoints" means for their own job security.

A far better way for external academics to protest would be to accept their invitations and make bold, public statements during their visit "abusing the viewpoints" that the UIUC administration holds. Invited speakers could do so with much less risk than their UIUC colleagues, and a show of solidarity & outspokenness might help thaw the chilling effect of this incident. At the very least, UIUC's academic environment wouldn't [further] suffer. Boycotting UIUC speaking engagements, OTOH, isn't so much sending a message to the Chancellor as it is turning one's back on one's comrades.
posted by Westringia F. at 11:23 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


Jonathan: if someone interviews for an academic job, and the interviewing committee discovers the person is an intemperate asshole, surely it's permissible not to hire her, right?

Yeah, I think that's probably right. And I think I would be fine with that as a tie-breaker consideration.

I haven't been able to find an actual CV for Salaita, despite a bit of looking, but after a bit of looking on Google Scholar, I wouldn't say he's a scholarly rock-star or anything. However, I can definitely imagine a case where one job candidate is head and shoulders better than any of the others and is something of an intemperate ass. In such a case, I would be hard-pressed to advocate hiring an inferior scholar on the basis of collegiality or civility. I mean, such a person would have to be really, really, really obnoxious.

It would be a very different story, though, if it wasn't obnoxiousness but a political disagreement. I am generally pretty far on the political left, but I would be shocked and dismayed to see a job candidate discriminated against because he or she was politically conservative. Part of my worry in the present case is that the complaints about civility and tone are just a convenient cover for a straight-up political disagreement. The fact that the Chancellor -- a person who would, in the normal course of things, never interact with Salaita at all and who almost certainly did not meet him before this stuff all went down -- is the one raising the issue of civility and collegiality when neither the department nor the college seem to have had any problems with him makes me think it is especially unlikely that that is the actual reason.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 11:34 PM on August 26 [7 favorites]


Jonathan Livengood,

But if the tweets are not part of his scholarly output, then they are personal statements made with respect to events of concern to the public and protected as free speech under the First Amendment. In this case, the administration of a public university has no business considering the tweets in its hiring decision.

Nice try running these two things together. Literally no one has ever challenged Salaita's right to tweet, but the First Amendment doesn't obviously guarantee to-be public employees a special protection from tweet consideration in the hiring process. I agree though that this is pointing toward better exemplars for thinking about the situation--how elsewhere have we treated and how should we treat e.g. teachers and civil servants who have posted racist content to Facebook and other social media? Like I said, I tend to think Salaita had a contract and was wronged on it. But I also eagerly anticipate when all the pious defenders of anti-Israeli speakers come similarly to the defense of some redneck high school teacher.
posted by batfish at 11:41 PM on August 26


What do you mean "nice try"? I take it you think I'm playing dishonestly here ... but I really don't see how. And what exactly do you think I'm running together? The First Amendment guarantees, among other things, that hiring decisions at public universities are not based on the political opinions or the political speech of the candidates. If the tweets are not part of his scholarship, which we both seem to agree about, then they are not fair game for use as part of a hiring decision by a government agency or extension thereof. I don't like or agree with what Salaita said in his tweets. I personally find several of his tweets offensive. But my taking offense with the form or content of his extramural speech is not a permissible basis for judging whether he should be hired for an academic post at a public university.

And yes, I hope that I would be just as upset if a "redneck" were refused an academic position at a public university not in virtue of his or her scholarship or record of teaching excellence but in virtue of holding disagreeable political views or of expressing those views in a disagreeable way.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 11:57 PM on August 26 [6 favorites]


the First Amendment doesn't obviously guarantee to-be public employees a special protection from tweet consideration in the hiring process
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Given the unqualified freedom of speech, consider the idea that Twitter and other self-publishing is the 21st century 'press'. Also, if you think about it, an online forum is just one place to petition the Government for a redress of grievances considering the NSA is making carbon copies for their records, right?

Now, the college is governed by (1) The US Constitution, (2) The Laws of the State of Illinois, (3) ....

Well, the important thing is that the US Constitution trumps everything else.

So, I rather think it does.
posted by mikelieman at 12:25 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


Jonathan: I agree. Collegiality isn't sufficient. But it is necessary, or being a non-asshole is, at least. So in the case you describe, where there is one academically (and pedagogically) qualified person who is a boor, and no one else is qualified in the first two senses, (IMO) I'd think that that search should be considered a failed one.

So it'd be one thing if the person had differing moral or political beliefs, and they weren't hired solely on that basis. That's wrong. But if the person's expression of those beliefs leads one to have strong reason to think that the person is vicious (in an Aristotelian sense) s.t. one has good reason to think the performance of that person's job (part of which is getting along with the rest of the department in sometimes-challenging circumstances) would be affected; well, then the person isn't being discriminated against for her beliefs. And I take it that at least some think this is the sort of case we're dealing with at U of I.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:43 AM on August 27


Honestly, I can give precisely zero fucks about the plight of the poor, hapless academics who are suddenly having to deal with the job market the rest of us have been dealing with for ages.

I just left a decent job to move across the country on the strength of two verbal offers that both said "HR has final approval." Hell, HR hadn't even approved my salary until a week after I started working there. If I was never given the offer? It would sure suck, but it's not exactly a miscarriage of justice.

Also, academic freedom should not mean "I get to be a reprehensible dick with no consequences." I mean, if the guy had come out as a KKK member would we still be arguing about his right to still be hired?
posted by corb at 1:47 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


It's not a zero-sum game, Corb. If things get worse for academics, they're not going to get a corresponding amount better for everyone else. Call me an altruism-crazed hippielover, but I'd prefer it if neither you nor anyone else had to endure unnecessary dicking around just to get by.
posted by No-sword at 2:28 AM on August 27 [12 favorites]


> "I mean, if the guy had come out as a KKK member would we still be arguing about his right to still be hired?"

Yes, actually. I'm pretty big on the idea that no one's employment should depend on their keeping their heads down and their mouths shut outside of work hours.
posted by kyrademon at 3:36 AM on August 27 [6 favorites]


Lots and lots of academics take part in loud, unruly, rude, even violent political/social demonstrations, but most of them don't stand in class bellowing at students through a bullhorn. What if instead of writing these tweets, Salaita had been "rescinded" for uploading a YouTube video showing him spitting at a cop or shouting "Fuck the police, die die die!" during a demonstration in Ferguson?


I'd like to point out that the specific Tweet linked explicitly mocked the idea of "dialogue" ("Next time a Zionist asks you to "dialogue," remind him that you heard everything he had to say when #Israel was murdering children in #Gaza.") ; hence, my concern that he would be unwilling to sit down and participate in, well, dialogue. I understand the concern echoed in the letter linked to by Michael Rothberg above-- that these tweets should be concerned in context, i.e., that Gaza was currently being bombed, and children were dying-- but there's a difference between chanting "Die, die, die!" at a rally and essentially writing "I'm not interested in dialogue", and to me, the second does actually reflect on how he would conduct himself in an academic setting.
posted by damayanti at 4:44 AM on August 27 [2 favorites]


This case is frustrating. On the one hand, I don't like anything which seems like a restriction on somebody's political opinions. Additionally I have no sympathy for Israeli settlers. On the other hand, this isn't simply a tone argument - this is a content argument. Saying "I wish they would disappear" in that context was substantively different than even "fuck the settlers in their stupid ugly faces". On the other other hand, what if somebody had tweeted something like, "I hope they kill the people responsible for James Foley's death" - would there have been a similar reaction to that? I don't think so. Where, if anywhere, is the line drawn?
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:54 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


If there's a line, do you have freedom of speech?
posted by mikelieman at 4:59 AM on August 27


"The "I would choose to have him as a colleague" line gives away the show here - this is supposed to be a professional process, not a consideration of who you'd like to be sharing cognac with at the 19th hole of the country club."

Lemiuex at the Lawyers, Guns, Money blog appears to be an academic. So, I find this comment really odd. In academic hiring you absolutely do consider how well you'll get along with the person. These appointments, unlike most in the corporate world, can last for 30 years or more. You do not want to make the mistake of hiring an asshole who will help make your life miserable for the remainder of your professional career.

(I'm not speaking to how Salaita fits that concern.)
posted by oddman at 5:08 AM on August 27 [2 favorites]


oddman: In academic hiring you absolutely do consider how well you'll get along with the person.

Right, and they'd already made the decision in January that they would. Additionally, the department that hired him, as I noted in the FPP, has cast a vote of no confidence in reaction to his firing/un-hiring. Doesn't that say all that needs to be said about whether they'd want him as a colleague?
posted by tonycpsu at 5:11 AM on August 27 [7 favorites]


the innumerate and ignorant assertion that huge numbers of anal and vaginal probes are going on, "anytime".

Tel Aviv airport security vaginaly probed a ninety year old holocaust survivor for protesting against the gaza occupation. It is impossible to believe they thought she was an actual threat. The abuse was intended to deter her from protesting and speaking out. It is likely the same method is used to harass others.

Hedy Epstein: In 2004, she says she was detained at an airport in Tel Aviv, where she was strip-searched and internally searched

If you agree with that, how on earth are my hypothetical anti-Palestinian or anti-black tweets "distortions"?

A better analogy would be if a Native American tweeted they wouldn't mind seeing the white man go missing from their ancestor's sacred land, or if a Tibetan tweeted they wouldn't mind if their Han Chinese occupiers went missing.

I don't want to defend his tweet at all; it's really shitty especially considering the kidnapping and murders. But your analogies aren't helpful. From the context of his other tweets it's clear he didn't mean he literally wanted to see settlers kidnapped. Give back the land they are occupying maybe.
posted by Golden Eternity at 5:13 AM on August 27 [2 favorites]


corb: Also, academic freedom should not mean "I get to be a reprehensible dick with no consequences." I mean, if the guy had come out as a KKK member would we still be arguing about his right to still be hired?

I don't know what "we" would be doing, but membership in the KKK is nowhere near analogous to being extremely critical of Israel and writing one very bad tweet.
posted by tonycpsu at 5:14 AM on August 27


And, seriously folks, I keep harping on this, but these analogies aren't helpful. The one really bad tweet he wrote is in the content of the FPP. There are others that are nowhere near as bad. Let's talk about the things Salaita said, not fictitious versions of them that make them sound even worse.
posted by tonycpsu at 5:15 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


Without strawmen, the uncritical supporters of the Israeli government would have to address the real issues, wouldn't they?

It's so much easier to call me a "Self-hating Jew" than understand my views as a paleo-conservative post-zionist.
posted by mikelieman at 5:23 AM on August 27 [4 favorites]


The AAUP says that "collegiality" should not be considered as a separate criterion for faculty (which is obviously what the administration did here), but can only be addressed within the context of a candidate's teaching, research, service, etc., and their full record must be considered. I actually disagree with this: I think collegiality should be banned entirely from consideration because it's so misunderstood and dangerous to free speech. The notion that faculty are entitled to pick candidates based on whether they'll be their buddies for the next 30 years rather than academic criteria is dangerous to free speech. And you really can't judge a person by their mean tweets. Professors don't generally teach the way they tweet. And Salaita in particular has a long and very positive teaching record that proves this fact.

It's also important to challenge how civility and collegiality are confused with politeness. A true colleague will challenge what senior faculty say and question their ideas. A true colleague will step in and speak out when another professor is mistreating a student, and won't simply treat other professors as their buddies. Likewise, civility means living in a civil society, not niceness. It means responding to arguments, and utilizing ideas to counter people rather than threats of violence or punishment. In that sense, Salaita is much more civil than the U of Illinois administration.
posted by JohnKarlWilson at 5:26 AM on August 27 [2 favorites]


Any professional entering a job where she or he interacts regularly with the public would be wise to play it cool until she or he actually has some traction at the job. Or at least until she or he is actually contractually hired. No other professional would accept a figurative handshake as a contract.

In this case Salaita was not contractually hired. And in my opinion U. of I. dodged a bullet by rescinding the offer before signing a contract.

The same people who are coming to Salaita's defense may be participating in a collective fantasy where academia is a loving, accepting, safe family that forgives their enfant terribles, tussles their hair, and encourages them to use their words more constructively.

Salaita's tweet, mentioned in the article, is vile. He knows this, and prepares the reader for a bit of unrefined sentiment.
You may be too refined to say it, but I'm not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.
It is vile in its thinking, and vulgar in its delivery. Who would want to work with this man? Who would want to call him "colleague"? Any woman or man of letters who values the power of speech and therefore chooses her or his words carefully would consider Salaita's tweet vile and careless. The writer of such a tweet is not qualified to be a professor. It is wise not to encourage vile, careless writing in professors.
posted by a_curious_koala at 5:44 AM on August 27 [3 favorites]


If there's a line, do you have freedom of speech

Yes. Freedom of speech does not mean that no speech act can ever incur consequences, even legal ones. There are lines. Most lines are blurry, but some lines are not. I'm not saying (or thinking) that the case in question is a good example of "crossing a line". However, yes, in general, these lines exist, and pretty much nobody seriously believes in totally absolute free speech.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:52 AM on August 27


a_curious_koala: No other professional would accept a figurative handshake as a contract.

I can play this game too -- how's this one: Outside of sea captains, no other professional would accept the responsibility to go down with a sinking ship before trying to save everyone on it.

The point, of course, is that you can't transport your logic from other professions and expect it to apply. Different industries and different job categories have their own norms and practices, and it's a simple fact that this is standard operating procedure in academia.

Now, we can have a conversation about whether that ought to be the case -- I'm sure Steven Salaita wishes it was! -- but please stop trying to talk about academia as if it's accounting.
posted by tonycpsu at 5:54 AM on August 27 [2 favorites]


I mean this in all kindness to my MetaFilter friends in academia, but it seems like, in regards to wanting somebody who tweets their angriest thoughts as a colleague, based on my outsider experience, on top of everything else, if you don't want to argue with assholes, academia is the worst possible career path.

(I mean, you have to deal with assholes pretty much everywhere professionally one way or another, but engaging them is pretty much part of the academic's job description.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:04 AM on August 27 [2 favorites]


Golden Eternity wrote: Tel Aviv airport security vaginaly probed a ninety year old holocaust survivor [...]

I can't see that this is at all relevant to Salaita's allegation that "anytime [a Palestinian] enters or exits Israel [...] he or she will likely undergo an anal or vaginal probe". Hedy Epstein isn't a Palestinian, and there must be millions of Palestinian transits through Israel every single year. Even if you had dozens, or hundreds, or tens of thousands of people who had been subjected to probes it still wouldn't support Salaita's nonsensical claim - and that's before you get into his allegation that the probes are carried out by people who "are rehearsing their own depravity through fulfillment of their Orientalist notions of Arab and Muslim sexuality".
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:11 AM on August 27 [2 favorites]


I just left a decent job to move across the country on the strength of two verbal offers that both said "HR has final approval." Hell, HR hadn't even approved my salary until a week after I started working there. If I was never given the offer? It would sure suck, but it's not exactly a miscarriage of justice.

Corb, I actually do think that's a miscarriage of justice, as do most people who believe in workers' rights. You made a large professional, economic, and personal sacrifice to join that company's workforce rather than taking your talent and skill somewhere else, and as long as you perform your duties competently as you were hired to do, you should have basic job security and not be fired without cause. If something unavoidable occurs that makes it impossible for the employer to live up to its promises, then at the very least, you deserve compensation to make whole what you've lost.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:42 AM on August 27 [8 favorites]


Joe, what's your point? That Salaita did what? Made something up? Exagerrated? Made fabricated data? took a side on an issue that is far from clear-cut?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:45 AM on August 27 [2 favorites]


MisantropicPainforest: Joe, what's your point? That Salaita did what? Made something up? Exagerrated? Made fabricated data? took a side on an issue that is far from clear-cut?

Probably best to just cede the point to JIA here, as one claim from one Salaita book has fuck-all to do with his firing.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:48 AM on August 27 [4 favorites]


It is vile in its thinking, and vulgar in its delivery. Who would want to work with this man? Who would want to call him "colleague"? Any woman or man of letters who values the power of speech and therefore chooses her or his words carefully would consider Salaita's tweet vile and careless. The writer of such a tweet is not qualified to be a professor.

What do you know? Seriously. You don't know anything! You read one tweet from this guy. He went through a battery of tests in order to get hired. They met him, talked to him, talked to people who knew him. You never talked to him, never met him, only read a couple of tweets. You're completely ignorant of the situation.

I mean this guy did the nearly impossible: got two tenured positions at large R1 universities in comparative literature. You don't get there without having people wanting to work with you.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:50 AM on August 27 [10 favorites]


Cribcage has it. This is a great case of efficient breach. UIUC will have to pay Salaita something, but that will be a great bargain for it.

The offer letter within the context of custom and practice of the trade (senior academic hiring), Salaita's detrimental reliance upon it in a manner which was invited and expected by UIUC, and the fact that the tweets, ugly as they were, would not likely contractually justify the revocation of tenure, gives him a strong legal case, but one that his lawyer won't let him put in front of a jury for obvious lack of sympathy. Settlement value maybe $500k?

And paying $500k is obviously better for UIUC than the loss of support of philanthropists, taxpayers, and tuition paying parents, who are overwhelmingly going to regard those tweets as antithetical to their sense of right.

My guess is that boycotts or hiring difficulties in its "* Studies" or similar departments would be a "don't throw me in the briar patch" moment. The chancellor would just hate to have to go the Trustees and recommend that Salaita's line be reallocated to a new STEM prof; to make the protest set happy it could even be someone who works on renewable energy or organic agriculture (or organic renewable energy aka biomass or ethanol!).
posted by MattD at 6:58 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


I mean this in all kindness to my MetaFilter friends in academia, but it seems like, in regards to wanting somebody who tweets their angriest thoughts as a colleague, based on my outsider experience, on top of everything else, if you don't want to argue with assholes, academia is the worst possible career path.

In all kindness to you, where do we have any evidence or suggestion whatsoever that Salaita communicates in the workplace the way he does on Twitter? (And in fact, his VA teaching evaluations and reference above suggest the opposite.)

It's hilarious to me that someone might read my MeFi comment history and actually think this is how I speak in class, meetings, professional functions, etc. I mean, yes, we have personal conversations sometimes on campus, but when I go to a composition committee meeting, we discuss, you know, composition. I actually am capable of giving a class presentation on African American recording artists who have to pay royalties to the Alan Lomax estate in an even-handed manner without frothing at the mouth and making profanity-laden cracks about Whitey.

Here's a list of some stuff students have said/done in class that I reacted to calmly and professionally.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:00 AM on August 27 [6 favorites]


Way back upthread, bgrebs posted a link which casts a peculiarly revealing light on the Salaita affair, because seven months ago, Chancellor Wise herself was subjected to an offensive and disgraceful Twitter attack by her own students when she dared not to declare a snow day despite very cold weather:
January 28, 2014
By
Scott Jaschik
Students (and plenty of professors) love snow days. But when they can't get what they want, is that any reason for a blizzard of hate on Twitter?

That is among the questions raised by the reaction at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign when Phyllis M. Wise, the chancellor, opted to keep classes as scheduled Monday, despite extremely cold weather. That some students would take to Twitter to gripe is not shocking. But a flurry of comments focused either on Wise's status as a woman, as an Asian-American or both. The hashtag of choice: #fuckphyllis

Among the Tweets (skipping the most offensive) using the hashtag: "In room with Phyllis Wise, Adolf Hitler and a gun with one bullet. Who do I shoot." Many tweets played off Wise's Asian-American status. "Communist China no stop by cold," for example.

Or "Asians and women aren't responsible for their actions" or "Phyllis Wise is the Kim Jong Un of chancellors." Many others referenced the female anatomy, or used additional hashtags, such as a vulgar four-letter word for a part of a woman's anatomy. At least two Twitter accounts pretending to be Wise's were created and proceeded to mock her, although they were promptly removed by Twitter. ...
And the students suffered no consequences:
A spokeswoman said that the campus judicial officer looked at the tweets and determined they were protected free expression, and so no attempt is planned to punish those who tweeted.
Hard to believe all that didn't rankle, and I think she reveals that it probably did and that it affected her actions here in the final lines of her letter:
As a member of the faculty, I firmly believe that a tenured faculty position at the University of Illinois is a tremendous honor and a unique privilege. Tenure also brings with it a heavy responsibility to continue the traditions of scholarship and civility upon which our university is built.
She couldn't punish her students for their Twitter incivility, but professor Salaita was another matter.
posted by jamjam at 7:14 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


The snow thing was mentioned in one of the FPP links, but I didn't highlight that angle because it's very speculative. I think there's more than enough verifiable malfeasance on Wise's part that we don't have to start speculating whether this is really an effort to lash out at someone else because some students were mean to her on Twitter.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:28 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


And paying $500k is obviously better for UIUC than the loss of support of philanthropists, taxpayers, and tuition paying parents ...

This makes sense. In reality the firing isn't based on any moral standards other than those of parents and donators. And these could vary drastically. I hope Salaita or someone compiles a list of offensive comments made by academics in social media to emphasize this point.

Here's one example: Israeli Professor Mordechai Kedar Will Continue With U.S. Speaking Tour
Kedar, a senior lecturer at Israel’s Bar Ilan University’s Department of Arabic, told Israeli radio program “Hakol Diburim” (“It’s All Talk”) that “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped.” He added, “that’s the culture in which we live.”
...

On Friday, Kedar said in an interview that the media frenzy around his comments have only raised his profile and increased interest in having him speak during his planned six week tour of North America in January and February 2015. No institution has canceled any of his planned appearances thus far, he said. In fact, he added, “at least two or three places invited me only because of this witch hunt.” Although many colleges and campus organizations have not yet booked speakers for the coming academic year, Kedar said so far he has been asked to appear at academic events in Ann Arbor, Mich., and in Sarasota, Fla., and to give a talk sponsored by Ohio State University.
posted by Golden Eternity at 7:30 AM on August 27 [4 favorites]


corb >

Honestly, I can give precisely zero fucks about the plight of the poor, hapless academics who are suddenly having to deal with the job market the rest of us have been dealing with for ages.

Not trying to pick on you, corb, but this is such a frustratingly myopic way of thinking, especially because there isn't even anything sudden about the decline of working conditions and labor practices in higher education. At all. It's been getting distinctly worse in specific ways for at least two decades.

But more importantly, it's so perverse to say "Since these other people and I have the same problems, fuck those people, because these are bad problems to have" instead of "Since we all have similar problems, we should work together to make all of our lives better" or something along those lines. I mean, is it believed that we have things like weekends and occupational health and safety laws, or even the more recent accomplishments of legal protection from various forms of discrimination, because the workers of yesterday said "Fuck those other guys, because my life is hard"?

Isn't it obvious that actually doing something about those working conditions, instead of just suffering unnecessarily while our bosses and their bosses clean up, is the complete opposite of saying "I don't give a fuck" about other workers' problems, especially those problems that are shared?
posted by clockzero at 8:10 AM on August 27 [24 favorites]


>Without knowing what you mean -

You're being a bit obtuse. I was responding to someone who referred to "impolite stance against Israel", which level of vagueness I accepted for the sake of argument. Between that and the context of the subject at hand, we're pretty clearly talking Israel v Palestine, which side are you on, which has been a constant pretty much my entire life. Mind you, I did try to find poll data on attitudes towards Israel among academics, but alas, I came up zilcho. My bad, but my general impression (which I cheerfully admitted could be wrong) these past years is that when violence erupts on that border, academics tend to sympathize more with one side over the other. You didn't like the google link? Fine, ignore it. Better yet, get some polling data to prove me wrong.

(On second search, there's this list which cites dis-invited speakers at colleges these past fourteen years. Insofar as Israeli/Palestinian stuff might be at issue, my brief impression is that are more pro-Israelers on the list than pro-Palestiners. I've no dog in this fight. As I say - I'm willing to be proven wrong. )
posted by IndigoJones at 8:25 AM on August 27


To put it another way: saying "I don't give a fuck about problems I share with other workers" is just a roundabout way of saying "I don't give a fuck about the systemic injustices that are making my life worse".
posted by clockzero at 8:25 AM on August 27 [4 favorites]


Disiniviting speakers is not covered by academic freedom so its kind of irrelevant. The point is that being outspoken against Israel puts you at professional risk in a way that being outspoken against nearly anything else does not put you at risk. And that is sad and vile and we should all be angry.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:32 AM on August 27 [4 favorites]


IndigoJones: You're being a bit obtuse. I was responding to someone who referred to "impolite stance against Israel", which level of vagueness I accepted for the sake of argument.

I don't know how you expected to have a good conversation by accepting vagueness for the sake of argument. "Anti-Israel" is a meaningless term, so to suggest that being anti-Israel is common in academia is similarly meaningless.

Israel v Palestine, which side are you on, which has been a constant pretty much my entire life.

But "which side are you on" is also meaningless. Both sides have moderate and extreme elements that want different things. We need to talk about this in concrete terms that don't elide significant differences between people who might be described by their opponents as "anti-Israel" or "anti-Palestine." Is the J Street organization "anti-Israel" simply because they're not as hard-line as AIPAC?
posted by tonycpsu at 8:33 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


IndigoJones: which cites dis-invited speakers at colleges these past fourteen years... I'm willing to be proven wrong

I don't have proof that you're wrong, but would simply submit that in order to be disinvited, one has to be invited in the first place.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:36 AM on August 27


My guess is that boycotts or hiring difficulties in its "* Studies" or similar departments would be a "don't throw me in the briar patch" moment.

Why on earth do you think that hiring difficulties would be limited to "* Studies"? Since this is obviously tied to pissed-off donors, no matter what field you work in you have to worry about how anything you say, whether professional or personal, will be interpreted by the Koch brothers or similar dickheads, or by intense supporter of Israel, or by whatever combination of weirdness some major donor has. What the university is telling potential senior hires is that they shouldn't ever mention or research anything a donor wouldn't like. Who needs that agita?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:20 AM on August 27 [4 favorites]


Whenever people decide to repeal Taft-Hartley, I'll be happy to join the general strike. But we haven't had a unified labor movement since it was sold out for job security and pie cards.

But on academic freedom - the question is, should academics have the right to safely express opinions others find not just disagreeable but actively noxious. In that sense, we don't have to debate who found the tweets offensive or whether they really were - obviously some were offended and some not. So where do you draw the line?
posted by corb at 11:13 AM on August 27


So where do you draw the line?

I draw it outside where Saliata tweeted.

This is politics. Line-drawing isn't objectively done by God, it's done by people who disagree with each other. The fact that something is inherently political is not really a good reason to shrug and say you don't care.
posted by leopard at 11:18 AM on August 27


But on academic freedom - the question is, should academics have the right to safely express opinions others find not just disagreeable but actively noxious.

Everyone who works for a government agency as a civil-servant or equivalent should have the right to safely express noxious, hateful, abhorrent, blasphemous, overly pious, unpatriotic, jingoistic, and any other kind of opinion you can think of when they're not actually performing their job and directing them at clients. Being an academic doesn't enter into it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:25 AM on August 27


So where do you draw the line?

Regarding political opinions? I don't draw it. There is no political opinion, however abhorrent, that should cause someone to lose their tenured position.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:26 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


corb: Whenever people decide to repeal Taft-Hartley

Can I just preemptively ask everyone to not extend this derail? A UIUC professor has already confirmed that tenured faculty there are not unionized. I'm sure we all have opinions on unions, but there are plenty of threads where we can have that conversation, while this one already has enough angles that we don't need one artificially inserted into the conversation.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:34 AM on August 27


the question is, should academics have the right to safely express opinions others find not just disagreeable but actively noxious.

Based on what I saw in my coworkers' Facebook feeds during the 2 seconds I had Facebook 8 years ago, if my university made a practice of firing (or not hiring) people who express opinions that are noxious to someone, our campus would be a ghost town.
posted by FelliniBlank at 11:43 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


[I swear to christ let's not do a "yeah but racist cops, so" Ferguson derail in here. C'mon.]
posted by cortex at 12:01 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


Victim of McCarthy-Era Witch Hunt calls on U-Illinois not to Fire Critic of Israeli Policies
posted by homunculus at 1:37 PM on August 27


Slam dunk denial of academic freedom. All the blather about inciting to violence and "anti-Semitism" (which lately seems to be routinely confused with criticizing the Israeli government) is just cover for people who disagree with his position on Israel's treatment of Gaza and the West Bank. Sadly, after decades of moving toward more freedom in academe, we are now seeing a silencing of uncomfortable voices in the name of some unwritten and vaguely identified ethical standards.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:20 PM on August 27


If the tweets are not part of his scholarship, which we both seem to agree about, then they are not fair game for use as part of a hiring decision by a government agency or extension thereof.

Ridiculous. If the guy is a toxic jerk, it's perfectly acceptable for people making hiring decisions to take that into account, and even reject him on that basis, whether or not twitter is the portal through which his toxicity is glimpsed. Once there's a contract, which my defeasible impression is that there was with Salaita, it obviously creates new and different, though not completely unbound, standards around his behavior. But the first amendment doesn't guarantee him a hiring evaluation that brackets out e.g. violent frothing about "disappearing" jewish settlers, insofar as that kind of talk is data about his being kind of a toxic jerk, just because it's on twitter, and even though it's also in the orbit of a substantive political controversy.

For the record, I tend to think we don't actually have the norms to deal with this kind of situation, and given that we now operate in a culture that relentlessly steers us toward poisonous online communication, I do want to be really really careful about not overscheduling the costs of reckless speech for individuals. But the framing of this as zionist suppressors of "academic freedom" and their glorious victims strikes me as little more than a crude myth cynically adopted to rescue the right kind of spiteful bigot (our kind) from covering any of the costs of his own venom.
posted by batfish at 3:41 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


[One deleted, let's not bring in other news stories that are solely about the I/P conflict; trying to keep this focused on the Salaita case. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:45 PM on August 27


Academic hiring decisions take collegiallity into account, but these decisions are usually made by the professors who have to work with the potential hire, not by donors seeking to enforce rigid boundaries of acceptable speech.
posted by leopard at 3:55 PM on August 27 [3 favorites]


So given that North American settlement was a prelude to war and ethnic cleansing of the Native American people, it seems eminently reasonable that a professor of Native American studies would see Israel's settlement of Palestine as an act of mortal aggression to be responded to in kind.
posted by Zalzidrax at 4:53 PM on August 27 [3 favorites]


Zalzidrax: "So given that North American settlement was a prelude to war and ethnic cleansing of the Native American people, it seems eminently reasonable that a professor of Native American studies would see Israel's settlement of Palestine as an act of mortal aggression to be responded to in kind."

Exactly. The longer I live on this earth, the more I think that civility, decorum, sportsmanship, and similar concepts are just shams that white dudes created in order to keep power. Maybe not always with that purpose, but usually with that effect.

The invisible rulebook becomes a useful cudgel when you need to get rid of someone under pretense. For example, when you hire a professor of Native American studies and are shocked, shocked when he displays anti-colonialist tendencies. He has to go because that's just Not How We Do Things, according to the invisible rules.
posted by savetheclocktower at 5:06 PM on August 27


knoyers, you seem to be missing the fact that the employer in this case is the government. The government cannot hire on the basis of political views or mode of speech.

Of course it can. Government jobs are given and taken away on a political basis every day of the week. In this case, Salaita never had a contract and the University of Illinois owes him nothing. It is rightfully Salaita's problem that he moved and quit his previous job before he had a contract. He paid the movers before he signed the lease.

If a government employer learns that a prospective employee's hate speech or extreme political views makes it very likely that a hostile classroom or work environment will result, such as by subjecting one class of persons to an environment where they will face the hatred of a person with authority over them, that government employer should be free not to hire that person without any impediment. Hiring is and should be discretionary.
posted by knoyers at 5:41 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


But the framing of this as zionist suppressors of "academic freedom" and their glorious victims strikes me as little more than a crude myth

Well then do your research. As I said above this has happened before. Juan Cole, Norman Finkelstein.

If a government employer learns that a prospective employee's hate speech or extreme political views makes it likely that a hostile classroom work environment will result,

No one believe that Salaita would create a hostile classroom environment. Indeed, his teaching evaluations are excellent. The trustees fired him because he criticized Israel, not for whatever made up concern anyone here tries to put forward as the 'real reason'.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:44 PM on August 27 [6 favorites]


No one believe that Salaita would create a hostile classroom environment.

The Twitter feed suggests otherwise

However, the University shouldn't even have to explain itself, since there was no contract.
posted by knoyers at 5:48 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


his actual record in the classroom, which is a stronger indication of his behavior in a classroom than a twitter feed, demonstrates that he does not create a hostile classroom environment.

The university had a verbal contract. Which is a contract nonetheless.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:50 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


No doubt different people have different experiences and views of Salaita's behavior in the classroom, as an academic and as a colleague, so it's fortunate that any ambiguity was blown away by his own exposure of his true attitudes in plain sight for all. Most people go further verbally than they ever would in writing.

When there is an exchange of written communication, supposed verbal contracts on the side do not count for much, legally. I think it is clear, and was clearly communicated to Salaita in writing, that further approvals higher up in the university had to take place to make their tentative offer to him a firm, binding deal. In the event, nothing was signed. Salaita's own behavior caused a still-discretionary offer to be withdrawn before there was any binding contract on either side. Sour grapes.
posted by knoyers at 6:10 PM on August 27


No doubt different people have different experiences and views of Salaita's behavior in the classroom

You're not understanding. There weren't different views and experiences. There was no ambiguity. Salaita was universally lauded, praised, and beloved as a teacher in the classroom.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:19 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


knoyers: I think it is clear, and was clearly communicated to Salaita in writing, that further approvals higher up in the university had to take place to make their tentative offer to him a firm, binding deal.

People in this thread who seem to know contract law (suelac, cribcage, and MattD) all agree that the iron-clad written no-disclaimer contract you're talking about is not necessary in order to seek relief for breach of contract. If you disagree, read their comments and engage with their arguments, otherwise, you're just repeating claims debunked by people who know what they're talking about.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:22 PM on August 27


Corb asked, upthread, "if the guy had come out as a KKK member would we still be arguing about his right to still be hired?"

Some people would definitely say yes, they would say that he has a right to be hired, as long as he doesn't bring his views into class. I don't know if such a thing is even possible, though, unless we're talking about someone whose field has no bearing on human rights or relationships. Even in such a case, though, is it fair to non-Christian and non-white students? If the teacher publicly says that they should be discriminated against, why would they feel confident that this position is merely rhetorical and that the teacher doesn't discriminate against them? That fear is an extra burden in itself, one which other students don't carry.

Cary Nelson makes a similar point:
Will Jewish students in his classes feel comfortable after they read “”Let’s cut to the chase: If you’re defending Israel right now you’re an awful human being” (July 8), “Zionist uplift in America: every little Jewish boy and girl can grow up to be the leader of a murderous colonial regime” (July 14)
I suppose the first quote is excusable on the grounds that it was an extramural statement, and that he wouldn't have said such a thing in an academic context. The second one, though, explicitly characterises all Jews in America. Leaving the characterisation of Israel aside, it's like saying that every Muslim could grow up to be the leader of a terrorist militia in Syria. It's as offensive as it is stupid. These two quotations, though, are far worse:
“By eagerly conflating Jewishness and Israel, Zionists are partly responsible when people say anti-Semitic shit in response to Israeli terror” (July 18, 2014). The following day he offered a definition: “Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948” (July 19).
The first of these is victim-blaming: it purports to give an excuse for racial hatred. The second actually says that racial hatred is "honorable"! I cannot see any way this sort of statement is acceptable; I would not expect any Jewish student to feel safe or fairly treated in his class. I think UIUC dodged a bullet there: someone with those views should not be a teacher.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:23 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


Joe in Australia: Cary Nelson makes a similar point:

Yes, this is a point that I included in the FPP, with a rejoinder from Scott Lemieux:
Most of Nelson's bill of particulars consists of selected tweets. While they sometimes express ideas I don't agree with in language I would be disinclined to use, can't possibly be firing offenses. To add to this, he asks whether "Jewish students in his classes [will] feel comfortable" with his Tweets. At least here we're talking about something (teaching) that is relevant to whether someone should be fired, as opposed to something that isn't (whether someone disagrees with Cary Nelson's political views too vehemently.) But leaving aside his obviously erroneous assumption that no Jewish student could agree with the substance of Salaita's views, this is again a remarkably poor argument. First of all, as many people have pointed out, this proves too much; it's just an argument that no faculty member should ever express a view on a controversial topic. And, second, it's not as if this was Salaita's first job out of a British PhD program; if he had any record of treating students who disagree with him about Israeli policy unfairly this would, presumably, come out in the evaluation of his teaching. If it didn't, it's not relevant.
With respect to the "partly responsible" tweet, Corey Robin points out that Nathan Glazer, who I don't think anyone can call an anti-Semite, said very similar things. (Of course he did so in a forum where he could articulate nuance better than one can on Twitter.)

Anyway, "someone with those views" was already a teacher, and his views, though they aren't Cary Nelson's views, had caused no apparent problems with any of his students or colleagues. I guess he just never had any Jews in any of his classes?
posted by tonycpsu at 6:33 PM on August 27


Salaita was universally lauded, praised, and beloved as a teacher in the classroom.

Maybe so or maybe not, but then he said some false and hateful things on Twitter that led a would-be employer to change its mind about employing him before the employment went into effect. So what? His past classroom behavior might be one piece of evidence, the Twitter feed is another strong piece. In hiring, the standard is whether the employer wants that person.

the iron-clad written no-disclaimer contract you're talking about is not necessary in order to seek relief for breach of contract.

I didn't say he couldn't seek relief. Of course he can. But he doesn't deserve to win money in court if the employment offer was clearly contingent on steps that never took place, due to his offensive behavior between the time the offer was made, tentatively, and when it would have been approved and confirmed.
posted by knoyers at 6:34 PM on August 27


I guess he just never had any Jews in any of his classes?

Maybe. Or maybe they were too scared to say anything. I mean, I would feel scared if someone started going on about how anti-Semitism was "honorable". But this is really beside the point; when people are acting in a discriminatory manner it is unfair and unjust to say "well, nobody complained about it before".
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:47 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


Joe in Australia: But this is really beside the point; when people are acting in a discriminatory manner it is unfair and unjust to say "well, nobody complained about it before".

That would be an excellent point if you'd demonstrated that any such discrimination has occurred.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:48 PM on August 27


Maybe so or maybe not,

Actually there's no maybes about it. He was lauded as an excellent teacher. But you don't seem interested Salaita's capability as an academic, only to attack him.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:54 PM on August 27


“By eagerly conflating Jewishness and Israel, Zionists are partly responsible when people say anti-Semitic shit in response to Israeli terror” (July 18, 2014). T

The first of these is victim-blaming: it purports to give an excuse for racial hatred.

Thank you for proving the point by conflating Zionism with Jewishness

Zionists are not, and have never been victims in any context. Jews have been, but when you cast Jew == Zionist, you're doing many, many Jews a disservice. Many Jews who reject Zionist principles, some on the simple Jewish principle that we shouldn't try to end the Diaspora before the Messiah comes, others, in acknowledgement that for a real E Pluribus Unum democracy, you need separation of church and state.

But of course, it's in the Zionist's best interest to continue the confusion.
posted by mikelieman at 6:56 PM on August 27 [4 favorites]


Additionally, I think the Government of Israel should acknowledge that they don't represent me, and many other Jews by removing the Mogen David from their flag.
posted by mikelieman at 6:57 PM on August 27


[Hey there, just a reminder, this thread needs to not become a brangle about Israel. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:59 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


That would be an excellent point if you'd demonstrated that any such discrimination has occurred.

No, I don't think people subject to insulting and threatening language have the duty to demonstrate actual discrimination. At that point the onus of proof is reversed. No Jewish student should be forced to have confidence in a professor who describes anti-Semitism as "honorable".
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:05 PM on August 27


No Jewish student should be forced to have confidence in a professor who describes anti-Semitism as "honorable".

Is anyone here even REMOTELY saying that? I mean FFS.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:07 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


> I guess he just never had any Jews in any of his classes?

Perhaps not. IF he had a reputation for prejudice amongst the students (and I don't know whether he did or not) it's entirely possible that Jewish students avoided taking his classes in the same way that women students in my university class avoided professors who had a reputation for misogyny. You'd never see that reflected in the ratings, though, because [self] selection bias meant that the students most likely to experience/perceive the discrimination preemptively & actively avoided it.

[NB: I am not saying that Salaita's teaching ratings are (or are not) biased. I only wish to point out that due to the nature of the sampling, we have no way to tell.]
posted by Westringia F. at 7:09 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


Joe in Australia: No, I don't think people subject to insulting and threatening language have the duty to demonstrate actual discrimination.

The "people" in question are his students, not Jews generally, or Zionists, who you are repeatedly conflating with Jews, because that's kind of your thing. Obviously if he has a Zionist student in his class, especially someone who comes from a family of settlers in disputed areas, that student would be right to feel unwelcome, and that would certainly be something UIUC administrators would be right to talk to Salaita about, because at that point, it would be something that would interfere with the educational process.

However, if we pre-emptively removed every professor who expresses a viewpoint that might make someone uncomfortable or unwelcome, we wouldn't have any professors left, and the same justification that allows you to discriminate against him for his extramural views could be used to justify any decision to fire any professor.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:19 PM on August 27


MisantropicPainforest

Hah, as I recall, you were one of the posters who thought it Very Serious Indeed that the heavy metal band Dragonforce had cartoonishly racist songs in its teenage incarnation... I'll just wave bye-bye at the irony of your commitment to heightened vigilance against racism in that arena...

The trustees fired him because he criticized Israel, not for whatever made up concern anyone here tries to put forward as the 'real reason'.

The thing is, it's not like they didn't know he was a critic of Israel when they "hired" him. It's not like they didn't know he was a "radical" critic of Israel, in the sense of location on a spectrum. That stuff was in the public record, and, in actual fact, it didn't matter that he was a critic of Israel. Furthermore, what came to light between his "hiring" and "firing" wasn't a position paper on Israel, or a speech, or a piece of intense journalism. Rather, it was a series of gonzo tweets fantasizing about exterminating jewish settlers, calling for the moral reevaluation of antisemitism, and, in a distinctly "elders of zion"-ish register, evoking Netanyahu in a necklace made of the teeth of palestinian children. So, whether or not you think Salaita was wronged, can you at least acknowledge an analytical distinction between what was surely a grotesque and, to some eyes, obsessively antisemitic, twitter performance, and the reassuringly lofty and morally anodyne connotation of "criticizing Israel"?
posted by batfish at 7:31 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


He reportedly wrote “Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948”. You did read that, right? Because you keep doing this little dance around it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:33 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


fantasizing about exterminating jewish settlers

Repeating this falsehood does not make it true.

calling for the moral reevaluation of antisemitism

Just like noted anti-Semite Nathan Glazer, see above.

evoking Netanyahu in a necklace made of the teeth of palestinian children

Right, in a fantastic hypothetical. Imagine an anti-war and anti-drone professor tweeting "At this point, if Obama appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Afghani children, would anybody be surprised? #Afghanistan". Should they be fired? Of course not. It's an opinion about politics.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:35 PM on August 27


Joe, Zionism is not Judaism, and Judaism isn't Zionism, no matter how helpful having them be one in the same would be to your argument.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:37 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


batfish, if you think there is a tension between "Dragonforce should apologize for their racist past" and "Academic freedom means academics shouldn't be fired for their political views no matter how disagreeable" then I think it is safe to say you aren't an academic and really don't understand what the issues at stake are here.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:37 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


And the mods have been very clear that this isn't a referendum on Israel and please please be more fucking careful about accusations of anti-Semitism.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:40 PM on August 27


No, I don't think people subject to insulting and threatening language have the duty to demonstrate actual discrimination.

Then why should Harvard's students have to put up with Alan Dershowitz who's extremely aggressive and has said a lot of really charged things, including that those who disagree with are evil and immoral (the latter was said about students!) or cheerleaders of terrorists? The intemperate language exists on both sides. How is one to adjudicate this and be fair to proponents of both sides of these sorts of arguments?
posted by faux ami at 7:47 PM on August 27


Slight derail, but this applies to the discussion, I believe:

There's a UCLA law professor who has written a book about how affirmative action harms African-Americans. He has aggressively argued that UCLA's undergraduate 'holistic' admissions process is illegal (and that there are too many African-Americans admitted--2% at a state university in a state in which African-Americans are nearly 8% of the population). The law school has about 30 blacks out of 1,100 in the student body. I have personally heard that black students don't feel comfortable in his classes and there are literally stories about white students putting on t-shirts with the name of the professor on it to support his views about affirmative action.

By the standards being bandied about in this thread, Salaita should most certainly be able to get a job--at least at UCLA (or Harvard) law schools.
posted by faux ami at 8:04 PM on August 27


[One comment deleted. Hi folks, let's try to keep it cool in here. That includes not focusing comments on other members, and also not bringing in Nazi comparisons. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:05 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


>> He reportedly wrote “Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948”.

> Joe, Zionism is not Judaism, and Judaism isn't Zionism, no matter how helpful having them be one in the same would be to your argument.

In fairness, that tweet does literally assert that hatred of Jews (anti-Semitism) is made honorable by the actions of a few (Zionists). The degree to which that's a hyperbolic retweet-bait distillation of a more (or less) reasoned position -- and the question of whether or not it should matter to UIUC -- is all a matter of debate, but I don't think the conflation is being introduced by Joe here.
posted by Westringia F. at 8:15 PM on August 27 [3 favorites]


Joe in Australia: Because you keep doing this little dance around it.

Sure, if by "doing a little dance" you mean "explicitly comparing it to the logic used by Nathan Glazer." Attacking a question directly is now ducking a question, and up is down.

Meanwhile, you have chosen not to explain what the substantive difference is between Salaita's logic and Glazer's. It should not be off limits to ask if Zionism -- by which Salaita clearly meant political Zionism and not cultural Zionism -- has actively harmed Jews generally, and led to increased anti-Semitism. That is *not* blaming Jews for hatred of Jews, it's blaming a political movement of a certain segment of Jews who have political beliefs that not all Jews share. This discussion should not be off limits in an academic setting, and if it is, I guess Glazer ought to turn in his Jew card as well.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:17 PM on August 27 [5 favorites]


Previous post about the UCLA law school story faux ami described.
posted by homunculus at 8:18 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


Westringia F.: but I don't think the conflation is being introduced by Joe here.

No, it definitely is. He and Cary Nelson are hiding the ball between cultural Zionism and political Zionism. Political Zionism should not be off the table and immune from criticism just because conflating it with Jewish cultural identity, ethnic identity, or religion happens to make for a better argument. If you read Salaita's tweets in context, you see he's talking about settlements, occupation of Gaza, and other political grievances -- not anything about Jewish culture, race, or religion.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:30 PM on August 27


And I should add here, in an effort to get things away from a general Israel/Palestine discussion, that even if Salaita had been actively assigning blame for anti-Semitism to Jews more broadly, that would be outrageous statement that he should be challenged on, but not a fireable offense. But, you know, he wasn't doing that.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:38 PM on August 27


Here's an article I got to from faux ami's link: Racists’ T-Shirts On Campus? Only If You Bother To Think About It

At first glance it didn't look like a good parallel to me: the UCLA professor (Richard Sanders) is has a theory that "affirmative action hurts students it's intended to help." So it looked like a reasonable-ish academic position, not as if he was saying it was "honorable" to hate black students. I was misled by the different characteristics of anti-black racism (and a lack of empathy, for which I apologise) because it turns out that he had a horrible effect on his students. From a source quoted in that article:
[T]here are no longer black students in his 1L property classes. My 1L experience was awful and after numerous complaints to administration about why it was so problematic to continue placing blacks in his classroom, they finally stopped this year. But every year prior black students have had to suffer through and were told by white administration to “channel our anger/emotions into ‘proving his research wrong’ and performing well” — yet another burden no other white students were faced with. We were also never provided additional academic support for the missed learning opportunities in that environment, such as not feeling comfortable enough to attend his office hours. I can’t think of any black student who wouldn’t feel as if they were contributing to his research by admitting they were not understanding a concept.
As the main body of the article says:
The other thing about microaggressions is that it’s hard for black people — the victims of these attacks — to find the right response. Writing a 1,500-word blog post about ten kids wearing t-shirts is almost certainly an overreaction. Having an administrative response to the students wearing the t-shirts is an even bigger overreaction, and probably a dangerous one. [...]

All you can do in response to a microaggression is bitch, and hope that one day people in the majority don’t ignore you just because they’re not personally affected by your struggles.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:48 PM on August 27


Joe in Australia: not as if he was saying it was "honorable" to hate black students.

Not at all what Salaita was saying. Your dishonest paraphrasing is doing your argument no favors.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:51 PM on August 27


By the way, so it's clear: the UCLA law professor was not merely expressing a policy preference regarding affirmative action (because if that were the case then one might argue that that's the law in California and students of racial/ethnic minority status should take up any complaints with voters and not this particular professor). He was arguing that the current admissions standards at UCLA (which were crafted following a ballot measure making actual affirmative action illegal in the state) are illegal and, even though the claim was already studied and effectively deemed unsubstantiated by two methodologists at Berkeley and UCLA, he backed it up with his own statistical analysis, which he claimed showed that African-Americans were overrepresented and Asians underrepresented. The problem is (among many others), he forgot to take into account student athletes in his analysis, so his analysis was off (well, he has at least for the moment disappeared until he's presumably redone his analyses). Nonetheless, it is arguable that his strongly voiced viewpoints (which he placed in editorials in the student newspaper and got tremendous attention for, including a student newspaper-sponsored university town hall, the purpose of which was to depose the administration on their admissions policies despite protestations from numerous student groups) arguably created a climate in which white law students felt comfortable wearing his name on their t-shirts to protest affirmative action (even though there is no affirmative action at UCLA) and other students could write racist messages to black law students (check out the incredible stories in the links above). Indubitably, the only reason this guy has a job is academic freedom. He most certainly contributed to an unwelcome and fearful climate for African-Americans.

On preview: Joe, yeah, the stuff was pretty bad. And, again, this isn't about affirmative action. It's about saying the current admissions policies are illegal (even though they are not).
posted by faux ami at 8:54 PM on August 27


Tonycpsu, you seem to miss the point. This isn't a (solely) statement about Zionism; it's a statement about anti-Semitism:
“Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948” Similarly, if someone said "Feminism: transforming misogyny into something honorable" or "Gay Pride: transforming homophobia into something honorable" or ... well, anything like that, I would conclude that that person was advocating hatred. Because how can it be anything else? They're saying that the hatred is honorable!
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:54 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


if you think there is a tension between "Dragonforce should apologize for their racist past" and "Academic freedom means academics shouldn't be fired for their political views no matter how disagreeable"

No, I was noticing an apparent change in your sensitivity to racially incendiary speech in the different contexts, not claiming a contradiction between some two sentences you might construct.

I think it is safe to say you aren't an academic and really don't understand what the issues at stake are here.

Actually, I think this kind of attitude is itself a pretty salient sort of background issue in some of this, but I'll let it go...

Anyway, if you don't want to engage with the question of how Salaita's twitter performance is not simply and straightforwardly exhausted by descriptors like "criticizing Israel" or "having a political view," fine, but then it's redundant and non-responsive to repeat over and over that he lost the job just for "criticizing Israel."
posted by batfish at 8:58 PM on August 27


Feminism: transforming misogyny into something honorable

Feminism, by definition, is anti-misogyny.

Gay Pride: transforming homophobia into something honorable"

Gay pride is, by definition, anti-homophobia.

Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948

Zionists, are not, by definition, anti-(anti-Semites). Zionism is not a reaction to anti-Semitism, it is a specific set of beliefs held by many Jews.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:59 PM on August 27


Relevant:
As much as some insist that it is not the case, I think it is absolutely possible for all of us, including gentiles like myself, to argue about Israel and its occupation directly and with passion, in clear and frank language, the way we discuss every other issue of political controversy. As I wrote at the Dish, I do not believe that the issue of Israel requires preemptive apologetics or showy acts of balance in a way that no other issue we discuss does. People sometimes say to me, "I can't believe you puts that stuff on your professional website! Other academics will see! Senior academics!" To which I say, good! I stand by what I write here, and I specifically stand by it as a matter of political and moral objection to the inexcusable actions of a state's government and its military, not any kind of statement about the character of an ethnicity or religion. I define my own beliefs, I am in fact defining them here, and they are critical of the nation of Israel and not the Jewish people.

Situations like that of Dr. Salaita, and Norman Finkelstein and Juan Cole, demonstrate that there are reasons that people are afraid to speak out on this issue. I firmly believe that this is a mistake in the long run, even for defenders of Israel’s conduct in the occupied territories. There is no good that comes from acting as though we cannot discuss this issue, and only this issue, rationally. I don’t avoid anti-Semitism by tying myself into a pretzel to avoid saying things that could be misconstrued by interested parties, but by not being anti-Semitic. What is at issue is a matter of character, and that exists independent of how some might use conversation to entrap others. If some job search committee discovers that I have written critically of Israel and rejects me for that reason, then that is indicative of a deeper problem than my decorousness. We need to argue, so we will, and the truth will out. We have to have faith in people’s ability to recognize the right and responsibility to forcefully argue, even in the face of situations like this one, which call the very future of academic and intellectual freedom into doubt.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:21 PM on August 27 [3 favorites]


Modern Zionism was absolutely a reaction to anti-Semitism, but leave that to one side. How do you understand Salaita's statement (and the other one, which said that "Zionists are partly responsible when people say anti-Semitic shit")? I think the only way to read it is that Zionism justifies anti-Semitism; it makes it praiseworthy. Similarly, someone who hates women might say that feminism justifies misogyny, or someone who hates gays would say that Gay Pride marches justify homophobia. The essence of these statements is "this form of hatred may once have been despicable, but now it is admirable."
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:29 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


> Political Zionism should not be off the table and immune from criticism just because conflating it with Jewish cultural identity, ethnic identity, or religion happens to make for a better argument.

I agree that Zionism shouldn't be immune to criticism. Note, though, that Salaita's tweet didn't say "Zionists: transforming anti-Zionism into something honorable since 1948," but rather "transforming anti-Semitism into something honorable." Anti-Semitism isn't the same as anti-Zionsm, as you yourself pointed out, but Salaita's tweet fails to make the distinction.

Consider an analogous statement "Sharia law: making anti-Islam honorable since...." One might intend it as a criticism of fundamentalist political extremism, but I think many people would find the rhetorical linking of political extremism (and opposition thereto) with a diverse relgious community (and hatred thereof) problematic.
posted by Westringia F. at 9:40 PM on August 27 [3 favorites]


Joe in Australia: Modern Zionism was absolutely a reaction to anti-Semitism

The historical record of how Zionism came to be does not change what Zionism is. It is not, definitionally, anti-(anti-semitism). It is simply a set of beliefs that many (but not all) Jews share. One does not have to be Jewish to be a Zionist, and one does not have to be Zionist to be a Jew. Your analogy doesn't hold, irrespective of what causal factors contributed to the formation of Zionist thought.

How do you understand Salaita's statement

Well, it's less than 140 characters, so we're not talking about something that leaves a whole lot of room for nuance here. I would like to hear Salaita's answer to that question, but my interpretation, again, is that he's making a very similar argument to Glazer, but with more bombast, as one might expect from someone of Palestinian lineage.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:45 PM on August 27


Westringia F.: Consider an analogous statement "Sharia law: making anti-Islam honorable since...." One might intend it as a criticism of fundamentalist political extremism, but I think many people would find the rhetorical linking of political extremism (and opposition thereto) with a diverse relgious community (and hatred thereof) problematic.

Except when conflating the political movement of Zionism with Jewishness in general helps one's argument by turning attacks on the politics into attacks on the religion, the race, or the people. That's totally cool, right?
posted by tonycpsu at 9:47 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


If you want to condemn anti-Semitism while opposing Zionism, that's cool, but you can't do it while supporting this guy's words.
posted by corb at 9:50 PM on August 27


“Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948”

GMAFB. I'll sign on to this, and then you can call me a terrible anti-Semite, thereby proving the validity of this supposedly unbelievably horrible and offensive quote.

As has already been explained, Zionism is not anti-anti-Semitism. You can be anti-anti-Semitic without being Zionist. There are anti-Zionist Jews for crying out loud.

Yeah, you could interpret this sentence as saying, "Anti-Semitism used to be bad, but now that there are Zionists, it turns out that Hitler was an honorable man." Or you could interpret it as saying "The charge of anti-Semitism used to be meaningful, but now Zionists have conflated it with anti-Zionism, thereby rendering it meaningless and even a badge of honor." It seems to clear to me that he means the latter, it seems to clear to you that he means the former, so why don't we split the difference and make sure he can never get a job again? Seems fair to me.

I linked this story above.
The Met decided to cancel its planned... transmission of “Klinghoffer” to movie theaters and a radio broadcast after discussions with the Anti-Defamation League. The league praised the Met’s decision, saying that “while the opera itself is not anti-Semitic, there is a concern the opera could be used in foreign countries to stir up anti-Israel sentiments or as a vehicle to promote anti-Semitism.”

Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, said that he remained a champion of the works of Mr. Adams, and that he does not believe the work is anti-Semitic...

“Serious concerns remain about this opera, and we are aware that this decision will not satisfy all of the Met’s critics,” Mr. Foxman [national director of the Anti-Defamation League] said in a statement. “Yet it does ensure that the opera will have far less of an impact beyond the walls of the opera house at Lincoln Center.”
Foxman said elsewhere that he had not seen the opera and did not believe it was anti-Semitic, but that he was worried about it might be perceived.

What a wonderful trend for our discourse -- the mere possibility that something could be taken the wrong way is a good reason to cancel performances and restrict speech. I mean, if you consistently conflate anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, then someone may one day mistake an anti-Zionist statement for an anti-Semitic statement, and doesn't that prove that people should not make any anti-Zionist statements at all?
posted by leopard at 9:52 PM on August 27 [6 favorites]


corb: If you want to condemn anti-Semitism while opposing Zionism, that's cool, but you can't do it while supporting this guy's words.

I'm not supporting his words. They're crappy words, that are, paraphrasing deBoer above, easily misconstrued by interested parties to entrap others. Still, they are not words that are indicative of anti-Semitism, any more than Nathan Glazer's similar sentiments (expressed far more temperately, and by a Jew) are indicative of anti-Semitism.

What I am supporting is his right to use shitty words in a tweet and still keep his job.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:54 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


From Leiter's blog:
His thoughts on the legal situation in this case
and
Letter from historian Natalie Zemon Davis on why Wise should reverse her decision - nicely articulating the academic freedom rationale
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:17 PM on August 27 [8 favorites]


Consider an analogous statement "Sharia law: making anti-Islam honorable since...." One might intend it as a criticism of fundamentalist political extremism, but I think many people would find the rhetorical linking of political extremism (and opposition thereto) with a diverse relgious community (and hatred thereof) problematic.

Of course many people would find that problematic. At the same time, it's a very commonly held view in America and I'm not aware of any movement to fire professors for expressing it. It's not like this guy has kept his internet presence under wraps for the last 10-15 years.
posted by leopard at 10:29 PM on August 27 [5 favorites]


I don't know much about Glenn Reynolds, but in principle, yes: someone who is anti-Islam shouldn't be teaching students. Look at the shameful situation at UCLA I referred to above.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:34 PM on August 27


The UCLA situation serves as evidence that a teacher's attitudes can cause serious problems in the classroom. It is not grounds for firing Salaita (or Glenn Reynolds for that matter).

Anti-Islam attitudes are incredibly common in America, especially when couched as opposition to Islamic extremism. They are arguably the most mainstream, popular view. Glenn Reynolds is basically the godfather of political blogging, he's not some obscure guy. I've never heard of an attempt to get him fired.

Saying "oh sure, by this standard there are thousands of people who should be fired" isn't exactly a defense of the fairness of the standard when no one else is being fired.
posted by leopard at 11:51 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


But he's not getting fired. He's being denied a position that he thought he was going to get. It's remarkable how people's opinion of his merits seems to divide along political lines, but even Brian Leiter (cited above) describes it as "refusal to hire" rather than firing, and rests his argument primarily on First Amendment lines and promissory estoppel. In other words, he acknowledges that there was no contract, and hence no firing.

What did Glenn Reynolds say, anyway? I've heard of him (and probably read stuff from his Big Bucket O' Links a few times) but a brief Google search didn't turn up anything obvious.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:15 AM on August 28 [1 favorite]


Joe, whatever, I'm not an employment lawyer and I'm not in a courtroom. All I know is that last year Salaita had a job and tenure, and this year he is unemployed and has been attacked for being fundamentally unsuited to teach students.

What happened to your claim that Salaita was saying that anti-Semitism is honorable? That seemed like a big deal to me when you were making it. Now we're parsing if he was technically fired or not?
posted by leopard at 6:01 AM on August 28


[Don't make it personal.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:37 AM on August 28 [1 favorite]


If you want to condemn anti-Semitism while opposing Zionism, that's cool, but you can't do it while supporting this guy's words.

I don't think that the point of the words “Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948” is to gain support for that particular idea, but to rather provoke thought about that TO ANTI-SEMITES, the actions of Zionists are evidence to support their Anti-Semitism.

Think about it. Every time a Zionist settler sets a kid on fire, it's not Zionists that get blamed, it's Jews. All of us. Again, I'd feel a lot better if the Zionists didn't use my religious symbols for their political agenda.

tl;dr: Separation of Church and State FTW!
posted by mikelieman at 6:47 AM on August 28


Letter from historian Natalie Zemon Davis on why Wise should reverse her decision - nicely articulating the academic freedom rationale

An excellent, though brief, analysis of the nuances that have been trampled in some discussions on this issue (e.g. genre differences between fora; differences between a person's role as teacher, commentator, colleague; tensions between free inquiry and civility).
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:55 AM on August 28


I am having a very difficult time with this conversation and have had one comment deleted. I think for being too personal. Some comments here have felt very personal.

I am a Jew and I am Zionist. What I am hearing from some in this thread is that I am responsible for antisemitism, either for its very existence (because my affiliation with Judaism and with Zionism is a valid reason for some people to be bigoted against Jews) or for the tolerance of antisemitism (because my beliefs/actions mean that people don't need to consider antisemitism a real problem). This frightens me. I don't feel that powerful.

On top of this, I have no idea to what extent my definition of Zionism overlaps with others. Tonycpu's statement that "Zionism... is a specific set of beliefs held by many Jews" papers over a lot of territory. It's not obvious to me what he thinks those beliefs are. In my everyday life I interact with many Jews who call themselves either Zionist or non Zionist or anti Zionist or post Zionist and even the ones who agree on a self-label often don't agree on a simple definition that could be characterized as 'a specific set of beliefs.'
posted by Salamandrous at 7:11 AM on August 28 [7 favorites]


What I am hearing from some in this thread is that I am responsible for antisemitism

I understand that this is what you are hearing, but can you point to where people are saying that? Those are two different things.
posted by leopard at 7:19 AM on August 28 [1 favorite]


The guy is clearly anti-semitic based on the overall weight his writings; if every single anti-Semitic thing that is pointed out "has to be read in context" or "has to be read carefully" or has to be paraphrased in order to see that it isn't, while there are no contradictory statements that would make this less clear-cut, then it quacks like a duck in my book. Isolating Israeli Jews as his target doesn't make it merely anti-Zionist. But the point of the FPP - and of the issue - is whether that makes it okay to rescind what should have been a binding job offer. I'm not sure where I stand on that - on its surface it seems like it doesn't, and the university doesn't have a case. But as others have mentioned, his salary has to be paid for and if the people footing the bill won't pay, I can see how that also plays an important role. I totally agree that universities should be free of those financial constraints, but I don't know anywhere where that's the case.

What I find more troubling is that once again people seem to be playing into the canard that just because all anti-Zionism isn't anti-Semitism, therefore none of it is. That there is magically no such thing as anti-Semitism among liberals so long as you're careful to only talk about "Zionists" or "settlers" or "Israelis". Even when - as mikelieman points out - when people protest Zionism, Jews are the people who end up getting assaulted (often at or as a result of the protests). It's like that happens in a vacuum. Because no one actually says "kill the Jews" or uses the word "kike," it's not anti-Semitic -- and then when someone actually does say it, the immediate response is often to say that they MEANT Zionists, that this is only a beef over Israeli actions, and they're only smashing up a Jewish neighborhood over misplaced anger. Point out racism or misogyny among your peers, and the liberal response is - generally - to reexamine oneself and one's words/actions, make amends, aim to be more careful in not repeating the offense. It's one of the reasons academia is naturally leftist - there's a built-in expectation that words and actions matter, and have context, and that the conversation to build understanding is in itself worthwhile. But point out anti-Semitism and the response is almost always to knee-jerk deny that what you're looking at is anti-Semitism at all - that anyone who calls anything anti-Semitic is clearly a Zionist playing politics or someone trying to derail the discussion. That it's just a coincidence that it echoes classic blood-libel tropes (murdering babies? really?). That the anti-Semitic statement could technically be considered true in that instance or could apply to anyone. When that fails, bring out the straw man "well THIS Jewish guy did this equally hateful thing" to somehow make it okay (while simultaneously furthering the anti-Jewish sentiment).

I'm a liberal, a progressive, and a Zionist. I support the 2-state solution and the Road Map and an end to occupation. There are lots of people like me, including a fair majority in Israel. I do not like to see the basic definition of Zionism - that Jews as an internationally persecuted minority have a right to a homeland, and that homeland is Israel - transformed by many people into variations on 'Expansionalist colonialism where non-Jews have no rights and should be murdered to reach its ends', which seems to be the working definition here. I won't be naive and pretend that there are no Zionist Jews who believe just that. But I also won't be complacent and not recognize that the Protocols-of-Zion level slander that "Jews' main goal is to take over the world and make a habit of killing non-Jewish children" is almost identical to statements that "Zionists' main goal is to take over the Middle East and make a habit of killing Palestinian children." It's not true and it's not helpful.

There are ways to support Palestinian self-determination and oppose West Bank settlements and express negative opinions about Israel's actions that don't require demonizing people. Salaita seems incapable of this, and proudly so. But we can say that he has a right to say what he feels however he damn well wants to say them, and even fight for his right to say them if that's how you feel, and still call hate speech what it is.
posted by Mchelly at 7:46 AM on August 28 [10 favorites]


should Steven Landsburg be fired? He wrote:

"As long as I'm safely unconscious and therefore shielded from the costs of an assault, [in this case, rape]" Mr. Landsburg wrote in the post, "why shouldn't the rest of the world (or more specifically my attackers) be allowed to reap the benefits?""
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:06 AM on August 28


And I think Leiter's conclusion in his analysis is worth repeating and I agree with it fully. Emphasis added:

"If Salaita were an over-the-top tweeter about Russia, or Iran, or China, no one would have heard of him. But too many supporters of Israel in the United States have become--either because of bad memories or fear or just naked tribalism--enemies of freedom and decency, to the point where they will do anything to destroy critics of Israeli conduct. What has happened to Steven Salaita is a case in point, but it is a particularly appalling case because it has resulted in the leadership of a major research institution betraying the most basic value of a real university, namely, freedom of expression, especially controversial expression. Chancellor Wise and Chairman Kennedy have done something wicked and unjust, as well as illegal. I have not much hope for Mr. Kennedy--this is not the first time Chairman Kennedy has punished an academic for his speech, though the very personal element in that latter case might have led one to treat it as an aberration...until now. But Chancellor Wise, as a lifelong academic, has disgraced her university and her chosen profession. I hope that, before long, in the dark hours of the night her conscience will awaken her, and she will find a way to make things right."
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:30 AM on August 28 [2 favorites]


I am a Jew and I am Zionist. What I am hearing from some in this thread is that I am responsible for antisemitism, either for its very existence (because my affiliation with Judaism and with Zionism is a valid reason for some people to be bigoted against Jews) or for the tolerance of antisemitism (because my beliefs/actions mean that people don't need to consider antisemitism a real problem). This frightens me. I don't feel that powerful.

While it is obviously totally not cool (or helpful) to conflate all of Judaism, all Jews, all Zionists, all Israelis, the State of Israel, and the government of the State of Israel, the fact is that a very small segment of Jewish Israeli Zionists do some massively deplorable shit, particularly in Palestine, claiming (and it must be said that this is a blatantly false claim) to do so in the name of Judaism, all Jews, all Israelis, the State of Israel, and Zionism. This stuff is very much worth getting pissed off about, and while it doesn't at all justify antisemitism, or indiscriminate attacks against innocent Israelis, or any other broad-brush generalizations about huge swathes of unique individuals, it doesn't take a seasoned political scientist to see how it might incite it.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:32 AM on August 28


MisanthropicPainForest: What do you know? Seriously. You don't know anything! You read one tweet from this guy. He went through a battery of tests in order to get hired. They met him, talked to him, talked to people who knew him. You never talked to him, never met him, only read a couple of tweets. You're completely ignorant of the situation.

I mean this guy did the nearly impossible: got two tenured positions at large R1 universities in comparative literature. You don't get there without having people wanting to work with you.


Isn't the friction between his academic credentials and his tweet the fission catalyst for this whole argument?

In one corner we have those arguing that a tweet is closer to a curse shouted from a moving vehicle-- we all have our bad days, it evaporates in the atmosphere, to take this as an indication of anything other than a foul mood sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of us. His academic credentials trump a passing tweet.

In the other corner we have those arguing that an academic of all people should know that words have great causal force wherever they are wielded. A tweet is fair game, regardless of academic pedigree.

Then there is the argument of contracts and handshakes and blah blah blah. That is boring to me; I'm sorry I even spoke of it. As they say, I'll let the lawyers work that out. It is only important in that it raises the stakes of the real fight. (Were he a tenured professor, under contract, the stakes would be that much higher.)

I'll say again: who would want to work with this man? His single tweet needs no qualification. In the frightening language of extraordinary renditioners and the secret police, he wishes for West Bank settlers to "go missing". And unlike an inter-vehicular curse, he takes the time to establish that he knows he is about to say something "unrefined," but he is going to say it anyway.

If he wanted to say something vile and vulgar on the internet, he should have done so anonymously like the rest of us. Otherwise that single tweet should be enough to cause the crisis of confidence the U. of I. board experienced. And I agree with their decision. They knew he was strongly critical of Israel when they hired him. They didn't know he had fantasies of genocide. Upon discovering that fact, it was right to halt his hiring.
posted by a_curious_koala at 8:40 AM on August 28 [2 favorites]


This is getting ridiculous.

First, the argument by the administration was that Salaita wasn't engaging in civil discourse. I've pointed out, as has leopard, that there are other well-known professors who do not engage in anything resembling civil discourse outside of the classroom and who vilify their peers and their ideological enemies. They just happen to have anti-Islam or pro-Israel perspectives, which are presently more acceptable and mainstream sentiments than anti-Israel beliefs. Nothing happened to those professors. Only Salaita lost his job (opportunity).

So then somebody started making the argument that this kind of talk outside the classroom will harm students in the classroom and make others feel unwelcome, even though tonycpsu and some of the linked articles noted that Salaita had very good teaching reviews and was well-received by departmental faculty at UIUC. And I pointed out that UCLA has a professor who has actually created a situation so bad that black students no longer take his first year law classes and undergrad minority students are upset by him. But he still has his job.

It seems pretty clear that if Salaita can't have a university job, then Glenn Reynolds and Dershowitz shouldn't have jobs, by the civil discourse standard. And by the harming the learning experience/alienating students standard, arguably Reynolds and Dershowitz and most certainly the UCLA law professor shouldn't have university jobs. Yet, a lot of us here generally think it's best not to fire these guys because (a) it's nearly impossible to create a meaningful norm about what's acceptable and (b) we'd end up having to fire guys like this and anyone else who offends people in power (that guy offended a lot of right-wingers; you can check it out).

So, aside from the he wasn't hired yet argument, which has been hashed and rehashed already, this is now just back to the same old I/P debate. It would be so thrilling to me to see pro-Israel folks standing up for the free speech rights of a professor opposing Israel's policies, even where that professor's speech is really offensive to them. Just like I support Dershowitz's right to be an aggressive and, to me, extraordinarily offensive individual who teaches at the most prestigious school in the country. Instead, we get an acknowledgment that the UCLA situation is shameful. But, as leopard pointed out, the alienate your students standard isn't meaningful if only the guy with anti-Israel sentiment can't get a job.

I genuinely wonder whether it would matter if Salaita had tweeted 90% of his tweets in the same way, but had not used the language he did in the several tweets considered most offensive to some here. Wouldn't folks on one side of the I/P debate still think Salaita uncivil and that he would still alienate his students? Of course, we'll never know. Now the entire conversation is simply about those several tweets. And as always, criticizing Israel is an impossible task--as illustrated by Finkelstein, even tempered and restrained analysis can cost one tenure. As illustrated by the cancelled production of an opera at the New York Met, even potentially critical responses brought about by a piece of art are now too much for the ADL.
posted by faux ami at 8:42 AM on August 28 [3 favorites]


Isn't the friction between his academic credentials and his tweet the fission catalyst for this whole argument?

No.

I'll say again: who would want to work with this man?

Well, for one, the department he was hired to work at in UIUC. And the department he worked in at Virginia Tech. No one had ever complained about Salaita's collegiality, no students complained about his teaching. Bringing those possibilities up is beside the point.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:44 AM on August 28 [4 favorites]


MisanthropicPainforest,

So your argument is that, well, this guy was well liked, so what if he casually called for the death of a large swath of people?

Your argument has to be, "that was just a tweet," or, "that doesn't bother me." The first is debatable, and I would argue that a tweet is fair game. The second is equally vile.
posted by a_curious_koala at 8:52 AM on August 28


I would argue that a tweet is fair game

Then isn't your task to read everything Glenn Reynolds ever tweeted or put on the internet and decide if bothers you or not?
posted by faux ami at 8:57 AM on August 28


No, my argument is that he was well liked, so people who would like to work with him seem to be people who have worked with him, and people who hired him to work with him.

My other argument is that he should not be fired for something he said or wrote because he is an academic. I think people who aren't academics think that is no big deal but it is a central component of our careers.

This applies to noxious people like Alan Derschowitz, Glenn Reynolds, and Steven Landsburg.

Its simple: my answer to the question, "Should this academic be fired for saying XYZ?" The answer is NO for all values of XYZ.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:58 AM on August 28 [1 favorite]


faux ami,
I genuinely wonder whether it would matter if Salaita had tweeted 90% of his tweets in the same way, but had not used the language he did in the several tweets considered most offensive to some here. Wouldn't folks on one side of the I/P debate still think Salaita uncivil and that he would still alienate his students? Of course, we'll never know. Now the entire conversation is simply about those several tweets. And as always, criticizing Israel is an impossible task--as illustrated by Finkelstein, even tempered and restrained analysis can cost one tenure. As illustrated by the cancelled production of an opera at the New York Met, even potentially critical responses brought about by a piece of art are now too much for the ADL.

I would have had no problem with him tweeting:

I wish the settlers in the West Bank would go missing, and find themselves back in Poland circa 1938.

That is pretty strong stuff, but there is a key difference. He's not calling for their immediate disappearance (and assumed death). He's simply giving them a very hyperbolic reminder that they have become the invaders after fleeing, just half a century ago, a brutal invasion. It's still pretty gruesome, but it has some context. And I'm sure he would have been able to add nuance.

The stance of his tweet is not a problem. It's the fantasy he created within them.
posted by a_curious_koala at 9:00 AM on August 28


I'll say again: who would want to work with this man?

*Some unknown majority of the American Indian Studies program
*Some unknown majority of the search committee, which likely included members not from that program
*The Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:04 AM on August 28 [1 favorite]


MisanthropicPainforest,

Its simple: my answer to the question, "Should this academic be fired for saying XYZ?" The answer is NO for all values of XYZ.

I would agree that XYZ is a very large set, but not an infinite set. There are some statements that even academics, who usually enjoy safety from the news cycle PR mania, shouldn't feel safe to make. It certainly becomes a slippery slope when college boards start defining the limits of the XYZ set, but in this case I think Salaita crossed beyond the reasonable limit.

If he wants an infinite set, he should become a stand up comic.
posted by a_curious_koala at 9:06 AM on August 28


I would have had no problem with

Frankly, what you do and do not have a problem with is irrelevant. I'm sure everyone has a problem with something every academic has said. That's really not the point. The point is that an academic was fired for something they said and that has caused many many other academics to be very careful about what they say, especially when they criticize Israel. Note that this doesn't happen with other issues. Academics are less free than they were before this affair.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:07 AM on August 28 [2 favorites]


I would agree that XYZ is a very large set, but not an infinite set.

No it actually is. And for a state univesity, speech is protected by the first amendment. Which doesn't pose restrictions on political speech or expressing an opinion or whatever.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:09 AM on August 28


in this case I think Salaita crossed beyond the reasonable limit.

By what standard? Civil discourse? Alienating students?

Then are you prepared for others with views differing from your own to use those same standards to fire other professors (who study Marxist theory, critical race theory, community health services, or other topics that may offend norms defined and enforced by the privileged)?
posted by faux ami at 9:10 AM on August 28


Glenn Reynolds on North Korea:
JUST WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW: North Korea fires artillery barrage on South. If they start anything, I say nuke ‘em. And not with just a few bombs. They’ve caused enough trouble — and it would be a useful lesson for Iran, too.
On the Middle East in general:
On the other hand, it's also true that if democracy can't work in Iraq, then we should probably adopt a "more rubble, less trouble" approach to other countries in the region that threaten us. If a comparatively wealthy and secular Arab country can't make it as a democratic republic, then what hope is there for places that are less wealthy, or less secular?
Someone please fetch me my smelling salts!
posted by leopard at 9:10 AM on August 28 [3 favorites]


faux ami, we can even be more specific: should an academic be fired for defending and aiding a mass murderer?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:11 AM on August 28 [1 favorite]


Salamandrous: I am a Jew and I am Zionist. What I am hearing from some in this thread is that I am responsible for antisemitism, either for its very existence (because my affiliation with Judaism and with Zionism is a valid reason for some people to be bigoted against Jews) or for the tolerance of antisemitism (because my beliefs/actions mean that people don't need to consider antisemitism a real problem). This frightens me. I don't feel that powerful.

The bold emphasis here is mine, to show that even when I and many others have fucking begged folks to stop conflating Jewishness and Zionism, you've chosen to conflate them. Your affiliation with Judiaism and your affiliation with Zionism can not be "a valid reason" because they are two distinct reasons. Jewish faith, culture, or ethnicity do not entitle someone who has these things and is also a Zionist to have their explicitly political desire to have a homeland in the Land of Israel privileged above all other political beliefs, including the political beliefs of the Palestinians, and of other non-Zionist Jews.

If you, Joe in Australia, and anyone else who keeps doing this are incapable of talking about these things without conflating them, then we just can't have a discussion. At best, this is sloppy, and at worst, it's an attempt to paint people who disagree with you on politics as anti-Semites. For now, I can assume that it's just sloppiness, but given how many times I and others have begged people not to do it, I'm running really low on my ability to assume good faith.

I will be happy to continue this sidebar about this specific tweet with anyone who's capable of talking about Jewish identity, culture, religion, etc. and Zionism as distinct entities, but I'm just not going to get sucked into this parlor game of conflating them and then casting critics of Zionism as anti-Semites.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:11 AM on August 28 [10 favorites]


Mchelly: I'm a liberal, a progressive, and a Zionist. I support the 2-state solution and the Road Map and an end to occupation. There are lots of people like me, including a fair majority in Israel. I do not like to see the basic definition of Zionism - that Jews as an internationally persecuted minority have a right to a homeland, and that homeland is Israel - transformed by many people into variations on 'Expansionalist colonialism where non-Jews have no rights and should be murdered to reach its ends', which seems to be the working definition here.

I'll be happy to engage with you on this point if you can point to any place where this has occurred in this thread.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:13 AM on August 28 [1 favorite]


I value academic freedom and I think overall the tenure system is a net positive.

It does mean that a university takes on a big risk when it offers someone a protected position, and justifies an extended process of deliberation.

It sounds like what happened is that a lot of universities started skipping steps, not making their deliberation process efficient enough to meet the needs of their students and potential hires, so now we're at a place where people are relying on what are technically contingent offers. This is the fault of the universities in general, not of the people being hired.

What happened with Salaita exposes the flaws of this system, and hopefully will move universities to make their words and actions more congruous. Salaita got trapped in an edge case and he deserves compensation for it, hopefully meaningful enough compensation that universities will be motivated to get all their hiring ducks in a row before permitting someone to rely on an offer of employment.

If Salaita were already a tenured professor, I would agree that he should not be fired for his tweets, though I would understand representatives of the university wished to distance themselves from him.

(I'm not sure that tenure should be sancrosanct and that there should be nothing a person can express that would permit the university to break public connections with that person and the appearance of endorsement, though I guess you could make an argument that they should have to continue to pay a sustenance salary. But to me this isn't anywhere near being a case like that).
posted by Salamandrous at 9:14 AM on August 28


Again, what are the standards that should be used in an "efficient deliberation process?" Should this guy have been hired? (Genuine question regarding a journalism professor who said a nasty thing about the NRA following the Navy Yard shooting.)
posted by faux ami at 9:18 AM on August 28


The bold emphasis here is mine, to show that even when I and many others have fucking begged folks to stop conflating Jewishness and Zionism, you've chosen to conflate them. Your affiliation with Judaism and your affiliation with Zionism can not be "a valid reason" because they are two distinct reasons. Jewish faith, culture, or ethnicity do not entitle someone who has these things and is also a Zionist to have their explicitly political desire to have a homeland in the Land of Israel privileged above all other political beliefs, including the political beliefs of the Palestinians, and of other non-Zionist Jews.

I purposely adjoined them Jew and Zionist, because they are very related things for me - not by strategic plotting but in my lived experience - and my perception is that it is the combination of them in me that makes me (in other people's eyes) complicit in responsibility for antisemitism. If I were just Jewish but not Zionist, or just Zionist but not Jewish, that leap wouldn't work.

I don't understand the second part of your paragraph. My beliefs are privileged for me by virtue of being mine. To the extent that some people (including some but not all Palestinians) have political beliefs that preclude/seek to eliminate the existence of a Jewish homeland in Israel, our beliefs our in conflict. To the extent that some people (including some but not all Jews) have political beliefs that preclude the existence of a Palestinian homeland in Palestine, our beliefs are in conflict. When my beliefs are in conflict with someone else's beliefs, of course I will privilege mine, and I'd expect them to privilege theirs. That's the point of them being personal beliefs. I don't get how that's different for me than for a non-Jew/non-Zionist.

I don't think that my disagreement with their beliefs entitles me to make bigoted generalizations about the tribe(s)/religion(s) with whom they identify or to incite resentment and hatred against those groups. I believe it is possible to have disagreements in deep, even existential conflict, without dehumanizing the 'other side.' I understand that in the heat of what feels like existential threat, human beings are likely to not be so measured or temperate in the expression of their emotions, and I try not to hold people to unfair standards. But as far as that goes, I will have much more empathy with a Palestinian in Gaza who just lost/stands to lose her home and family than for white European Frenchman who thinks it would be cool to wave a swastika at a Free Palestine rally or a professor in the United States tweeting.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:51 AM on August 28 [3 favorites]


My other argument is that he should not be fired for something he said or wrote because he is an academic.

You've made it clear that you think this, but this is a standard you have invented yourself and nobody else is obliged to accept. Salaita can plead first amendment protection, such as he can, in virtue of being a public employee, not in virtue of being a member of the academic priesthood as you conceive it.

I think people who aren't academics think that is no big deal but it is a central component of our careers.

Speech is a central part of many kinds of careers. Irrelevant.

The point is that an academic was fired for something they said and that has caused many many other academics to be very careful about what they say, especially when they criticize Israel.

In fact criticism of Israel is a thoroughly mainstream position in american universities, and you can find academics vigorously doing it all over the place without this kind of thing happening. Distinguish from Salaita's tweeting.

Note that this doesn't happen with other issues.

False. The relevant category, again, is public employees, and they frequently have to answer for reckless and racially incendiary speech.
posted by batfish at 9:52 AM on August 28 [1 favorite]


You've made it clear that you think this, but this is a standard you have invented yourself and nobody else is obliged to accept.

I did not invent it. Its called academic freedom. And that freedom has been constrained by UIUC because of the chancellors actions.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:55 AM on August 28


Salamandrous: I purposely adjoined them Jew and Zionist, because they are very related things for me - not by strategic plotting but in my lived experience - and my perception is that it is the combination of them in me that makes me (in other people's eyes) complicit in responsibility for antisemitism.

They can be related and still not be the same. If you can't separate them for the purposes of the discussion, then that's on you, and we're at an impasse. Nobody is obligated to accept your first principles as ground rules for the discussion.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:01 AM on August 28


Academic freedom is a pretty powerful thing. Otherwise how to explain the likes of John Yoo at Berkeley or Condi Rice at Stanford? Peter Duesberg from Berkeley doesn't believe HIV causes AIDS, a discredited viewpoint which has been devastating to public health efforts in South Africa, in particular. And there's Larry Summers, the former dean of Harvard with his offensive comments about women, which surely impacted the campus community of students, professors, and staff. I get it that Salaita's tweets are disgusting to some here (I read the tweets in question more as someone enraged by another war in Gaza saying something really nasty and over the line trying to provoke a reaction), but in terms of impact of his beliefs (versus Yoo, Duesberg, the UCLA guy), he's small fry.

At any rate, there are going to be a lot of professors to fire once we get this civility train rolling (depending on who's defining civility).
posted by faux ami at 10:02 AM on August 28 [5 favorites]


Hopefully not MRA.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:04 AM on August 28


Again, what are the standards that should be used in an "efficient deliberation process?" Should this guy have been hired? (Genuine question regarding a journalism professor who said a nasty thing about the NRA following the Navy Yard shooting.)

faux ami, do you mean, had he made that tweet before he was hired, ought he to have been hired?

I think I am really okay with leaving that up to the University. It makes sense to me that different universities will make different judgment calls on these things, and will even make different judgment calls for different people. I could see it depending on the university's perception of its current academic and cultural reputation. I hope that universities would suffer or benefit in their reputation based on these decisions. And I do support generous public funding for public universities that would permit them to make these calls for the public benefit (or their perception of it) rather than for pleasing donors.

When I say "efficient deliberation process," I am more getting at a process that allows the university to take into account everything it feels it needs to take into account at all the various levels (departmental academics, departmental politics, departmental collegiality, departmental funding, reputation in the field, university politics, university fundraising, donor relations, academic offerings, academic aspirations, etc etc) within a time frame that permits new hires and potential new hires to effectively make decisions about their own lives (job hunts, acceptances, moving, etc).

Are you getting at the idea that it's unfair for a university to consider anything other than a potential new hire's academic work? For me, I don't think I agree. First of all, the line between academic work and non-academic is as blurred as ever, with 'public intellectuals,' books/blogs/tweets aimed at popular in addition/instead of academic audiences, etc. Secondly, a person's non-academic opinions will certainly affect their academic work (my impression is that this has been proved again and again, that people are unable to separate our feelings from our opinions, that even 'hard' scientists can't keep emotional bias (like sex stereotyping) out of their research).

If I am serious about defending academic freedom and the tenure system that is meant to promote it, then I think I have to be serious about giving universities fairly wide reign on hiring tenure-track profs.

I can see that there will be a concern that a university will weigh something that should not be weighed - a person's sexual orientation, or religion, or race, for example. I do believe that potential university hires should have the same protection from being discriminated as everyone else. That to me is at least conceptually a different issue than permitting universities to consider a more robust definition of a potential hire's public persona than just their thesis and publications in academic journals (which have their own pitfalls as we've seen in many threads here).
posted by Salamandrous at 10:12 AM on August 28 [2 favorites]


I purposely adjoined them Jew and Zionist, because they are very related things for me

Can you explain how your version of Zionism differs from Herzel's original vision, the reasons for and the implications thereof?
posted by mikelieman at 10:32 AM on August 28


I will be happy to continue this sidebar about this specific tweet with anyone who's capable of talking about Jewish identity, culture, religion, etc. and Zionism as distinct entities, but I'm just not going to get sucked into this parlor game of conflating them and then casting critics of Zionism as anti-Semites.

Coming back to this thread with a fresh viewpoint, it occurs to me that I actually have a weird amount of knowledge about Jewish culture, identity, religion, and Zionism (for a gentile), but I sometimes am not aware of that fact, because it's geographically saturated. I grew up in Brooklyn, and went to Stuyvesant, near heavily Jewish enclaves and with a disproportionate number of my friends Jewish. Some of their grandparents had numbers on their arms. Some of the guys who worked at random delis had numbers on their arms. We got Jewish holidays off at school, spent what I have been informed by my husband was a much larger amount of time than other places studying the Holocaust, and read Jewish newspapers. I attended seders, can recite some Hebrew just on the basis of repetition, and sat for bitter inter-Jewish brawls.

So I will say that from my experience, it is actually impossible to separate Zionism from Jewish identity, that it is built into the religion and culture itself. Culturally, the impact of the Holocaust cannot be underestimated - particularly when many Jews managed to survive and flee and were turned back from everyone's borders just when they thought they would be safe, because no one wanted the refugee Jews. Jewish culture as it stands today is a culture that has lived with a genuine fear of complete extinction within living memory - and that, too, cannot be separated from Zionism. Religiously, the Passover Haggadah says, "Next year in Jerusalem," year after year, and has done so since the middle ages. The Jewish longing to return to their homeland and religious center has existed for several hundred years as a part of Judaism, and I can think of no reason to separate it other than to provide a reason to hate Zionism while claiming that there is no hatred of the Jewish faith.

Now there is one distinction - support for Zionism does not necessarily mean "Support for the state of Israel as it currently is embodied and stands." You can long for a return without approving of what the state of Israel is currently doing - and I know many, many Jews who feel this way, who are deeply conflicted about Israel but still think there should be a homeland, a place of safety for Jews. But when people say "Zionism justifies anti-Semitism," they are not just talking about the state of Israel. They are denigrating a Jewish version of hiraeth, the longing for home and belonging, a place which is forever lost, the hope that it does not have to be, a sickness and desolation at being strangers in a foreign land. They are claiming that that longing and hopeless homesickness for community justifies hatred of Jews. And that is not okay.

If you want to talk, politically, about how the state of Israel is committing human rights violations, you are more than welcome to do so. But you can do so while leaving the Jewish people and their cultural and religious longings out of it. And if you can't - if you find yourself needing to denigrate that - then I think it's important to examine why, precisely, your criticism of the state of Israel needs to extend to their people and the ethnicity which controls it, while criticism of other governments does not.
posted by corb at 10:35 AM on August 28 [3 favorites]


corb: then I think it's important to examine why, precisely, your criticism of the state of Israel needs to extend to their people and the ethnicity which controls it, while criticism of other governments does not.

Congratulations, you're the newest entrant in the contest to cite literally anyone in this thread putting forth or endorsing a criticism of "their people and the ethnicity."
posted by tonycpsu at 10:41 AM on August 28 [7 favorites]


When I say "you/your" I am speaking in the generic, not specifically to you. I apologize for your legitimate confusion on that score, given that I directly quoted your statement as something I was responding to.
posted by corb at 10:50 AM on August 28


No, I understood that. My contention is that you are burning a straw man, because not only have I not criticized "their people and the ethnicity", but I've seen nobody in this thread doing that.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:52 AM on August 28


But you can do so while leaving the Jewish people and their cultural and religious longings out of it.

This thread is indeed full of people saying that Judaism and Israel are inextricably linked. The funny thing is, all of them are pro-Israel, while it's the people who are more critical of Israel who are at pains to separate the two. What a nice debating tactic.

When I say "you/your" I am speaking in the generic, not specifically to you.

That wasn't the point. *Who* exactly are you addressing in this thread? Some generic unnamed strawman?
posted by leopard at 10:52 AM on August 28 [1 favorite]


I long to return. I'm just waiting for either the Government of Israel to be able to obtain the Consent of ALL the Governed and becomes a democracy that promotes inalienable rights through due process of law and equal protection of the law -- One Nation, With Liberty and Justice FOR ALL.

Or the Messiah ( which is what 'Next Year In Jerusalem' has always meant. )

Whichever comes first. Until then, I have no issues separating my Jewishness from the current, political incarnation of 'Zionism'. In fact, I would suggest that Jews are safer in Brooklyn than the attempted 'Jewish Homeland'....
posted by mikelieman at 10:55 AM on August 28 [3 favorites]


corb, the reason you see the two as conflated from your experience is because there was and still is a coordinated effort to conflate the two together within the community.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:01 AM on August 28


*Who* exactly are you addressing in this thread? Some generic unnamed strawman?

Well, first and foremost, Steven Salaita, and others of his ilk.
posted by corb at 11:02 AM on August 28


corb: Well, first and foremost, Steven Salaita, and others of his ilk.

Salaita is quite obviously anti-Israel, and anti-Zionist, but no evidence has been shown that he's anti-Jew or anti-Judaism. If you're talking specifically to anti-Semites, then say that, and we can just nod our heads in agreement and move on.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:09 AM on August 28


"I think it's important to examine why, precisely, your criticism of apartheid South Africa needs to extend to their people and the ethnicity which controls it, while criticism of other governments does not."
posted by Sys Rq at 11:19 AM on August 28 [1 favorite]


corb: “So I will say that from my experience, it is actually impossible to separate Zionism from Jewish identity, that it is built into the religion and culture itself.”

I can see your point, but it seems like it's sort of an essential point that Zionism is a movement of atheistic Jews who had no reverence whatsoever for the Judaic religion, from Theodor Herzl on down. Zionism, as Herzl envisioned it, has absolutely nothing to do with the Judaic religion. It has to do with the international status of ethnic Jews and the ideals of liberal democracy in the modern world.

Anyway, as far as Salaita's apparently most egregious tweet is concerned, I know a couple of people who have openly wished all the settlers would disappear. They're Jewish Israelis who have served in the IDF, and they claim that serving on the front lines in the IDF means being forced to be a slave to the most virulent, most unhinged of Israeli extremists. Does this make them anti-Jewish? Does it make them Anti-Israel?

I do gather that they are closer to the situation than Salaita. Maybe Salaita meant something different than they do by it. But his other tweets make some sense. He tweets about how Netanyahu is exploiting the deaths of Palestinian children; people in Israel say the same thing all the time. Is it different when Salaita says it? Maybe. Context matters, I agree. But this seems more complicated than you're making it.
posted by koeselitz at 11:23 AM on August 28 [6 favorites]


I did not invent it. Its called academic freedom. And that freedom has been constrained

Nope. Even Leiter concedes this line is legally toothless. Academics aren't "super-citizens" who get an extra dispensation of speech entitlements.
posted by batfish at 11:56 AM on August 28 [1 favorite]


batfish: Nope. Even Leiter concedes this line is legally toothless. Academics aren't "super-citizens" who get an extra dispensation of speech entitlements.

Yes, he says this right after saying the First Amendment protections against viewpoint discrimination are enough in and of themselves. Academic freedom (deriving from longstanding AAUP doctrine) is the general concept, while protections against content-based discrimination are the legal basis of the suit that will undoubtedly be brought.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:59 AM on August 28


Academic freedom doesn't have anything to do with legality so your point is moot.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:59 AM on August 28


An interesting analog here might be the case of Ken Howell who was fired by the University of Illinois because of statements he made regarding homosexuality.

The problem for UIUC in this circumstance will be that they have otherwise judged Saliata qualified for the position. The sole reason for revoking his offer is based on discrimination against his political positions. As a public employer they can't discriminate on this basis.
posted by humanfont at 12:23 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


If I am serious about defending academic freedom and the tenure system that is meant to promote it, then I think I have to be serious about giving universities fairly wide reign on hiring tenure-track profs.

Universities already have free reign in their hiring. I'm unlikely to get a TT position if I don't have a very solid research background and great recommendations from faculty mentors and teaching evaluations from students. Were I a loose cannon with questionable ethics that affected my work, it's unlikely I'd get published or be recommended by faculty or students. The notion that I wouldn't get a good job, despite being a solid researcher with good recommendations, simply because I have beliefs about social justice or political economy that worry the Dean or a few alumni is really frightening.

The fear here is that giving wealthy alumni or other influential stakeholders more clout in intimidating risk-averse university leadership will lead to a restriction of research and inquiry into contentious topics. I believe it is MisantropicPainforest who noted earlier that it was very difficult to do a master's thesis on the I/P topic. That's really sad and frustrating. Finkelstein got denied tenure for doing entirely reasonable, ethical research on I/P. These guys are contributing to debate and inquiry on important topics. The UCLA law professor is really offensive to me and others, but his arguments made me sharpen my own arguments about the holistic admissions process at the university.

Personally, I would much rather be permissive with speech on campus (which isn't up to me; it's codified so I shouldn't have to defend it) and allow for discussion of contentious issues like affirmative action, religion, ethnic studies, and even I/P. The clamping down on viewpoints we personally find odious means that, ultimately, some folks with contentious viewpoints (see some of the links above) we embrace will be run out of town. Think about it this way: a Palestinian professor took his students to visit Auschwitz and was denounced as a traitor and he resigned from Al Quds University. We don't want to end up that way! (A bit of an extreme example, but you get the point.)

So, I don't think letting universities have as wide of a reign as that comment suggests would do much good for defending academic freedom in the long run.
posted by faux ami at 12:23 PM on August 28


Just as a thought experiment, and not as an analogy, let's consider that Salaita tweeted the following:

You may be too refined to say it, but I am not: I wish ebola would miraculously infect all Chinese people living in Tibet.

Perhaps this statement is too absurd to provoke a withdrawal of offer. (It is especially absurd considering that people who are for Tibetan independence are mostly proponents of non-violent resistance.) But note that, like Salaita's tweet, there isn't a call to arms-- simply a wish that all Chinese people living in Tibet suddenly find themselves probably dead, and soon.

In this thought experiment I would still want the professor fired. And why not? Why shouldn't a public university have the option to fire a professor for espousing such a disgusting fantasy? What other method do they, or we as taxpayers, have for shaming behavior of that sort? Are we so enslaved by the ideal of the tenured track that we can do nothing once a professor is hired?
posted by a_curious_koala at 12:30 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


corb >

So I will say that from my experience, it is actually impossible to separate Zionism from Jewish identity, that it is built into the religion and culture itself.

I am Jewish, and I'm sorry to be so blunt but you know far less about us than you think you do. I think it obfuscates rather than clarifies to speak of "the" religion in that fashion, and it's flat-out incoherent to speak of "the...culture".

Culturally, the impact of the Holocaust cannot be underestimated - particularly when many Jews managed to survive and flee and were turned back from everyone's borders just when they thought they would be safe, because no one wanted the refugee Jews. Jewish culture as it stands today is a culture that has lived with a genuine fear of complete extinction within living memory - and that, too, cannot be separated from Zionism. Religiously, the Passover Haggadah says, "Next year in Jerusalem," year after year, and has done so since the middle ages. The Jewish longing to return to their homeland and religious center has existed for several hundred years as a part of Judaism, and I can think of no reason to separate it other than to provide a reason to hate Zionism while claiming that there is no hatred of the Jewish faith.

There is a huge amount of diversity in Judaism, despite the efforts of people both inside and outside our global community to simplify, rationalize, and organize us. Yes, there is a strand of thought, feeling, and tradition about returning to Israel someday -- but that cannot be fairly conflated with the modern Zionist project, period, and your blithe equivocation is insultingly reductive. It is a wish that has resonance on many levels, only a few of which are literal and concrete or world-historical.

If there's one thing that can fairly and unequivocally be said about Jewish history, it is that it's complicated, and that trend continues. Trying to situate modern Zionism within the entirety of Jewish religious and cultural traditions is not accurately reducible to a simple point to be made.
posted by clockzero at 12:34 PM on August 28 [7 favorites]


Just as a thought experiment, and not as an analogy, let's consider that Salaita tweeted the following:

You may be too refined to say it, but I am not: I wish ebola would miraculously infect all Chinese people living in Tibet.


Heh. Readers of the prominent Israeli news site Mako have overwhelmingly voted in favor of sending President Barack Obama an envelope containing the Ebola virus for his birthday. Espousing such a disgusting fantasy indeed.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:38 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


Just to show how this plays out not in a thought experiment but real life in Israel, at Bar-Ilan University, a public institution (yes, I know the laws are different in Israel than here!). And note how extreme comments by one of these guys is painted as hyperbole.

Professor A (Middle East scholar):

"The only thing that deters a suicide bomber is the knowledge that if he pulls the trigger or blows himself up, his sister will be raped." *

Professor B (law professor):

Sent an email to his students opening with an expression of sympathy for all victims of the Israel-Gaza war. *

University's response to anger regarding professor A's comments:

In a statement released to Haaretz, the university said that Dr Kedar “did not call and is not calling to fight terror except by legal and moral means”. “(He) wanted to illustrate that there is no means of deterring suicide bombers, and using hyperbole, he gave the rape of women as an example."

University's response to anger about professor B's comments:

The Dean of the law school apologized for the email, which was "hurtful" and "contravene[d] the values of the university and the law faculty."
posted by faux ami at 12:52 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


corb:
Culturally, the impact of the Holocaust cannot be underestimated - particularly when many Jews managed to survive and flee and were turned back from everyone's borders just when they thought they would be safe, because no one wanted the refugee Jews. Jewish culture as it stands today is a culture that has lived with a genuine fear of complete extinction within living memory - and that, too, cannot be separated from Zionism. Religiously, the Passover Haggadah says, "Next year in Jerusalem," year after year, and has done so since the middle ages. The Jewish longing to return to their homeland and religious center has existed for several hundred years as a part of Judaism, and I can think of no reason to separate it other than to provide a reason to hate Zionism while claiming that there is no hatred of the Jewish faith.

clockzero:
There is a huge amount of diversity in Judaism, despite the efforts of people both inside and outside our global community to simplify, rationalize, and organize us. Yes, there is a strand of thought, feeling, and tradition about returning to Israel someday -- but that cannot be fairly conflated with the modern Zionist project, period, and your blithe equivocation is insultingly reductive. It is a wish that has resonance on many levels, only a few of which are literal and concrete or world-historical.

You are both right. Which is sort of why this is so complicated.
posted by Mchelly at 12:57 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


a_curious_koala: “Just as a thought experiment, and not as an analogy, let's consider that Salaita tweeted the following: ‘You may be too refined to say it, but I am not: I wish ebola would miraculously infect all Chinese people living in Tibet.’”

You see the distinct difference between this and Salaita's tweet, right? Your example names a gruesome fate and wishes it upon people. Salaita's tweet does not name any fate at all – it simply wishes that they would "disappear," which is quite ambiguous. If the settlers all gave up and moved back into undisputed territory, or to Brazil, or to Outer Mongolia, or whatever, you could say they "disappeared." Others have taken "disappeared" to mean "killed by violent means," but that's by no means directly implied by the tweet.

So it's clear that this is not a parallel, right?
posted by koeselitz at 12:58 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


Salaita is quite obviously anti-Israel, and anti-Zionist, but no evidence has been shown that he's anti-Jew or anti-Judaism. If you're talking specifically to anti-Semites, then say that, and we can just nod our heads in agreement and move on.

Salaita's tweet: “Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948”

I wish there wasn't this relentless attempt to minimize just how horrible Salaita's comments are simply because he's kinda sorta on the same "side" as you on the I/P issue.

There is a world of difference between tweeting "Israel has no legitimate claim on the the territories of the West Bank and every Israeli settlement should be removed" or "Israel's oppression of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is shameful and should be opposed by every civilized person" or whatever and tweeting that Zionism has made "anti-Semitism into something honorable."

As Steven Lubet says (a propos of this continual minimization of Salaita's actual comments), when the ACLU defended the American Nazi Party, they didn't feel compelled to pretend that they were "merely passionate critics of international banking."
posted by yoink at 1:01 PM on August 28 [6 favorites]


In this thought experiment I would still want the professor fired.

Do you want Glenn Reynolds fired?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:03 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


Salaita's tweet does not name any fate at all – it simply wishes that they would "disappear," which is quite ambiguous

That tweet was in response to a specific incident in which three Israeli teenagers had been kidnapped. That rather narrows the application of its meaning.

A tweet saying "Every gangbanger should get what's coming to them" might seem distasteful but rather nonspecific. If, however, it's linked to an image of Michael Brown's body it takes on another and utterly reprehensible significance.
posted by yoink at 1:08 PM on August 28 [4 favorites]


IMO, yoink, that's the worst thing he said, much much worse than wishing the settlers disappeared. I'm surprise the other tweets were paraded as more offensive upthread.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:09 PM on August 28


and AGAIN, everything Salaita said pales in comparision to what Glenn Reynolds routinely says. So, the questions are:

Should Reynolds be fired?
Is there pressure to get Reynolds fired?
Have people who expressed views like Reynolds been the subject of campaigns to get them fired, have their tenure denied, or have their appointments blocked/reversed?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:11 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


From today's Academe Blog: Why the Salaita Firing Violates University of Illinois Statutes
posted by audi alteram partem at 1:18 PM on August 28


yoink: “Salaita's tweet: ‘Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948’ I wish there wasn't this relentless attempt to minimize just how horrible Salaita's comments are simply because he's kinda sorta on the same ‘side’ as you on the I/P issue. ¶ There is a world of difference between tweeting ‘Israel has no legitimate claim on the the territories of the West Bank and every Israeli settlement should be removed’ or ‘Israel's oppression of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is shameful and should be opposed by every civilized person’ or whatever and tweeting that Zionism has made ‘anti-Semitism into something honorable.’”

Yes, I agree – that is a terrible tweet.

Part of the difficulty here is that I am not willing to read through Steven Salaita's entire Twitter feed. Thanks for pointing this out. Yes, it is actually anti-Semitic to say 'antisemitism has become honorable.' Not sure why we've been arguing about these other tweets.
posted by koeselitz at 1:20 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


Salaita's tweet: “Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948”

I wish there wasn't this relentless attempt to minimize just how horrible Salaita's comments are simply because he's kinda sorta on the same "side" as you on the I/P issue.


I wish there wasn't this relentless attempt to portray Salaita's comment as horrible simply because he's on the opposite "side" as you on the I/P issue. The blog Mondolweiss demonstrates that if you read the tweet in context, it's clear that it is not anti-semitic.

Briefly, "Two minutes before the tweet in question, Salaita tweeted the following: If it's "antisemitic" to deplore colonization, land theft, and child murder, then what choice does any person of conscience have?"

So when Salaita wrote 'anti-Semitism' in quotes in his following tweet, it was to show that he was using the term to refer to a Zionist attempt to define resistance to the very worst features of Israeli policy as anti-Semitism.

If that isn't clear just from reading the two tweets--issued 2 minutes apart--together, as they were written, Salaita made it explicit when he replied to someone who tweeted that he was unsure, as a Jewish anti-zionist, how to respond to Salaita's message. The professor replied: "By attacking the discourses of Zionism that cheapen anti-Semitism by likening it to principled stands against state violence. . . My stand is fundamentally one of acknowledging and countering the horror of antisemitism."

Even if Salaita were unclear in his initial message--which I don't think he was, unless you read it in the isolation those who attack him hope you will read it, rather than part of the larger point he made--within several hours he had cleared up any misunderstanding.

Are any of you who are outraged by the tweet aware of it's larger context?
posted by layceepee at 1:23 PM on August 28 [9 favorites]


I will stand by my defense/reading of the horrible/honorable tweet until someone points out how it doesn't hold. The fact that it can be read differently doesn't mean it is unacceptable.

Glenn Reynolds, by the way, is not just a law professor at a public university, but arguably the most influential conservative blogger ever. One reason why his calls for "more rubble, less trouble" in the Middle East have not prompted any calls for dismissal is that his pro-war positions are entirely within the American political mainstream.
posted by leopard at 1:25 PM on August 28


Eh, I draw the line at reading the guy's whole Twitter feed. If other people are willing, they may have at it. Doesn't feel like a worthwhile use of my time.

I remain convinced that the department thought he was worth hiring, so he should have been hired. If the chancellor has other ideas, well, she's not the department. The board may have to approve tenure, but that's not necessarily a good thing. The thing that matters is that the teachers he was going to be teaching with thought he was worth having as a colleague.

And I remain convinced that the American University is in a worrisome position, both because of this case and because of the statements the chancellor has made about it.
posted by koeselitz at 1:28 PM on August 28


koeselitz: So it's clear that this is not a parallel, right?

We already went through this "I will use an analogy that assumes much more direct, implicit malice than was included in the original tweet" dance with yoink upthread, but it doesn't seem to be stopping anyone. Really, guys -- the words are bad enough! You don't have to make them worse!
posted by tonycpsu at 1:32 PM on August 28


Given the context in which the "go missing" tweet was made it difficult to see it as anything other than a hateful statement expressing an apparent wish for the kidnapping and murder of all Israeli settlers.
posted by humanfont at 1:33 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


humanfont: “Given the context in which the ‘go missing’ tweet was made it difficult to see it as anything other than a hateful statement expressing an apparent wish for the kidnapping and murder of all Israeli settlers.”

Then give us the context!
posted by koeselitz at 1:35 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


So, the questions are:

Should Reynolds be fired?


Only because you've heartily hand-waved away the question of whether or not Salaita got "fired."

Had Salaita signed his contract, I would argue that the university almost certainly has no grounds to dismiss him for those tweets (depending to some extent--as a strictly legal question--on their specific, institutional policies, of course--but even if those policies did provide some roadmap to dismissal, the academic freedom issues would be pretty clear cut).

But I find the suggestion that the longstanding and ubiquitous practice in the university that job offers are conditional upon higher administrative approval is a pure legal fiction that has no legal standing whatsoever truly breathtaking in its audacity.

There has been a great emphasis made in this thread on a pure hypothetical ("what if Salaita had, in fact, shown up and taught for three months before getting the contract rescinded"). How about another hypothetical: what if Salaita had written back to the chair and said "thank you very much for the job offer, which I accept gratefully. I, obviously, do not want to resign from my current position until I have a contract in hand for the new one. Consequently, I will delay taking up this new position until the second semester." Would the university then have been in a position to sue him for "breach of contract"? Would they have been in a position to discipline him for refusing to perform his assigned duties?

And, be careful in responding. If you say "well, no--but obviously they could then withdraw the offer" ask yourself: "why obviously--if I'm otherwise saying that the contract went into full effect at the moment that the letter of offer was sent out and Salaita accepted it?"
posted by yoink at 1:36 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


(Sorry, but it's getting kind of tough when everyone refuses to link to the tweets they're talking about here. Like I said, I would go through his feed and do it myself, but I'm kind of at work, and my sense of discernment indicates I wouldn't get much edifying out of the experience.)
posted by koeselitz at 1:37 PM on August 28


koeslitz, and anyone else who wants the context -- the Mondoweiss link layceepee cites above shows the offending tweets and surrounding context from Twitter.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:40 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


The way the contract is setup just really seems absurd. What would happen if during those first three months a professor was sitting on a "dangerous" chair, fell off, broke his back, and is paralyzed? And then the university doesn't hire him. Can he even claim worker's comp.? Was he ever "working?"

I would hope that among other things, this drives universities to a more sane hiring practice.
posted by rosswald at 1:42 PM on August 28 [4 favorites]


yoink >

Salaita's tweet: “Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948”

I wish there wasn't this relentless attempt to minimize just how horrible Salaita's comments are


Quoted for truth. That remark of Salaita's could, I suppose, mean something like what leopard said above:

Or you could interpret it as saying "The charge of anti-Semitism used to be meaningful, but now Zionists have conflated it with anti-Zionism, thereby rendering it meaningless and even a badge of honor."

I mean, frankly, I really hope that leopard's interpretation is correct. But since the tweet itself has a clear and straight-forward meaning, however uncomfortable it might make the reader, it seems tendentious to claim that it actually means this very specific something-else. Leopard's interpretation constitutes a subtle and interesting commentary, to my mind, on the broader empirical situation, but there's simply no obvious reason to think that's what Salaita meant.

However, this is all beside the point: if they had a problem with his public statements, it would have been easy to say "well, he looked great until we read his twitter feed," but that's not what seems to have happened here.
posted by clockzero at 1:49 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


everything Salaita said pales in comparision to what Glenn Reynolds routinely says

Does that matter? Whatever the ideal solution for him, it should be applied by him. He should neither get off easier or be judged more harshly because someone else did something worse.
posted by corb at 1:51 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


Seriously, folks, if you're here to really understand the issue and not just to play team politics, read that Mondoweiss link with the full Twitter context, and if you disagree with its analysis of the Twitter conversation, tell us why.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:53 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


Man, it's crazy how disingenuous people have been here. He really isn't saying antisemitism has become honorable. Could people please link to tweets and context from here on out if they're going to make accusations? (Thanks, tonycpsu.)
posted by koeselitz at 1:54 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


But I find the suggestion that the longstanding and ubiquitous practice in the university that job offers are conditional upon higher administrative approval is a pure legal fiction that has no legal standing whatsoever truly breathtaking in its audacity.

Whether Salaita is owed compensation because of UIUC's manuevering is a legal question that I am sure is of great interest to Salaita personally, and may be of strong interest to other academics as well.

Whether Salaita's tweets make him a legitimate target seems to be a question of importance to everyone interested in public discourse and its appropriate boundaries.

When Reynolds calls for multiple nuclear bombs to be dropped on North Korea if they "start anything" with South Korea, or when he calls for "more rubble, less trouble" in the Middle East, he shows a blatant disregard for the value of the lives of the innocent civilians whose lives would be destroyed by such a military action. We're talking tens of millions of real human beings, with families and joys and sorrows and hopes and aspirations.

I would love it if our discourse advanced to the stage where such remarks were widely recognized as being dehumanizing and callous and truly shocking. But in the world we actually live in, Reynolds is a completely mainstream conservative figure.

Leopard's interpretation constitutes a subtle and interesting commentary, to my mind, on the broader empirical situation, but there's simply no obvious reason to think that's what Salaita meant.

Well I personally think my interpretation is perfectly straightforward. Above, commenters who have bothered to find the context appear to corroborate that my interpretation actually gets it right.
posted by leopard at 1:55 PM on August 28


the Mondoweiss link layceepee cites above

Rare, indeed, is the chance to witness such astonishing levels of special pleading. The commentary on the "pointy end of a shiv" one is particularly hilarious. Maybe he just meant the story ought to by physically spiked on a pointy knife. I mean, really, who can tell what associations he has with the word "shiv"? And who really knows what retweeting means? Maybe he only retweets tweets he disagrees with passionately? Who can tell?

But the one on how "honorable" anti-semitism is is a close rival: why, look, he has tweets where he uses the word "honorable" ironically, so obviously whenever he uses that word he means the opposite of honorable. You silly people.

Sheesh.

I wish there wasn't this relentless attempt to portray Salaita's comment as horrible simply because he's on the opposite "side" as you on the I/P issue


I'm closer to Salaita's "side" than not on the broad spectrum of the public debate over Israel. I think Israel's actions in Gaza and the West Bank have come close to undermining the legitimacy of the Israeli state: I also think a state in which full citizenship is defined by ethnic identity (which seems to be the only future imaginable for Israel now) is an inherently immoral proposition. That doesn't mean I need to reflexively defend anybody who is "anti-Israel" so long as they keep the thinnest possible veil of respectability over their antisemitic, eliminationist rantings.
posted by yoink at 1:55 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


yoink: But the one on how "honorable" anti-semitism is is a close rival: why, look, he has tweets where he uses the word "honorable" ironically, so obviously whenever he uses that word he means the opposite of honorable. You silly people.

Beautiful job cherry-picking Nguyen's weakest points. Now, please engage the strongest ones, including how the "honorable" tweet, when read in context, doesn't come close to actually saying what people have been saying it does.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:57 PM on August 28


yoink: “But the one on how ‘honorable’ anti-semitism is is a close rival: why, look, he has tweets where he uses the word ‘honorable’ ironically, so obviously whenever he uses that word he means the opposite of honorable. You silly people.”

Er. No, the response was that he put "anti-semitism" in quotes, meaning quite glaringly clearly that he didn't mean actual anti-semitism, and tweeted a few minutes later that he deplores actual anti-semitism. His point was that people are trying to paint people as "anti-semitic" by redefining "anti-semitic" as meaning "against the Israeli state."

That part was pretty clear, right?
posted by koeselitz at 1:58 PM on August 28


yoink: And who really knows what retweeting means? Maybe he only retweets tweets he disagrees with passionately? Who can tell?

Yes, by that logic, people on MetaFilter only favorite things they agree with every detail of.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:58 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


Beautiful job cherry-picking Nguyen's weakest points. Now, please engage the strongest ones, including how the "honorable" tweet, when read in context, doesn't come close to actually saying what people have been saying it does.

We don't actually have to attack the strongest ones. If someone 75% of the time does not say racist things, and 25% of the time says racist things, they are still saying racist things that are likely to be found objectionable.
posted by corb at 2:00 PM on August 28


tonycpsu: “Beautiful job cherry-picking Nguyen's weakest points. Now, please engage the strongest ones, including how the ‘honorable’ tweet, when read in context, doesn't come close to actually saying what people have been saying it does.”

corb: “We don't actually have to attack the strongest ones. If someone 75% of the time does not say racist things, and 25% of the time says racist things, they are still saying racist things that are likely to be found objectionable.”

You're arguing that Phan Nguyen has said racist things, now?
posted by koeselitz at 2:01 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


UIUC philosophy department votes no confidence in Chancellor Wise and Board of Trustees
Whereas the recent words and actions of Chancellor Phyllis Wise, President Robert Easter, and the Board of Trustees in connection with the revocation of an offer of employment to Dr. Steven Salaita betray a culpable disregard not only for academic freedom and free speech generally but also for the principles of shared governance and established protocols for hiring, tenure, and promotion, the faculty of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign declares its lack of confidence in the leadership of the current Chancellor, President, and Board of Trustees.
posted by audi alteram partem at 2:02 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


Man, it's crazy how disingenuous people have been here. He really isn't saying antisemitism has become honorable. Could people please link to tweets and context from here on out if they're going to make accusations? (Thanks, tonycpsu.)

Oh, shit. I think I was totally wrong. Thank you, leopard, tonycpsu and koeselitz for bringing clarity to that comment in particular.

Well I personally think my interpretation is perfectly straightforward. Above, commenters who have bothered to find the context appear to corroborate that my interpretation actually gets it right.

After doing some more careful reading, I actually agree with you, too, and by extension Salaita himself. My apologies for mischaracterizing your comments as interpretively idiosyncratic.
posted by clockzero at 2:05 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


Sorry, meant to say: I agree with you, and with Salaita himself.
posted by clockzero at 2:14 PM on August 28


I'm closer to Salaita's "side" than not on the broad spectrum of the public debate over Israel. I think Israel's actions in Gaza and the West Bank have come close to undermining the legitimacy of the Israeli state: I also think a state in which full citizenship is defined by ethnic identity (which seems to be the only future imaginable for Israel now) is an inherently immoral proposition.

Whereas I'm the opposite; I'm a Zionist who sees Israel as totally legitimate, has publicly opposed BDS, travels to Israel and gives money to Israeli charities, etc. I am pretty confident from reading his Twitter feed that Steven Salaita sees me as an enabler of state-sponsored murder. (Probably some members of MetaFilter see me that way, too, but I can deal with that.)

And yet, I gotta say, it seems completely clear that Salaita wasn't saying it's honorable to be an anti-Semite, and I feel kind of betrayed by people who quoted the "honorable" sentence without quoting the sentence right before it.
posted by escabeche at 2:25 PM on August 28 [6 favorites]


The commentary on the "pointy end of a shiv" one is particularly hilarious.

Yoink, I agree with you Phan Nguyen's explication of that tweet is completely unconvincing. I think the "pointy end of a shiv" remark was quite similar to history professor Erick Loomis' tweet about the chief executive of the NRA in response to the Sandy Hook shooting: “I was heartbroken in the first 20 mass murders. Now I want Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick.” I think Salaita's tweet about West bank settlers going missing was in the same vein.

But if you continue to assert, in spite of the immediate context of the "making 'anti-semitism' honorable" tweet, that Salaita's tweet meant that he thought the actions of Zionists excused genuine prejudice against Jews, I think you are arguing in bad faith.
posted by layceepee at 2:29 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


And yet, I gotta say, it seems completely clear that Salaita wasn't saying it's honorable to be an anti-Semite, and I feel kind of betrayed by people who quoted the "honorable" sentence without quoting the sentence right before it.

Yeah, fair enough. Sorry, when I clicked on the Mondoweiss link above and clicked on "honorable" in the list of tweets it took me down past the contextual stuff and into the silliness about his using "honorable" ironically (which, from the contextual frame he clearly is not doing--that's just stupidly muddying the argument). But I will agree that, in fact, if you look at that series of tweets in context it is clear that he's making an argument I not only agree with but which, broadly, I have made myself many times. Hmmmmm.

The only thing I would still say about that tweet is that if you're a prominent public intellectual in that field it's unbelievably stupid to issue a tweet like that, which can be retweeted merrily all over the place without any reference to the broader context of the statement. In general, in fact, I would say Twitter is a shitty medium for complex ethical and political debates. But I don't think it is fair to suggest that he's deliberately setting the tweet off as a kind coded message or anything like that. I think he was just caught up in the flow of his argument.
posted by yoink at 2:37 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


You're arguing that Phan Nguyen has said racist things, now?\

No, I'm saying that if Salaita was 75% exonerated, the shitty 25% would still apply.
posted by corb at 2:39 PM on August 28


Academic freedom doesn't have anything to do with legality

So you acknowledgment that "academic freedom" is irrelevant to whether UIUC is permitted to fire/not-hire Salaita?

Yes, he says this right after saying the First Amendment protections against viewpoint discrimination are enough in and of themselves.

I basically agree with this, but I think Leiter exaggerates the difficulty of distinguishing "unacceptable manner" from viewpoint discrimination. If the relevant "viewpoint" is cached out mildly, UIUC can no doubt point to representatives of it and a record of non-discrimination, if less mildly, UIUC has a better case for "disruption." UIUC also gets a chance to fully present its deliberative process in the best light. More, I think Leiter characterizes the basis for predicting "disruption" too narrowly. On balance I bet Salaita wins if the contract is good enough to make a first amendment claim, if it gets that far.
posted by batfish at 2:40 PM on August 28


layceepee: . I think the "pointy end of a shiv" remark was quite similar to history professor Erick Loomis' tweet about the chief executive of the NRA in response to the Sandy Hook shooting: “I was heartbroken in the first 20 mass murders. Now I want Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick.” I think Salaita's tweet about West bank settlers going missing was in the same vein.

Agreed, though Loomis said those words himself (obviously as a metaphor, not a literal wish that someone kill Wayne LaPierre), whereas Salaita retweeted the shiv thing from someone else. Do people retweet things they strongly disagree with? Probably not very often. Was the original author of the tweet using a metaphor, or did they literally want Goldberg dead? Good thing to ask whoever @Free_Palestine is. Was Salaita retweeting it as a metaphor? Good thing to ask him. Not a good thing to support him being fired for.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:40 PM on August 28


corb: “No, I'm saying that if Salaita was 75% exonerated, the shitty 25% would still apply.”

Sorry, my point was more this: if 75% of Nguyen's different arguments are good, and 25% of them are bad, that doesn't mean that Salaita is "75% exonerated." In the same way, if I said that slavery is wrong (a) because human dignity demands it, (b) because oppression and despotism are counter to justice, and (c) because elephants can fly, it wouldn't make sense to counter that slavery is still right because 1/3 of my arguments are terrible. Each argument stands or falls on its own, and is separate from the others, and no ratio or percentage of rightness can be assigned to them as an aggregate.

As far as I can tell, what happened was that Nguyen tacked on a crappy argument after arguing convincingly that Salaita clearly wasn't advocating anti-semitism. The crappy tacked-on bit doesn't change the stuff that came before it, which stands on its own.
posted by koeselitz at 2:45 PM on August 28


So, having been a bit shaken to realize how tendentious the portrayal of that "honorable" tweet had been by Salaita's detractors, I went back and carefully read through the defenses of the other tweets--and really, they're laughably weak. There doesn't seem to me to be anything, at all, that can excuse the one in response to the kidnapping of the Israeli teens--it's just horrible. Nor do I see any viable defense of the decision to retweet the line about the "shiv." The guy seems to be incapable of bearing in mind that he's not just shooting the shit on the back porch with s buddies--he's putting his name and reputation as a scholar and a public intellectual behind these adolescent outbursts.
posted by yoink at 2:48 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


yoink: The only thing I would still say about that tweet is that if you're a prominent public intellectual in that field it's unbelievably stupid to issue a tweet like that, which can be retweeted merrily all over the place without any reference to the broader context of the statement. In general, in fact, I would say Twitter is a shitty medium for complex ethical and political debates. But I don't think it is fair to suggest that he's deliberately setting the tweet off as a kind coded message or anything like that. I think he was just caught up in the flow of his argument.

I think we're all aware of Twitter's limitations in this regard, but it isn't going anywhere, and I think a case could be made that refusal to participate in Twitter is probably a liability for academics in many fields.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:48 PM on August 28


yoink: “The guy seems to be incapable of bearing in mind that he's not just shooting the shit on the back porch with s buddies--he's putting his name and reputation as a scholar and a public intellectual behind these adolescent outbursts.”

Yeah, I agree with this. I don't think he has much of a filter. Which is ridiculous, and I don't think I'd want him as a colleague, but I still feel a bit conflicted, because I'm not sure what he did warranted denigrating the department's decision and acting unilaterally in the way chancellor Wise did.
posted by koeselitz at 2:54 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


As far as I can tell, what happened was that Nguyen tacked on a crappy argument after arguing convincingly that Salaita clearly wasn't advocating anti-semitism. The crappy tacked-on bit doesn't change the stuff that came before it, which stands on its own.

True, but it gives one grounds for being suspicious of any interpretive arguments Nguyen makes--that crappy tacked on bit is not just crappy, it actively contradicts the preceding argument. If we suppose that Salaita means by "anti-semitism" "legitimate arguments about colonial agression" then we can't also suppose he's using "honorable" ironically. Anyone incapable of seeing that is not someone whose intepretive skills demand much respect.
posted by yoink at 2:54 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


The guy seems to be incapable of bearing in mind that he's not just shooting the shit on the back porch with s buddies--he's putting his name and reputation as a scholar and a public intellectual behind these adolescent outbursts.

Indeed. He's like the Insane Clown Posse version of critics like Juan Cole his defenders adduce in hope of rubbing on a little moral sobriety.
posted by batfish at 2:57 PM on August 28


Yeah, I agree with this. I don't think he has much of a filter. Which is ridiculous, and I don't think I'd want him as a colleague, but I still feel a bit conflicted, because I'm not sure what he did warranted denigrating the department's decision and acting unilaterally in the way chancellor Wise did.

I said way, way upthread that this is the issue that gives me most pause. I know that we'd be furious, as a department, to have our judgment second guessed by the Chancellor under the influence of angry donors. That's an issue of joint governance, of course, not an issue of either academic freedom or contract law. If a hire like this had happened in our department, I'd have argued strenuously in departmental discussion against hiring someone who is so obviously unable to conduct themselves like an adult, but if I lost that argument I'd actively support a departmental (and, hopefully, Schoolwide) battle with the administration over defending our right to make our own stupid decisions.
posted by yoink at 2:59 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


batfish: Indeed. He's like the Insane Clown Posse version of critics like Juan Cole his defenders adduce in hope of rubbing on a little moral sobriety.

Can you reformulate this into a proper sentence, please, so we know what you're saying?
posted by tonycpsu at 3:00 PM on August 28


I think we're all aware of Twitter's limitations in this regard, but it isn't going anywhere, and I think a case could be made that refusal to participate in Twitter is probably a liability for academics in many fields.

I think the smart move for academics who work in high-profile and very contentious areas like this is to use Twitter solely to link to more extended pieces elsewhere, and not try to condense highly complex issues into its restrictive format.
posted by yoink at 3:01 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


There doesn't seem to me to be anything, at all, that can excuse the one in response to the kidnapping of the Israeli teens--it's just horrible.

Yes, it was a horrible thing to say, but I think it's important to think about why it was horrible.

It wasn't horrible because it was racist or anti-semitic. I don't know if there are non-Jewish West Bank settlers, but if there are, I don't think there's any reason to suppose that Salaita would feel any gentler to them than he does to Jewish ones.

And I don't think it's horrible because Salaita meant literally that he wished other settlers would be kidnapped or killed, any more than Loomis meant literally the he wished LaPierre would be killed. But if Loomis had made his remark about LaPierre in reaction to a news story about vigilantes killing NRA members, that would have been horrible, too.

But while I've been sickened by the murders of civilians in Gaza, I am sure I don't feel the loss as deeply as Salita does. (Salaita is of Palestinian and Jordanian descent.) So while I don't have any trouble standing in judgement of Sailita's action, I don't feel comfortable saying I would never be so intemperate to say something equally horrible in response to an anti-gay murder or other act of violence that touched me personally. I don't think his horrible words mean he's a horrible person.
posted by layceepee at 3:51 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


There's now a boycott pledge for scientists started by Alan Sokal, NYU physicist. I'd be happy to see this passed around to Metafilter's academic scientists.
posted by daisystomper at 4:12 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


Where Is the Line?
Instead of making that vital conversation possible, though, the Chancellor and Board of Trustees sketched out a vague and incoherent explanation of their decision, that only made it clear that academic freedom will, in future, mean whatever the Chancellor and Board of Trustees decide it means.
posted by audi alteram partem at 4:21 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


OMG people are actually criticizing Salaita for something he retweeted? WTF? Everyone knows that RT != endorsement.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:01 PM on August 28


From Brian Leiter:

"It was clearly reasonable for Salaita to rely on an offer letter from the Dean--an offer letter that specifically mentioned the academic freedom protections the University of Illinois affords faculty!--even with a clause saying the appointment was subject to approval by the Board of Trustees (after all, there does not appear to be a case in the last half-century in which the Board failed to approve a tenured appointment that went through the normal university channels, as Salaita's did). Indeed, the reasonableness of Salaita's reliance is enhanced by the fact that the University scheduled his classes this fall and even referred to him in public as a faculty member. "

So his classes were scheduled, no trustees have ever failed to approve a similar hire that we know of, and the university referred to him in public as a faculty member, but Salaita wasn't fired?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:12 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


The Jewish longing to return to their homeland and religious center has existed for several hundred years as a part of Judaism.

I respect that. I equally respect Steven Salaita's longing, as a member of a marginalized and oppressed minority ethnicity himself, for his people to live peacefully and safely, with full human rights. It doesn't quite rise to the level of an equal employment opportunity breach, but a university canning a prof in a protected class for private-citizen, off-duty speech in what he perceives to be defense of the survival of others of the protected class gets into very problematic waters indeed.

Especially at an institution that goes to the barricades to defend its own right to keep a fucking offensive racist mascot, which its donors seem to have no trouble at all accepting.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:42 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


I don't think the messages immediately surrounding the "honorable" one make it better. In fact, the Mondoweiss article says one of his followers asked him to explain himself:
Three hours later, Michael Hessel-Mial, a self-proclaimed “Jewish anti-Zionist” expresses uncertainty or concern over the meaning of Salaita’s original tweet:

@stevesalaita unsure how to respond to this as a jewish anti-zionist — Michael Hessel-Mial (@mikehesselmial) July 20, 2014
I don't think much of this article, which starts by begging the question of why Salaita was not-fired. None the less, you can see that even Salaita's followers were taken aback, despite the fact that they had read this "context":
If it’s “antisemitic” to deplore colonization, land theft, and child murder, then what choice does any person of conscience have? #Gaza — Steven Salaita (@stevesalaita) July 20, 2014
That's at least as offensive as the one which followed it. It's a version of the rhetorical formula If it's [X] to [Y] and [Z] then call me [X], like If it's crazy to call for putting police and armed security in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy. It's an odd choice of rhetoric: it is so hackneyed that it is frequently parodied with the use of supporting clauses that are meant to make the audience agree that yes, the speaker really is [X]. Even when it's meant seriously, though, it actually doesn't deny the primary clause. A person saying is it racist to want drug laws / immigration laws enforced? may actually (probably!) be a racist. At the very least, the formula means that the speaker would rather be on the side of [X] than on the side of people who would deny the supporting clauses.

When we ask whether a statement is anti-Semitic, it should definitely be read in context. But there's also a broader context, that of anti-Semitism itself. Most anti-Semites, historically, wouldn't come out and say "I hate Jews"; they would say something like there should be more places for Germans (or Poles, or Hungarians, or whatever) in universities. Or "our nation's wealth shouldn't be in the hands of financiers". Or, if we use Salaita's formula If it's antisemitic to support diversity in education and a fairer banking system .... What? You're not opposed to diversity in education, are you? You don't want an unfair banking system? It's a false dilemma: you are expected to ignore the dog-whistle implications of the supporting clauses and either say that the speaker has been falsely accused, or that the accusation isn't so very bad after all.

So there are two problems with his use of the formula. The first is that it's viciously unfair. That's a tone argument, though, which I suppose may be par for the course in academia. The more fundamental one, though, is that it associates the speaker with people described as anti-Semites, whether that characterisation is fair or not. It doesn't say you falsely call me an anti-Semite because I deplore colonization; it says any person of conscience does things that are described as anti-Semitic; it implies that the term anti-Semite is not derogatory, but should be worn with pride.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:58 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


it implies

you infer

Seems to me he's asking a question: What are the choices in this situation?

The answers are simple: A) Obey your conscience and be labelled an antisemite; B) Obey those who call you an antisemite and ignore your conscience.

The (completely obvious, IMO) implication is that A) is the correct answer.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:13 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


Joe in Australia: I don't think the messages immediately surrounding the "honorable" one make it better.

Of course you don't.

In fact, the Mondoweiss article says one of his followers asked him to explain himself:

And he did explain himself! To which the follower said:
@stevesalaita ok I can get behind that
Salaita made a provocative statement connected thematically to a tweet sent two minutes earlier. Follower is "unsure how to respond." Salaita clarifies himself. Follower says "I can get behind that." This is how discourse should work.

it says "any person of conscience" does things that are described as anti-Semitic; it implies that the term "anti-Semite" is not derogatory, but should be worn with pride.

You're ignoring the core of Salaita's original complaint, which is his belief that Zionists often use charges of anti-Semitism as a shield from criticism of their political actions. You obviously don't agree with that, but you also don't get to deny that this is his premise. With that premise, he is in no way setting up some kind of false dichotomy trap as you suggest -- all he's doing is saying "well, Zionists liken objections to Israel's political actions as anti-Semitic, and if that's the case, go ahead and call me anti-Semitic."

Which makes the second half of your comment a totally irrelevant discussion of the history of people who have done anti-Semitic things. That context is not connected in any way to this Twitter exchange. Salaita is not saying "we need more Poles in universities" and he's not talking about Jews in finance, either. These are things that you've injected into the debate in order to provoke an emotional response, as if we can't all read the Mondoweiss piece and see that he's doing nothing of the sort. When your only tool is charges of anti-Semitism, I guess every blog post you don't like is anti-Semitism.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:16 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


(But, really, I do understand how you could infer that, Joe. Chalk it up in the Cons column for "is Twitter the best medium for this message?" 'Cause, man, it sure isn't. I/P needs nuance, and nuance needs more than 140 characters.)
posted by Sys Rq at 6:17 PM on August 28


(But, really, I do understand how you could infer that, Joe. Chalk it up in the Cons column for "is Twitter the best medium for this message?"'Cause, man, it sure isn't. I/P needs nuance, and nuance needs more than 140 characters.)

As this episode points out, Twitter isn't limited to 140 characters. If Twitter can be read as a conversation, and if it's most fruitful to read a series of tweets that way, why insist that Twitter is a series of atomized pronouncements? You can pull 140 characters out of a long-form magazine article, or a book, or a speech and use it to paint a false picture of the author. That's called taking something out of context. When you do the same thing to a Twitter feed, it's no less taking it out of context just because there exists a technological limitation that leads to the feed being published 140 characters at a time.
posted by layceepee at 6:55 PM on August 28 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure if rescinding the offer vs. firing makes any difference in a case of employment dicrimination. For example if they had decided to revoke the offer upon learning he was not white.
posted by humanfont at 7:01 PM on August 28


It's an odd choice of rhetoric.

It's designed to undercut the hideous rhetorical practice of a privileged group that constantly uses that term as a silencing mechanism.
posted by faux ami at 10:07 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


If someone doesn't get silenced when he actually says that he (well, "any person of conscience") is an anti-Semite, I think we can conclude that the silencing tactic is remarkably ineffective.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:28 PM on August 28


Well, maybe pre-empting the inevitable disgusting silencing by self-labeling as anti-Semitic is one way to avoid censorship (or self-censorship). It's not what I would do, but I understand the motive.
posted by faux ami at 10:43 PM on August 28


> There's now a boycott pledge for scientists started by Alan Sokal, NYU physicist. I'd be happy to see this passed around to Metafilter's academic scientists.

I'm an academic scientist. I am EXTREMELY distressed about the ramifications this case will have for maintaining a free & fair intellectual climate. I have sent emails into UIUC's administrative bitbucket to express this, wearing my three-cornered hat of academic faculty, Zionist Jew, and UIUC alum.

But I will not sign the boycott pledge, for reasons I mentioned above. I believe there are better ways to express support for freedom of speech than by not speaking. I believe that the brunt of this boycott will be felt much more keenly by the faculty and students in the inviting departments than it will be by the Chancellor or BOT, and those faculty and students are neither responsible for UIUC's decision nor empowered to reverse it. It gladdens me enormously to see so many academics standing in solidarity, but as much as I want to stand with them -- and in principle, I do -- this specific action is one that I feel is too misguided to comfortably support.

I encourage my fellow academics to accept speaking invitations to UIUC, and while you're there, don't just speak: speak out. Make it clear that you are there in support of academics and academic freedom, not the administration. Options abound, ranging from a slide at the beginning/end of your talk that says "I support free speech at UIUC and across the academy" to arranging for a 30-minute break in your schedule to pop by Swanlund & give the administration a piece of your mind. Heck, circulate a sign-on slide, similar in spirit to the boycott pledge, so that anyone who does get an invitation can then toss up a slide at the end of their talk that says "I AND N COLLEAGUES SUPPORT FREE SPEECH AT UIUC" with everyone's names crammed in in 6pt font.

There's no shortage of actions that concerned academics can take. But I'd urge us all to take care not to attack a community for the failures of its political leadership.... in any arena.

(ps. ITYM Sokal, physicist & pomo critter!)
posted by Westringia F. at 10:55 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


give the administration a piece of your mind.

Excuse me: I meant "abuse their viewpoints." Possibly even eviscerate them [the "viewpoints themselves"].
posted by Westringia F. at 11:09 PM on August 28


If someone doesn't get silenced when he actually says that he (well, "any person of conscience") is an anti-Semite, I think we can conclude that the silencing tactic is remarkably ineffective.

Actually Salaita said he was an "anti-Semite" with quotation marks.

Gee, reading over some of these comments in this thread, I can't imagine where he could have possibly gotten the idea that there are people out there eager to throw around the label "anti-Semite" in order to disingenuously claim the moral high ground. What a whackjob.
posted by leopard at 11:43 PM on August 28 [5 favorites]


Exactly, leopard. (And I should have added the quotation marks around the term in my comment.)
posted by faux ami at 12:34 AM on August 29


Actually Salaita said he was an "anti-Semite" with quotation marks.

That's reading an awful lot into an itty pair of quotation marks.

I can't imagine where he could have possibly gotten the idea that there are people out there eager to throw around the label "anti-Semite" in order to disingenuously claim the moral high ground.

He's adopted the label himself, and claimed to be "honorable" and "decent" as a consequence. So I suppose the moral high ground is already taken.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:35 AM on August 29


I could have sworn several commenters above already went over this in great detail. If only there were some way to remember what they said.
posted by leopard at 1:04 AM on August 29 [4 favorites]


That's reading an awful lot into an itty pair of quotation marks.

Hey, if we're gonna read a lot into 0.1% of his Twitter feed, it's only fair to read a lot into 1/70 of an individual tweet!
posted by escabeche at 4:46 AM on August 29 [5 favorites]


To be fair, if you keep the quotation marks but remove the anti- part, then he is saying that he is a "Semite". Which is true. So you know, it cuts both ways.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:17 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]


That's reading an awful lot into an itty pair of quotation marks.

Yeah, what kind of weirdo would read a set of quotation marks as marking a quotation?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:31 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]


Joe in Australia: That's reading an awful lot into an itty pair of quotation marks.

Some would say this whole thing is about people reading an awful lot into a handful of tweets before they'd bothered to familiarize themselves with the context.

In any event, you've really outdone yourself here by pretending to be unfamiliar with the concept of scare quotes. Who do you think you're actually convincing with this self-refuting nonsense?
posted by tonycpsu at 7:49 AM on August 29 [6 favorites]


29 August A.A.U.P. Letter to Chancellor Wise and Salaita Academic Freedom
We are deeply concerned about the action taken against Professor Salaita. Long after he was offered and accepted a tenured position, specific arrangements were made regarding courses, schedules, and salary. The exchange of letters between Interim Dean Ross and Professor Salaita appears to have been in accordance with generally established procedures by which academic appointments are tendered and accepted. Ten months elapsed during which time no one in the university administration gave any indication that the appointment as agreed upon might not be brought before the board.

Only this August, after Professor Salaita had resigned his tenured position at Virginia Tech, prepared for his assignments, and shortly before the semester was to begin did he receive notification asserting that, because the board of trustees would not be acting on the matter, he did not have an appointment at the University of Illinois. Aborting an appointment in this manner without having demonstrated cause has consistently been seen by the AAUP as tantamount to summary dismissal, an action categorically inimical to academic freedom and due process and one aggravated in his case by the apparent failure to provide him with any written or even oral explanation.
posted by audi alteram partem at 1:07 PM on August 29 [3 favorites]


29 August A.A.U.P. Letter to Chancellor Wise and Salaita Academic Freedom

Good letter. They're wise to leave any argument about the content of the tweets to one side. Of course, that also means that they beg the question a little. It's one thing to say "hey, what a mathematics professor says about Israel/Palestine on his free time is not the damn university's business." Which is true. But it's a much trickier question to say how to position these tweets in relationship to Salaita's professional profile. This isn't someone taking off their professional hat and putting on their "private citizen" hat in quite the same way, is it? He is a public intellectual whose professional career has been built writing about Israel and Palestine and participating in public debates over those issues. So this portion of the letter strikes me as walking a rather complicated line:
We see Professor Salaita’s online statements as extramural activity as a citizen rather than as faculty performance, and the 1940 Statement of Principles cautions that when faculty members “speak or write as citizens they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline. . . .” The document goes on to explain that faculty members should nonetheless act responsibly as citizens and (in its 1940 Interpretation No. 3) states that an administration may bring charges if it believes that these admonitions have not been observed “such as to raise grave doubts concerning the teacher’s fitness for his or her position,” but that in doing so it “should remember that teachers are citizens and should be accorded the freedom of citizens.”
It seems to me that if we don't fully accept the claim that those statements are exactly "extramural activity as a citizen" but are, in fact, part of his professional profile then the coherence of the letter's position rather unravels.

In the end, though, the real nub of the question still comes down to the "was he fired or simply not hired" one. They make a good case for the inherent unfairness of the length of time that ensued before the administration acted--but that's not really a case for the decision to be overturned; it's a case that Salaita is owed compensation. That is, it doesn't really get to the question--to my mind--of whether a contract exists at the point at which a faculty member says "yes" or whether it exists only at the point at which the contract is signed. If anything, it undermines the claim that the contract exists at the moment the faculty member says "yes" because it suggests that had the board acted promptly Salaita would have no case. That seems to be an implicit acceptance of the board's right to rescind the offer, but simply a plea that they took an unconscionably long time to get around to doing it.
posted by yoink at 1:33 PM on August 29


then the coherence of the letter's position rather unravels.

The AAUP does no more question begging than Chancellor Wise. As I see it, her actions merit criticism regardless of Salaita's own.

Wise deviated from standard practices as the letter explains.
posted by audi alteram partem at 1:43 PM on August 29


I hope that even those who think that Chancellor Wise and the Board of Trustees were completely correct in how they treated Salaita and that Salaita has no grounds for a complaint will agree that the letters from Wise and the Board explaining and defending their actions in terms of a blanket requirement of civility (not just exhortations to civility, which would be a different thing altogether) are a serious threat to academic freedom and to freedom of speech. If the standard that Wise and the Board set out is fairly applied, it will impose a very strong limitation of what professors can say both personally and professionally.

Paul Krugman would not be employable at UIUC, since he routinely uses strong, uncivil language to characterize opponents (like Paul Ryan and his budget plan). Krugman defended his language in a blog post, "Fiscal Flimflam, Revisited" not too long ago:
So the budget was essentially a con job. Now, when I say things like that, people start howling about lack of civility. But I wasn’t insulting someone for the sake of insult; if you didn’t understand the essential dishonesty of the plan, you weren’t getting the story right. Yes, I could have used diffident language — but why? Readers deserve to be told clearly what is going on.
Richard Dawkins would not be employable at UIUC, since he routinely "demeans" creationism and correlative claims. To take just one example, he once wrote in a nice article for the Guardian, "Any science teacher who denies that the world is billions (or even millions!) of years old is teaching children a preposterous, mind-shrinking falsehood." Or, consider his subtler denigration of creationism and religion in this TED talk.

A bit closer to home, after a scathing review of his book by the philosopher of physics David Albert, Lawrence Krauss remarked in an interview that debating physics with Augustine of Hippo "... might be more interesting than debating some of the moronic philosophers that have written about my book." And in reply, lots of philosophers piled right back on with abuse of Krauss.

I could easily go on in this vein for a very, very long time.

Moreover, I don't think it is just idle speculation that the standard proposed by the Chancellor will chill speech. It has already chilled my speech. And I can't imagine that I am so unusual among professors at UIUC. I dropped part of my first logic lecture this year because I was just a little worried that it could get me fired if the new standard were really applied. (I had planned to "demean" a new policy initiative from the Chancellor and the Provost to have professors describe the FBI run, hide, or fight advice for responding to active shooter scenarios.) And earlier today, I started to make a lengthier comment in the metafilter thread about Chris Lollie and then stopped because it would have been very uncivil to the police -- and it is not unheard of to have police officers or aspiring police officers as students. We're barely a week into the new semester. I wonder how often I will be biting my tongue this year.

Anyway, I'm going to leave it there for a variety of reasons, not least of which being that I want to keep my job at least long enough to find a different one. If anyone wants to carry on a conversation, I'm happy to do so via memail.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 3:50 PM on August 29 [14 favorites]


I have a few totally tangential questions that I can't seem to find the answers to...:

1) Has anyone from Virginia Tech made any statements about Salaita (officially or unofficially)?

2) Did VT already fill the faculty line vacated by Salaita's resignation? (He accepted the UIUC offer last October, so it's possible, but I took a cursory glance at the jobs wiki and didn't see any comp lit, MidEast, or Native American postings from VT). If not, have any gestures been made (officially or unofficially) to welcome Salaita back to VT?

3) It's not my field, so I can't really judge, but it appears to me that Salaita's work isn't particularly strong in American Indian studies. I'm curious to what degree UIUC's offer to him was indication of a difficult search owing to UIUC's reputation for being hostile to Native Americans. That is, did a [primarily] Middle East scholar get the offer because American Indian scholars didn't want to be associated with UIUC? (If so -- and it wouldn't surprise me -- the combined effect of the Chief and the Chancellor are going to make their next search pure hell.)
posted by Westringia F. at 4:26 PM on August 29


Last fall, UIUC sought guidance about how to better protect free expression. This is what they were told [October 2013]:
Thank you for contacting FIRE. This memorandum is in response to your [Asst Dean Justing Brown's] request for information about how the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's (UIUC's) policies could be revised to better protect students' rights to free speech and expression.

FIRE rates a university as a "red light," "yellow light," or "green light" institution depending on the extent to which the university's written policies restrict constitutionally protected speech and expression. UIUC is currently rated as a "yellow light" institution because of three policies that threaten protected speech on campus.
...
What follows is a discussion of the specific free speech issues with each of UIUC’s three problematic policies, as well as proposed solutions for remedying those defects.
(Yellow light institutions are those with "at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application.")
posted by Westringia F. at 4:48 PM on August 29 [1 favorite]


Corey Robin: Salaita By the Numbers: 5 Cancelled Lectures, 3 Votes of No Confidence, 3849 Boycotters, and 1 NYT Article (per update to post, that's 6 cancelled lectures now.)

NYT article mentioned in Robin's post summarizing the story so far.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:40 PM on August 31


linked in that Robin piece, is a post by leiter. Here are the important points:

"He is in a much better position as a matter of contract law if he had a valid employment contract, and it turns out there are very strong arguments that he did.

First, the mere fact that there was a condition in the initial offer letter--"subject to approval by the Board of Trustees"--doesn't mean the Board can terminate Salaita for any reason at all. All contractual conditions have to be discharged "in good faith"..."

key graph:

"The upshot of the preceding considerations is that Salaita was at the time of the purported revocation on August 1 a tenured member of the University of Illinois faculty. As a result, he had a contractual entitlement to academic freedom (in addition to his other constitutional rights that I've discussed previously). But more importantly, he had a legal entitlement to be dismissed only for cause, which imposes procedural and evidential burdens on the university which it has not discharged, or even pretended to discharge. And if all that's right--and that's the current posture of the AAUP in the letter above--the University is in massive breach of contract, and Salaita will get substsantial damages, and probably be entitled to reinstatement as well."
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:02 AM on September 1 [2 favorites]


Heated words about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
How about talking about what cows eat for controversy that can scuttle one's being hired at one of the Midwest's great land-grant universities.
posted by one weird trick at 2:08 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


The questions "Did Salaita say some anti-Semitic things?" and "Did Salaita have a contract with UIUC?" are orthogonal; you'd expect there to be some people who agree with one, neither, or both. It's weird that all the commentators who think that he had a contract with UIUC also seem to think that he didn't say anything anti-Semitic, and vice versa.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:44 PM on September 1


Well no Joe, because Brian Leiter didn't think that Salaita had a contract with UIUC, but after talking to a lot of people who are experts in contract law, he changed his mind.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:51 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


Wise will reportedly be submitting Salaita's appointment to the UIC Board of Trustees, if only to cover their asses legally. The BoT meeting on the 11th should be quite a spectacle.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:08 PM on September 1


Brian Leiter didn't think that Salaita had a contract with UIUC, but after talking to a lot of people who are experts in contract law, he changed his mind.

That means Brian Leiter presently agrees with both of the orthogonal assertions, which is what I said. I'm not surprised that people who think "Oh, what a shame, Salaita did nothing wrong" look for arguments to vindicate his rights, and (given that it's an arguable issue) they tend to find them.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:28 PM on September 1


Joe in Australia: "Oh, what a shame, Salaita did nothing wrong"

There are plenty of people who think Salaita did many things wrong, but who nonetheless do not believe those things rose to the level of anti-Semitism. Furthermore, very few people commenting with any authority on this from a contract law perspective have expressed any opinion at all on the content of the tweets, so I'd appreciate knowing exactly who you're talking about when you claim that people are just trying to confirm their biases.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:40 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


I didn't confine my remarks to people "with any authority on this from a contract law perspective". We're doing it right here, and I don't think anyone here is much of a legal expert or an expert on what constitutes anti-Semitism. Similarly, I don't know that Brian Leiter is falling into confirmation bias, but his shifting position does seem consistent with it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:21 PM on September 1


Is changing one's position on an issue as they learn more details always wrong, or just when the shift is in a direction you don't like?

I ask because I've shifted my position as well. When I originally posted this thread, I felt that a couple of the tweets showed signs of anti-Semitism, but as I familiarized myself with the context, it became clear that there was a lot more to the discussions those tweets occurred in that casts them in a much different light. I suppose by your standard, where shifting positions is somehow a liability that can lead to accusations of confirming one's priors, I should have just stuck to my guns, ignored the new facts, and followed your lead by pretending that scare-quotes aren't actually a thing?
posted by tonycpsu at 10:02 PM on September 1


I'm not surprised that people who think "Oh, what a shame, Salaita did nothing wrong" look for arguments to vindicate his rights

Can you please please not do this?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 4:34 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


And 'confirmation bias' != I talked to a whole bunch of experts on the subject and learned new things and my mind changed.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:27 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


The chancellor has forwarded Salaita's appointment to the Board of Trustees. They will vote in 10 days.

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2014/09/board-of-trustees-to-officially-vote-on-salaita-appointment-in-about-10-days.html
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:58 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


I suspect the chancellor believes she is legally obligated to forward the appointment.

In any case, the Board all signed a letter confirming Wise's earlier decision. It would be surprising if they now turned on her.

That said, I'm happy to be surprised and I know UI folks will be organizing around this meeting with all their might.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:18 AM on September 2


From the Campus Faculty Association (the organizing drive for TT faculty at UIUC):
A Twitter post from Ted Underwood (professor in English) says the Chancellor has NOT changed her position: "Regret to say that last night's report from students appears premature. Faculty have since met with Wise, & report no change in position." https://twitter.com/Ted_Underwood/status/506826669311918080
posted by Westringia F. at 10:56 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


U. of Illinois Willing to Settle With Salaita

The article also links to a letter from UIUC faculty members who support the administration's view.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:22 PM on September 2


Holy crap, nine departments support the administration's view?

Oh, my bad, that's nine faculty members.

It would also appear that, although I have it on good authority that there should be no linkage at all between the questions of whether the speech was anti-Semitic and whether Salaita had a contract, the nine signatories all seem to believe that the answers are "yes" and "no." Funny, that.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:03 PM on September 2


I don't think they state their position on whether Salaita had a valid contract, but if you're right then their position is exactly as I said above:
[...] all the commentators who think that he had a contract with UIUC also seem to think that he didn't say anything anti-Semitic, and vice versa.
[relevant bit emphasised]
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:26 PM on September 2


I don't think they state their position on whether Salaita had a valid contract

Talking about it as a "non-hiring" says as much, albeit implicitly.

[relevant bit emphasised]

Touché. My bad suggesting you said otherwise.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:41 PM on September 2


NB: not all the signatories to that letter are faculty. Nor are all the signatories to the full page NG ad supporting Chancellor Wise faculty. And this get me to a point that I feel is being missed in many of these discussions....:

In addition to the questions of "is his speech problematic" and "did he have a contract/protection to say it" is the question of who gets to make those decisions. By overruling the desires of the AIS dept's faculty and independently deciding not to advance the hire without so much as a discussion, Wise demonstrated that UIUC is ruled not by its scholars but by those with external interests, and has made clear that -- regardless of whatever lipservice they pay to it -- there is no meaningful shared governance with the UIUC faculty. This lack of a voice in their own scholarly working environments is exactly why the CFA has been organizing TT faculty. It's absolutely ridiculous that those most equipped to judge the candidate's suitability had literally no say whatsoever at the end of the day. This case is just one particularly egregious highlight.

And frankly, were I pre-tenure faculty at UIUC, this would scare the absolute shit out of me. Might my tenure dossier be shot down by the Chancellor/Provost's office without any warning, even after my division and department all vote to advance me? At my own institution, we've had surprise administrative tenure denials for more typical -- albeit no less specious -- reasons (wanting to reclaim the salary line, &c), and it absolutely kills morale. It's bad enough to feel one's life depends on the whims of an unpredictable & capricious master who can turn the entire T&P process on its head, but to feel that one must tiptoe to avoid angering the giant? There's your chilling effect right there.
posted by Westringia F. at 5:55 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]


there is no meaningful shared governance with the UIUC faculty.

The fact that this particular bit of governance didn't go their way doesn't mean that there's a total lack of shared governance. The board of trustees has a veto. It's still not clear to me whether the chancellor overstepped her bounds with her effective veto, but if the board says, "No, we'd rather not hire/grant tenure to this professor," that's part of their job. It's always going to be. Their reasons might be shitty (and I think in this case, it would be shitty for them to deny Salaita's hire, on a couple of levels), but they get to make that call.

It's the job of the faculty (like any other "hiring manager") to show the board why Salaita is the best candidate for the job, and part of that is accounting for the idea that he might piss some people off. Saying, "Well, the faculty decided, and that's that," isn't sharing governance either.
posted by Etrigan at 6:16 AM on September 3


There was no discussion, as far as I am aware. The search ctte, the dept, and the dean all made their recommendation, and the chancellor unilaterally decided not to pass it up to the next [understood to be rubber-stamp] step. The department was left scrambling to figure out how to cover the classes Salaita was supposed to teach with merely two weeks' notice, despite the fact that his arrival had been in the works for half a year. That lack of discussion and the surprise nature of the decision, not the disagreement, is why I say that it's an issue of shared governance.

What's more, the whole reason that people are arguing whether or not he had a contract -- that the "expressly nonbinding nature of the offer is routinely ignored in academia," as you yourself said above -- is precisely because "the faculty decided, and that's that" is exactly how the process is understood to work. This is considered desirable, for reasons such as those Jonathan Livengood expressed.
posted by Westringia F. at 7:24 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]


Etrigan: It's the job of the faculty (like any other "hiring manager") to show the board why Salaita is the best candidate for the job,

I... don't think this is correct? Given how many professors have confirmed that these board approvals are pro forma, it seems unlikely to me that there's any kind of tradition of having the faculty present their case to the board. The board approval seems to just be there as a failsafe when there's controversy, which makes it quite relevant that the Chancellor sat on the appointment for 6-7 months while the board had many meetings in which the it could have been presented to them.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:31 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


What's more, the whole reason that people are arguing whether or not he had a contract -- that the "expressly nonbinding nature of the offer is routinely ignored in academia," as you yourself said above -- is precisely because "the faculty decided, and that's that" is exactly how the process is understood to work.

A faulty process is almost always understood to work in one way, until it doesn't. This case exposes problems throughout the process (e.g., the rubber-stamp aspect of the vast majority of such hires leading to people quitting one job and performing the new one before formal approval), and with a great deal of luck and effort, those problems can be solved for future cases.
posted by Etrigan at 7:36 AM on September 3


Given how many professors have confirmed that these board approvals are pro forma, it seems unlikely to me that there's any kind of tradition of having the faculty present their case to the board.

I'm saying that in a case like this, they should have the opportunity to address any objections raised by the board, whether directly or indirectly. I agree with Westringia F. that the delay and surprise of this decision by the chancellor is part of the problem, but if the faculty truly wants shared governance, then they need to appreciate that other people get to share in the governance.
posted by Etrigan at 7:40 AM on September 3


I don't think the faculty are under any illusion that they control the process unilaterally, and with the board of trustees already having explicit veto power, allowing another veto point to be inserted at the Chancellor level to prevent a fair hearing from even taking place does seem to undermine the idea of shared governance.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:49 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Corey Robin: Reading the Salaita Papers
Then tonight Phan Nguyen sent me 443 pages of documents he had posted online. These are all the documents released by the UIUC in response to four different FOIA requests from various news organizations. I’ve now spent the entire evening reading through these documents and here are some of the highlights...
posted by tonycpsu at 7:50 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]


I don't think the faculty are under any illusion that they control the process unilaterally...

According to Westringia F., they are:
What's more, the whole reason that people are arguing whether or not he had a contract -- that the "expressly nonbinding nature of the offer is routinely ignored in academia," as you yourself said above -- is precisely because "the faculty decided, and that's that" is exactly how the process is understood to work.
posted by Etrigan at 7:52 AM on September 3


then they need to appreciate that other people get to share in the governance.

The widespread concern among academics comes from just such an appreciation and the extent to which Wise deviated from the traditional and best practices she is expected to uphold in sharing governance.
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:01 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


In addition to the questions of "is his speech problematic" and "did he have a contract/protection to say it"

But that second isn't even a question. Even if we assume he had no contract at all, he had protection to say it or worse things.

For argument's sake, assume this was clearly and fully a pre-hire decision -- that the search committee had simply chosen another candidate. If an arm of a public university had publicly announced that the reason they were hiring Candidate B instead of Salaita was because of Salaita's private* political speech, the single most constitutionally protected thing that there is in the US, that would still be wrong and might well result in UIUC losing a suit.

*In the sense that it was not part of his job responsibilities
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:09 AM on September 3


I mean, it's sort of like hiring or firing more generally in an at-will state. The employer can say that they're hiring A instead of B for any reason, or no reason at all. And can fire you and say, explicitly, that they have no reason to do so but are doing it anyway.

But if you actually admit, in public, that you're firing or not-hiring someone because of an explicitly forbidden reason? That's a paddlin'. Honestly, what Wise did seems as jaw-droppingly stupid as if she'd said that she was refusing to hire him because he's not Native American.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:18 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


> A faulty process is almost always understood to work in one way, until it doesn't. This case exposes problems throughout the process....

I agree that the process is flawed, and that this case exposes it. My argument is that the fault in the process is a lack of meaningful shared governance that would have led to discussion rather than an eleventh-hour veto.

Also, I'm quite certain the faculty is well aware that "shared governance" means that "other people get to share in the governance." -- surely you're not suggesting that faculty don't understand what "sharing" means! The questions are what that should look like -- soliciting comments? holding meetings? engaging in binding arbitration? Who will have the ultimate say in a dispute, and what are the obligations of that party to the other stakeholders (do they have to request comments? do they have to listen? and to whom -- donors, faculty, alum, students, community members?). I believe the flaws in the system are failures surrounding these questions, which is why I called it "meaningful shared governance."

On preview: I believe you are misconstruing my words here, Etrigan. The fact that the approval is understood to be pro-forma when there are no disagreements is not a failure to understand what sharing governance means; it's an understanding of the established putative protocol. The fact that a dispute led to a "pocket veto" rather than vigorous debate, transparent decision-making, & advance planning is where the problem of meaningful shared governance comes in. Ie: it is usually pro-forma; in the cases where it is not, what happens?
posted by Westringia F. at 8:18 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


I read the initial comment as being more "AH THE SKY IS FALLING" than you intended. It seems that we agree that a more open and collaborative process would be better for everyone, giving the faculty the ability to address concerns while giving the higher-ups the ability to avoid public shitstorms like this one.
posted by Etrigan at 8:27 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Henry Farrell, writing at Crooked Timber: Universities are highly responsive to very rich people
Being a board member usually involves a two way relationship. As a trustee, you get some social kudos, and some broad-scale influence over how the university is run. In return, you are expected to give the university a lot of money. Relations with rich donors who aren't on the board are somewhat similar, albeit less organized - again, there's an implied quid pro quo, and the implicit or express threat if if you, as a rich donor, don't like something that the university is doing, the money will dry up. While you do not have any veto, influential officials in the administration will listen - very carefully - to what you say, and be likely to represent on behalf of your viewpoint in internal discussions.

This has consequences for bureaucratic power. The paper trail described in Corey's post emphatically suggests that Development (i.e. money raising) was heavily involved in the decision making process over Salaita's appointment, while Academic Affairs (which is usually responsible for teaching and research quality of faculty and the like) was consulted pro forma, and after the fact. Of course, university presidents care - in the aggregate - about research and teaching quality. Apart from their intrinsic value, if research and teaching deteriorate too much, it will damage the university's reputation. But they contribute to the bottom line only indirectly, and in ways that are difficult to measure. When they are weighed against the immediate and concrete threat of canceled donations and skittish board members (a vote of no confidence in the president is a rather different thing when it comes from the trustees instead of an academic department), it's unsurprising that presidents will often be prepared to take dubious decisions on hiring and firing. From their perspective, the risks of angering rich people will usually outweigh the risks of angering faculty (who aren't usually interested in governance issues, are difficult to organize collectively etc).
posted by tonycpsu at 11:15 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


'A Growing Hunt for Heretics'? Cary Nelson and Feisal Mohamed, two professors of English at UIUC, debate what's at stake in the Salaita affair in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
posted by Westringia F. at 12:08 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Cary Nelson and Feisal Mohamed, two professors of English at UIUC, debate what's at stake in the Salaita affair in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The fact that Cary Nelson will continue to reprint Salaita's "transforming 'anti-Semitism'" tweet out of context weeks after the dishonesty inherent in such behavior has been publicly demonstrated suggests he doesn't have any real argument to make in support of the University's actions.

Reading his contribution in full to the debate over the affair confirms that suggestion.
posted by layceepee at 6:40 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


Nelson seems to be pretty well regarded; and I don't think his peers consider him to be either dishonest or stupid enough to lie about something that has been "publicly demonstrated". I don't know what context you imagine isolated Twitter messages to have, but if you have an ameliorating context you could post it.

While I'm on the subject, other people have said that Salaita's use of quotation marks makes all the difference. Again, I'd like to have that argument unpacked for me. Is it like someone saying I suppose you're racist if you want people to be treated equally? Because I really don't think that makes it better. Statements like that, in my experience, are more typically made by racists.

I've just plowed through far too many of Salaita's messages and the common factor in his use of the term "anti-Semite" (with and without quotation marks) seems to be that he regards it as a badge of pride:
Jun 17
We refused to cower when called anti-Semitic for supporting Palestine. Now few fear the term. No cowering, then, amid new coercive labels.


Jul 19
If it's "antisemitic" to deplore colonization, land theft, and child murder, then what choice does any person of conscience have? #Gaza


Jul 19
Zionists: transforming "antisemitism" from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.


Jul 29
If you haven't recently been called a terror-loving anti-Semite, then I'm sorry to say that your critique of #Israel is totally weak. #Gaza
I understand that he thinks the term has been overused and that he has been falsely accused of antisemitism. That doesn't mean there is any decent justification for adopting it. If someone went around saying that they were racist (or even "racist") or misogynist or homophobic, I wouldn't accept the argument that they meant it as a criticism of people who used the terms incorrectly. I'd think there was something wrong with them.

There is a huge problem of anti-Semitism among people who declare that they're pro-Palestinian.1 In some cases it's because they're falsely using politics as a fig leaf for prejudice; in others it's because they really are both pro-Palestinian and anti-Semitic; in yet others they may be ignorant or have been co-opted, or be going along with what others are doing. Some of it is very nasty indeed, like physical attacks on synagogues and schoolchildren, or chants like "Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas". Under these circumstances it is absolutely inappropriate for anyone to declare themselves to be anti-Semitic (or even "anti-Semitic"), even for rhetorical effect. And here's the thing. I don't know Steven Salaita's mind. I don't actually know that it is for rhetorical effect. All I know is what he says.

1 I recognise that you can also find a great deal of anti-Palestinian prejudice among Jews and supporters of Israel.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:32 PM on September 3


Joe in Australia: While I'm on the subject, other people have said that Salaita's use of quotation marks makes all the difference. Again, I'd like to have that argument unpacked for me.

Do you seriously need it spelled out in greater detail than was done in the Nguyen piece at Mondoweiss, or do you just not accept that analysis, apparently based on the fact that you don't think scare-quotes change the meaning of what's inside them?

If you really need it spelled out for you, this post explains it in even greater detail than the Nguyen piece did (emphasis is mine):
The main tweet analyzed is this: "Zionists: transforming `anti-semitism' from something horrible into something honorable since 1948." There is a claim by Liebovitz to subject that tweet to
a close reading-an exercise that passes for rigid and original thinking in most American universities these days.
And lo and behold, when he gives it that "close read" he is able to divine that
the author [Salaita] approaches anti-Semitism with the one-two punch of unreality: It doesn't exist-hence the quotation marks-and if it does exist then it's nothing to be ashamed of.
I don't know what kind of "close reading" Liebovitz learned at CU, but in my department we'd mean a close reading in its context because, um, twitter has context (h/t Natalie Zemon Davis, nice letter!). When you do that, it's shockingly easy to see that Salaita is in fact attacking the claim that any opposition to Zionism is per se equivalent to anti-semitism-or, more specifically, he is attacking claims that a principled stand against state violence meted out by Israel amounts to anti-semitism (e.g. 1, 2, 3). Salaita's is a stance akin to Billy Bragg's "if you've got a blacklist I want to be on it" (2:38) in "Waiting for the great leap forward" (saw Bragg play Bologna last month; awesome, he's still got it!; original also includes the portentious line "Will politics get me the sack?"). Salaita is, perhaps too cleverly and provocatively for his own sake in retrospect, advocating a pretty clear substantive position (which he outlines in the same damn twitter conversation for anyone who bothers to look: he means to say that he deplores "colonization, land theft, and child murder" by the Israeli state and says that even if you're going to call that "anti-semitism" he's still going to deplore them).

Others have unpacked this stuff in far more detail already in ways that I, obviously, find convincing. To summarize: you can litigate (I suppose) whether Salaita's right in where he assigns blame for those things (people certainly do, in ways both "civil" and un). But you cannot honestly dispute Salaita's meaning relative both to the broader context of his public engagement and, as importantly, to the particular context in which he tweeted. There is just no fair way to read him as intending to say anything other than (1) anti-semitism exists; (2) it is far from honorable; but (3) you cheapen the term when you toss it at people who do not in fact hate jews but who do stridently oppose, and do not believe justifiable, the violence of the Israeli state. Some certainly disagree with him on the last point and are considered to be well within the bounds of polite discourse. Many agree with him though, more every day, and are considered to be equally within those bounds.
You can argue against this interpretation, but you really can't possibly need it spelled out in any greater detail, or any more simply, than that. You're clearly a smart guy, and you do know what scare quotes are, so if you still don't get it, I'm really just going to have to conclude that you don't want to get it.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:00 PM on September 3


I don't know that those are "scare-quotes", and he's not consistent about using them. When he does use them it may be to make a use-mention distinction; it may be because he denies the existence of anti-Semitism (as it is generally understood); it may because he's actually quoting someone else. I don't even think your interpretation makes much sense: "colonization, land theft, and child murder" are to be deplored on all occasions, not because it's antisemitic to deplore them; false accusations of anti-Semitism were "something horrible" before 1948, and true ones are just as bad today.

In any event, it's a really bad idea for Palestinian activists to claim to be anti-Semites (or even "anti-Semites"), because there are a lot of real anti-Semites purporting to be Palestinian activists. We don't need to create the impression of having more people who hate Jews; we don't need to provide Jew-haters with protective camouflage. At the very least, we should be able to identify people biased against Jews without someone hijacking the term for rhetorical effect.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:33 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]




Actually, we don't need to provide the Israeli government with the protective camouflage of being able to tag anyone who doesn't support them as anti-Semitic. And I'm offended by people trying to spin this clear criticism of that tactic into anything other than what it clearly is.

Signed,

Well, if I'm going to be called a "A self-hating Jew" for denouncing the Israeli government, so be it.
posted by mikelieman at 11:56 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


I have no idea what you mean. Are you agreeing? Disagreeing? Off on a tangent?
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:24 AM on September 4


I don't know what context you imagine isolated Twitter messages to have, but if you have an ameliorating context you could post it.

Well, an isolated Twitter message does not have context, but a Twitter feed certainly does. When you isolate a Twitter message by removing it from that context, you can dishonestly twist the meaning of it.

Since it's been established here several times that Salaita's message was not isolated, but was part of a stream of messages on the same subject, I'm not sure it's relevant to point out that isolated messages don't have a context.

I don't even think your interpretation makes much sense: "colonization, land theft, and child murder" are to be deplored on all occasions

And yet there are cases when colonization, land theft and child murder are rationalized rather than deplored. And I think that Salaita is correct that people who deplore them in the context of the Israeli actions in Palestine may find themselves accused of anti-semitism.
posted by layceepee at 4:21 AM on September 4 [3 favorites]


Jonathan Adler at WaPo today:

Newly released university documents, as summarized on Crooked Timber, suggest the university’s about face was due to pressure from wealthy donors and alumni. If so, this demonstrates the university’s lack of commitment to principles of academic freedom. Again, while there may have been legitimate arguments for refusing to hire Professor Salaita, kowtowing to wealthy alumni and donors who find his ideas offensive is not among them. These revelations would also seem to undermine whatever legal defense the university has planned and will only fuel the growing academic boycotts of the university.

This isn't about 'hate speech', 'anti-semitism', twitter, intemperate remarks, or any of that bullshit. This is about wealthy donors to universities putting pressure on universities to fire people whose opinions they find disagreeable. This is specifically a case of pro-Israel donors pressuring UIUC to eliminate pro-Palestinian voices, in the same way that outside pressures blocked the appointment of Juan Cole and denied tenure to Norman Finkelstein. This is something that everyone in academia who studies the Middle East has to think about, confront, and take into consideration every time they open the mouth. This doesn't happen to people in academia who study, say, Russia, China, Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia, etc. Its only Israel.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:19 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


Joe in Australia, I appreciate you lining the tweets up like that. I find that when they're assembled in that order, they're actually much more clearly *not* advocated base anti-Semitism but articulating how supporting Palestine becomes unjustly (and inaccurately) equated with racism, such that anyone who supports Palestine or criticizes Israel should come to expect the label. (Sort of how liberal faculty celebrate making their way onto Horowitz's "Dangerous Academics" list.)

I think you disagree, from you other statements, but I don't really see why. Sure: some pro-Palestinians actually are racist in the base sense of anti-Semitism. But this is a pretty easy Venn diagram to draw: not all pro-Palestinians are anti-Semitic in that sense, so it's a problem if the Venn diagram collapses and "pro-Palestine" comes to just mean "anti-Semitic." At that point, Salaita says, you should expect to be called anti-Semitic if you support Palestine in any meaningful way even though that's inaccurate.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:15 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


Joe in Australia: I don't know that those are "scare-quotes", and he's not consistent about using them. When he does use them it may be to make a use-mention distinction; it may be because he denies the existence of anti-Semitism (as it is generally understood); it may because he's actually quoting someone else.

Quotation marks can mean all of those things, but if you're being intellectually honest, you can't ignore the very simple fact, laid out in both the Mondoweiss and Scatterplot links, that this tweet, which very clearly puts "antisemitic" in scare-quotes, precedes the "transforming 'anti-semitism'" tweet by two minutes, and is therefore the most relevant in assessing the context in which the quotes were used in that tweet. Asking that someone always use quotation marks in the same way in their Twitter feed seems like a pretty big ask to me, and given that these tweets were made back-to-back, this is by far the most likely explanation. It's really irritating for you to continue to pretend that this exact point hasn't been made several times in this thread.

In any event, it's a really bad idea for Palestinian activists to claim to be anti-Semites (or even "anti-Semites"), because there are a lot of real anti-Semites purporting to be Palestinian activists.

Maybe it is a bad idea? I certainly wouldn't advocate that anyone use Twitter to make a nuanced point about such a hot-button issue, but then again, I'm not a scholar who writes on the subject. The fact that might be a bad idea (which would be a significant move of the goalposts) doesn't make it a fireable offense.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:59 AM on September 4


Jewish letter to U. of Illinois leadership: Just as we work to oppose Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in our name, we will ensure the silencing of Professor Salaita does not take place in our name either
Your decision to fire Professor Salaita is in fact what threatens us as Jews. By pointing to anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism in an attempt to obscure politically and financially-motivated University actions, you minimize the Jewish voices of those who have resisted real and violent anti-Semitism. By conflating pointed and justified critique of the Israeli state with anti-Semitism, your administration is effectively disregarding a large and growing number of Jewish perspectives that oppose Israeli military occupation, settler expansion, and the assault on Palestine. We did not survive ethnic cleansing and carry on the legacy of our people to have our existence used to justify the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, or their unethical treatment when they speak out against the murder, violence, and displacement of their own people.

Furthermore, we insist that you not minimize the context within which Professor Salaita’s firing has taken place. It is within Palestinian right and that of us all to express opposition to the brutality to which we are and have been bearing witness in Gaza and all of Palestine, and to do so with sharp interrogation and anger. To brand this opposition as uncivil or unsafe enough to warrant the dismissal of a faculty member is not only a violation of academic freedom, it is a clear devaluation of Palestinian existence and personhood, with implications for others whose lives similarly have been and continue to be systematically attacked through state-sanctioned violence.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:23 AM on September 4 [4 favorites]


Looking at the PDF of the Salaita papers, I wonder if someone with some time on their hands could figure out the names of the donors who are threatening the whole process by using a method like this?
posted by barnacles at 9:20 PM on September 4


Ah, nevermind, I should have finished the blogpost before jumping to the PDF! The redactors themselves screwed up.
posted by barnacles at 9:22 PM on September 4


One member of the Board of Trustees as UIUC has criticized the decision to fire Salaita. The chancellor who announced the decision to Salaita has distanced herself from the firing and admitted I wish had done some more consulting before I had made the decision to write him a letter.

Now would be a great time to email the members of the board, who will meeting September 11 to consider the matter in executive session and encourage them to approve Salaita's hire.
posted by layceepee at 12:52 PM on September 5 [2 favorites]


> Can I just preemptively ask everyone to not extend this derail? A UIUC professor has already confirmed that tenured faculty there are not unionized. I'm sure we all have opinions on unions, but there are plenty of threads where we can have that conversation, while this one already has enough angles that we don't need one artificially inserted into the conversation.

Somehow I missed this upthread. I believe that the matter of unionization is very much NOT tangential here (though Taft-Hartley probably is).

If a faculty union existed at UIUC, this would be another powerful way for the faculty to push back against the administration's decision. There would still be the question of whether or not Salaita was an employee or not, and potentially it would not be able to represent Salaita directly (since he would not yet have been part of the bargaining unit), but depending on the terms of the contract, the faculty in the hiring dept may have had grounds for a grievance/ULP from a shared-governance perspective. More importantly, a union could have given UIUC faculty an additional layer of protections against the chilling effect of nonsense like "we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois ... personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse ... viewpoints themselves." In addition to the legal repercussions of Salaita's de-hiring, UI might also have had the union -- with all its legal weight -- breathing down its neck on account of saying that.

All this is hypothetical, of course, since TT faculty at UIUC aren't yet unionized. Grads are [GEO/IFT/AFT], VAPs & Academic Professional staff are [AAP/IEA/NEA], NTTs are [CFA/IFT/AFT], and both TT & NTT faculty at UI Chicago are [UICUF/IFT/AFT], but not UIUC TT faculty. The reasons for this are byzantine, involving an anti-union administration and tortured readings-of/rulings-by the IELRA/IELRB. What is important here, however, is that there is an active organizing campaign to gain CFA representation for TT faculty at UIUC. That is, this case comes at a moment when UIUC faculty are actively working towards organizing a union.

This timing is significant in two ways:

First, the Salaita case underscores the systemic problems of communication and shared governance that currently exist between UIUC faculty and the UI administration, as we briefly discussed upthread; it also highlights the lack of protection for job security necessary for academic freedom. (One may argue that Salaita was simply not hired, but nothing about this case suggests that a junior faculty member going up for tenure wouldn't encounter a similar fate.) Both of these are core issues on which the faculty unionization movement is based, and precisely the types of things the CFA contract would seek to address. In that sense, the UI provided a very good demonstration of why the faculty need a union, at precisely the moment when the faculty are organizing. Point (such as it is) to CFA.

On the other hand, the UI administration has also managed, at this same moment, to chill speech on campus. One UIUC faculty member mentioned in this very thread that he has started to self-censor [1,2], which is a damning indication of the atmosphere this case has created at UIUC. Consider what this means for CFA organizing. Would it be "uncivil" to make a statement supporting CFA and opposing UI's anti-union efforts? Would it be "uncivil" to join a rally or engage in other direct action? Would it be "uncivil" to try to organize one's colleagues? Would it be "uncivil" to sign a card, or to otherwise mark oneself as a supporter of unionization? Would being judged "uncivil" cost a junior faculty his/her tenure (and hence his/her job)? Would it cost senior faculty theirs? And -- most importantly -- would fear of being judged uncivil cause faculty, esp junior faculty, to self-censor and back away from unionizing? Point (such as it is) to the UI administration.

All of which is to say that the issue of faculty unionization is one of the many interesting facets of this situation that bears consideration & discussion. The Salaita case doesn't exist independent of a faculty union, but rather comes at a crucial moment in the union organizing campaign, and has the power to tilt the scales toward or against faculty unionization. What effect will this case have, and how? And what should the CFA, in its current (ie, non-recognized) form, do?
posted by Westringia F. at 3:59 PM on September 7 [1 favorite]


> And what should the CFA, in its current (ie, non-recognized) form, do?

For instance.... I think I'd interpret the blanket nature of Wise's "civility doctrine" statement as management intimidation during an organizing campaign, and I'd be inclined to pursue it as an unfair labor practice (independent of the Salaita specifics). It would be a long shot, but I do wonder if that's been contemplated.....
posted by Westringia F. at 4:03 PM on September 7


This post has come up in a MeTa thread, btw.
posted by homunculus at 10:28 AM on September 8


A UIUC law professor analyzes the contractual issues. A little dense, but I thought this part was new and interesting (with some formatting added to make it a little more clear):
Salaita’s offer letter also incorporated by reference the principles of academic freedom laid down by the American Association of University Professors ("AAUP"). It said:

At the University of Illinois, like most universities in this country, we subscribe to the principles of academic freedom and tenure laid down by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure has been since 1940 the foundation document in this country covering the freedoms and obligations of tenure. The AAUP Statement on Professional Ethics is a document of similarly broad application to those in academia. I am enclosing copies of these documents for your information and commend them to your attention.

This fact is relevant here because the AAUP has now written Chancellor Wise, suggesting that they “sharply question” whether the grounds for revocation meet the standards set forth in Regulation 5a of the AAUP’s Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure. They have also pointed to a 1964 AAUP investigative committee report in a case with very similar facts. This report concluded that the academic community cannot condone academic appointment procedures that enable universities to:

[o]ffer a professor a position during normal appointment “season” and then, after he has accepted the position, to cut him adrift without warning or hearings. . . . This committee sees no way in which the academic marketplace could operate in a rational and just way if the practices followed . . . were accepted as normal procedure.

And so we return to the concept of contract as empowerment. The power of the marketplace—in both academic and non-academic contexts—depends on parties’ capacities to make commitments that have certain objective elements to them. In this particular case, this means that the condition of Board of Trustee approval gave the Board some authority to refuse Salaita’s appointment—but not necessarily the authority it subjectively believes it has. If the Board’s unwillingness to approve this appointment reflects an undisclosed and idiosyncratic understanding of its authority, which diverges too sharply from the shared understandings of the national academic community, then there is likely a contract here. And it may well have been breached.
posted by sbutler at 11:10 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]


"Civility" as practiced by the UI BoT: "You were not brief enough [EOT]"

(There a number of brief, considered responses I would be tempted to send, mostly along the lines of "Hey pal: sorry my length intimidates you." But I have all the civility of a teenage boy.)
posted by Westringia F. at 11:30 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]


Speech, Civility and the Salaita Case
These tweets express certain attitudes and have a specific content. They represent strong disapproval of the actions of the Israeli government in Gaza, and a general hostility towards Zionism. I think it impermissible for a university to use the ideological character of such views as grounds for revoking an appointment that has met all the normal requirements for such an appointment. The University maintains it did not, and for the sake of argument, I want to assume it did not. If this is too counter-factual for you to accept, consider a hypothetical university which would have acted in exactly the same way had the tweets in question been phrased in ways which favored Israel and attacked the Palestinian position.

The three tweets are expressed in a way that I find disgusting, vicious, and disrespectful. In addition, the first two express approval of immoral and violent acts. There can be disagreement about this. I find that the arguments given by some Salaita supporters to interpret them differently are casuistic to say the least. E.g. claiming that "go missing" does not mean "kidnapping" or "murder" on the grounds that if Salaita meant those terms he would have said so! But this tweet occurred in the context of the kidnapping of three Jewish children and the term being used in all the stories was that the children were "missing." Another commentator says about the second tweet that it meant the "story" should have ended at the point of a shiv, not Goldberg. As if it made sense for a story to end at the point of a knife.

I do not include the tweet about anti-semitism as I believe a careful reading of the quotation, in the context of other relevant tweets, indicates that the remark is not anti-semitic. It is only on a certain interpretation of "anti-semitism" that it is honorable, i.e. being opposed to certain specific evils, such as colonization and land theft, the treatment of Gaza and the West Bank.

The first point to make is that were these tweets uttered in the classroom they can be prima-facie grounds for firing a teacher, or, if she has tenure, revoking it. No student who disagrees with the teacher should be labeled a horrible person. Note: There is no evidence that in his previous academic appointment Salaita said similar things in the classroom.

If you are doubtful about the classroom claim I invite you to think about your reaction if the statements uttered in class were the following.

"You may be too refined to say it, but I am not: I wish every fucking black in Ferguson would wind up like Michael Brown."

"Obama's statement on Michael Brown should have ended at the point of a shiv."

"If you're defending Michael Brown right now, you are an awful human being."

These statements are a possible ground for termination not because they are expressions of a certain view-point. One is free in the classroom to defend the actions of the Ferguson police as legitimate, and to argue that Brown was a criminal who deserved what he got. But one is not free in the classroom to to urge the murder of people who disagree with you, or to categorize those who disagree as awful human beings.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:33 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


I hoped for more from Robin Kar's argument, because commentators of all opinions have been conflating the issue of Salaita's contractual rights with the injustice done to him. Halfway through, unfortunately, he seems to drop the contractual issue and turn to "how should academic hiring work". Also, he seems to assume that decisions on tenured positions are made by the Dean acting within the scope of his authority, and that the expression "subject to the approval of the Board of Trustees" is merely a condition. That may be the case (I have no idea) but it's also possible that these decisions are actually made by the Board of Trustees on the recommendation of the Dean. The distinction is whether the Dean had the authority to make an offer. The concept of "ostensible authority" may come into play here: if the University implied that the Dean had that authority then it may not be able to prevent someone relying on that representation. The phrase "subject to the approval of the Board of Trustees" would still arguably imply that no offer had yet been made, but it would (again) be merely a condition of the offer.

Incidentally, I don't see any way that promissory estoppel can help Mr Salaita evade the condition, at least if the law in Indiana is consistent with Australia and the UK (I think it may not be, but anyway). In Australia and the UK the famous expression is that "estoppel is a shield and not a sword" . In other words, you can estop someone from denying your right, but you can't force them to validate it. If the University had behaved as if the Board of Trustees had approved Salaita's employment, and had knowingly allowed him to go on thinking that, the University might not be able to later deny that it had given this approval. Maybe. What promissory estoppel does not do, however, is force a promisor to enter into a contract just because they have encouraged the promisee to think that they will very likely enter into it - not even if the promisee has acted to his detriment.

I acknowledge that Salaita is in a bad position; I think it's the University's fault; consequently, I think he deserves some compensation. I also think academics should form a union and go on strike unless the University fixes its employment procedures. But on the limited issue of "has Salaita got a contractual or equitable right to employment?", my opinion is no, he doesn't.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:36 PM on September 8


> he seems to assume that decisions on tenured positions are made by the Dean acting within the scope of his authority, and that the expression "subject to the approval of the Board of Trustees" is merely a condition.... but it's also possible that these decisions are actually made by the Board of Trustees on the recommendation of the Dean. The distinction is whether the Dean had the authority to make an offer. The concept of "ostensible authority" may come into play here: if the University implied that the Dean had that authority then it may not be able to prevent someone relying on that representation. The phrase "subject to the approval of the Board of Trustees" would still arguably imply that no offer had yet been made, but it would (again) be merely a condition of the offer.

UIUC's standard offer letter template and published protocol for offering academic positions issued by the UIUC Provost's office indicate that formal Letters of Offer come from the Dean or the Director, as is typical for US universities. The Dean does indeed have the authority to make [conditional] formal offers, and is expected to do so.

(Illinois, btw, not Indiana.)
posted by Westringia F. at 8:20 PM on September 8


That said, the documents stating that Letters of Offer come from the Dean also state that
Letters to candidates must always make clear that their agreement with the tentative terms outlined in the communication will result only in recommendations of approval to the Board of Trustees. Letters of offer do not supersede the Board’s formal Notification of Appointment to the academic staff members. The Notification of Appointment is the official academic employment contract.
but then they immediately go on to state
Because new academic employees do not receive and accept their first official Notification of Appointment (NOA) until after they are activated on the payroll, units are required to retain a copy of the written letter of offer with acceptance and provide a copy to Academic Human Resources as part of the transaction processing.
which definitely implies that it is expected that one's employment will begin based on the Dean's Letter before the NOA is issued.
posted by Westringia F. at 8:33 PM on September 8


Because new academic employees do not receive and accept their first official Notification of Appointment (NOA) until after they are activated on the payroll

I think I have identified the root-cause of the issue. Fix the payroll software to have another employment state, "OFFERED" so that they can (1) properly track the actual on-boarding process, and therefore (2) generate the NOA at the correct time.
posted by mikelieman at 4:14 AM on September 9


Creating an OFFERED employment state won't make the Trustees do anything on time. I expect the issue there is that the Board of Trustees doesn't want to bother generating final paperwork until they know for sure who has actually accepted their offers and shown up.

But on the limited issue of "has Salaita got a contractual or equitable right to employment?", my opinion is no, he doesn't.

That issue isn't tremendously important given that the only reason UIUC has given for him to be denied employment is his political speech. All humans have the right not to be denied employment by the State of Illinois solely because of their political speech.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:09 AM on September 9


Salaita speaks publicly for the first time since firing: ‘I am here to reaffirm my commitment to teaching and to a position with the American Indian Studies program at UIUC’
posted by tonycpsu at 5:04 PM on September 9


Illinois, sorry.

Wow, Westringia, their process is a mess. It looks ike one of those letters from Readers' Digest that say "you have been preselected to win" a million dollars.

From what I understand, the University advertises a position and invites people to respond. Some of them will be selected to go through interviews and so forth. After this process, one applicant will potentially receive a letter welcoming them to the University. So at this point, the applicant expect that they will get the job, even if they haven't signed anything. Then the applicant is asked to give all their details to Payroll, and they presumably get information about their pay and tax and so forth. I bet the applicant signs lots of things at that point, and I really do wonder if they aren't already technically "employed". After all this, though, the Board of Trustees decides whether to give them the "Notification of Appointment"; and only at this point does the University consider them to be officially employed.

All that is problematic enough, but I think the Dean may have worsened the situation. If you compare the Dean's letter with the standard template (first page of the PDF) you can see that the Dean added terms that imply a contract rather than a mere invitation to negotiate, and deleted the explanation that the Board of Trustees would be the one issuing the "formal contract". Here's the relevant bit of the template:
Once we have the required documents, the necessary paperwork can be completed and processed so that the Board of Trustees can issue a formal contract. Your timely return of the completed documents and letter of acceptance will ensure that your first paycheck is received on September 16.
This invitation is made with the strong support of the faculty of the Department of ________.
Here's what the Dean replaced it with:
If you are not a U.S. citizen, this offer will be contingent upon your being able to secure the appropriate visa status. Should you accept our offer, our Office of International Faculty and Staff Affairs is available to assist you with this process.

Please let me express my sincere enthusiasm about you joining us....
I think it would be reasonable to interpret that to mean that this letter is an offer; that the recipient's acceptance means that he will be "joining" the faculty; and that the offer is not a "contingent" one unless the recipient is not a U.S. citizen. This is why people shouldn't mess with standard templates in legal situations. I have no idea whether Salaita actually has a case against the University (and as I expressed before, I think he's a jerk and possibly should not be a teacher), but I do think he deserves to have a case.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:43 PM on September 9 [2 favorites]


I really don't get the "he's a jerk" line. If New Zealand killed 2000 Australian civilians, 500 of them children, how polite do you think you'd be? The man has a penchant for rudeness online, but that's pretty much par for the course: Mefites are often much less polite than Salaita has been, and yet our site has a reputation for civility!

I mean, it'd be totally reasonable to take Salaita to Metatalk for a callout, and I'd even favor a timeout. But "possibly should not practice his profession" seems to overstate the case.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:06 AM on September 10


The USA has killed considerably more than that, but I still wouldn't expect an academic to rant about Barack Obama wearing a necklace of children's teeth. Similarly, his message about hoping "all settlers would go missing" was just hateful, particularly given the context -three Jewish kids were missing, presumed kidnapped. I don't know what Salaita actually believes, but a lot of his stuff is crazypants rabble-rousing or active minimisation of legitimate concerns about the very real, very substantial, and very troubling displays of anti-Semitism among pro-Palestinian activists. He may not be an anti-Semite, but the people firebombing synagogues or assaulting Jews in the name of Palestinian nationalism certainly are. A decent person would not dismiss this or mock the people it concerns.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:57 AM on September 10


I really don't get the "he's a jerk" line.

There's nothing to 'get'. Its just a smear tactic. The presumption is that you can know how nice or cordial or respectful someone is by their twitter account, rather than meeting them, interviewing them, reading evaluations of them, talking to people who have known them for years, etc. Its patently absurd.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:59 AM on September 10


So let's presume that Salaita isn't a decent person. What does this have to do with the case at hand?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:00 AM on September 10


He may not be an anti-Semite, but the people firebombing synagogues or assaulting Jews in the name of Palestinian nationalism certainly are.

Yes! I agree! But if I call synagogue firebombers names on twitter, does that mean I'm a jerk and I don't have a right to my job? That's where I get confused.

Like, take the Goldberg tweet: Goldberg discusses watching a friend beat a Palestinian man almost to death, and then covering it up. I think that makes Goldberg the jerk, and if I was angry at something he wrote I might make a pointed (gah) remark about how one of the prisoners he helped abuse may someday shiv him. That strikes me as an intemperate but ultimately within-bounds response to the actions he recounts; he brags about letting vulnerable people be beaten, so he's the true uncivil party in this conversation.

Wishing settlers would disappear seems similar: it's like a Native American wishing that white Europeans would take immigration reform seriously.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:19 AM on September 10


I still wouldn't expect an academic to rant about Barack Obama wearing a necklace of children's teeth

What about Dick Cheney?
posted by escabeche at 4:00 PM on September 10


Anotherpanacea wrote: But if I call synagogue firebombers names on twitter, does that mean I'm a jerk and I don't have a right to my job?

You may call firebombers as many names as you like, as far as I'm concerned.

I don't know what job you have, but I think there would be a real problem if you were a teacher and you described yourself as being an anti-Semite (or a racist, or that you hated Catholics, or whatever). It isn't so much that you wouldn't have a right to your job, but that students might not be able to learn effectively from you.

Compare the case of UCLA professor Richard Sanders, above. It looks as though his views on affirmative action have effectively made it impossible for him to teach black students. He still has a job, and I suppose it would be hard to fire him for promoting those views, but in hindsight I think it was a mistake to hire him. And that's just someone whose views imply that he doesn't think black students are equally qualified; I'm not aware of him making any tendentious comments about how it's honorable to be a racist, or whatever.

Wishing settlers would disappear seems similar: it's like a Native American wishing that white Europeans would take immigration reform seriously.

My opinion is that wishing for a group of people to disappear, nowadays, is really a call for genocide. We're not innocent any more; we know what "transfer to the east", "ethnic cleansing", and other euphemisms mean. But in any event the message had a context: three Jewish kids had been abducted on their way home from school. By saying that he hoped "all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing" Salaita was both endorsing the abduction and expressing a wish for genocide. That isn't the most objectionable of his messages, but I think it does show that he has a nasty way of expressing himself.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:19 PM on September 10


I still wouldn't expect an academic to rant about Barack Obama wearing a necklace of children's teeth

Escabeche replied: What about Dick Cheney?

Good question. It would still be inflammatory and hyperbolic, but I suppose I wouldn't find it as offensive. Cheney's privileged background means that accusations of savagery really reflect only on him. Similar accusations made against Obama or Netanyahu are associated with racist rhetoric, and are therefore much worse. It's like the difference between depicting George Bush as a monkey, and doing the same with Obama. With Bush, the illustrator was saying that the President was stupid. With Obama, the illustrator was repeating a traditional racial slur. That makes it worse.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:28 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


but I think there would be a real problem if you were a teacher and you described yourself as being an anti-Semite

And who, pray-tell, is doing anything remotely close to this?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:11 PM on September 10


Rand Paul called Dick Cheney a bloodthirsty profiteer (video). This would have been incredibly offensive and anti-Semitic if Cheney were Jewish, but since Cheney is not Jewish it is simply reasonable political commentary.

How many times will we have to go over the "making 'anti-Semitism' honorable" tweet before a certain someone will give up a beloved talking point that sounds so good and clear? I'm guessing at least a thousand, and we've only done it six times so far, so a little patience is in order.
posted by leopard at 7:35 PM on September 10


Leopard, in an earlier comment you suggested that this is what Salaita meant when he said that anti-Semitism had become "honorable":
The charge of anti-Semitism used to be meaningful, but now Zionists have conflated it with anti-Zionism, thereby rendering it meaningless and even a badge of honor.
You acknowledge that anti-Semitism is still an actual problem, right? That there really are people who hate Jews and discriminate against them? That being the case, how can the term "anti-Semite" be meaningless? We all know what it means. And how can it be a badge of honor? Surely no decent person would want to be mis-identified that way.

If Salaita were really concerned about the conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism then a statement like yours is practically the very worst one he could make. How can two things be more conflated than by saying that the same term describes them both? If he wanted to distinguish between them he would say something like "I don't think Jews should have the rights possessed by other ethnic groups, but that makes me an anti-Zionist, not an anti-Semite."
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:59 PM on September 10


Salaita is saying that the charge of anti-Semitism has been thrown around so much as a way of smearing people that it can no longer be taken seriously -- that it's crying wolf. The continued existence of actual wolves does not mean that the Boy Who Cried Wolf was right all along.
posted by Etrigan at 3:10 AM on September 11 [4 favorites]


But to say that the nature of his inflammatory tweets doesn't impact his ability as a teacher... it would, I assure you it would.

Salaita's teaching record suggests otherwise.

A lot of people mistake our online personas for our offline personas. Just yesterday someone said to me that after having known me online for many years, they were surprised on meeting me in person at how warm and friendly I was. I'm not warm, here. But that doesn't mean much about how I am in person.

Salaita is an angry user of social media (arguably with good reason: the context of these tweets is the fact that 2000 civilians and 500 CHILDREN were killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza.) But that doesn't mean much about how he is as a teacher.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:45 AM on September 11


Etrigan, you seem to think that the story means "don't worry about threats that have turned out to be false". On the contrary: that story depends upon the fact that wolves really exist.

I don't believe that the charge of anti-Semitism has been thrown about recklessly, but let's suppose it has. People have made false accusations of rape; are we wrong to take those accusations seriously? How about accusations of anti-Black racism? Homophobia? We need to take all of these seriously, because they are all real things.

And I don't think Salaita actually has any credibility when it comes to recognising genuine anti-Semitism. For instance, here's a Twitter account he started following recently, @EternalPalestine - I checked it out because I wondered what someone was doing bearing Godfrey of Bouillon's arms. I don't have any reason to think that Salaita checked it out first, but that's really the issue: does Salaita take anti-Semitism seriously at all? Surely he knows that some pro-Palestinian activists are anti-Semites; why doesn't he do some elementary checking before associating with them?
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:51 AM on September 11


Etrigan, you seem to think that the story means "don't worry about threats that have turned out to be false". On the contrary: that story depends upon the fact that wolves really exist.

You appear to have stopped at the end of my first sentence, so here's what I wrote immediately after it:
The continued existence of actual wolves does not mean that the Boy Who Cried Wolf was right all along.
Emphasis added.
posted by Etrigan at 5:11 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


How many times can we rehash the same point that Salaita's tweet about anti-semitism is being grossly misinterpreted? If anyone actually believes that Salaita was saying that anti-semitism is a good or honorable thing to be, then you have no business interpreting anything!!! It was so obviously not that. I can only conclude that it is being willfully distorted.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:39 AM on September 11


Anotherpanacea, you've referred to those same figures ("2000 civilians and 500 CHILDREN") at least three times. Do we really need a discussion about how many of them were actually killed by Hamas (my estimate: at least a third); how many of the people described as civilians aren't (lots); whether Israel could have done much to reduce the number of casualties (probably not); whether Hamas ought to have accepted the first cease-fire (of course); and whether any of this is even remotely relevant, because of course there are people who are angry, not least the Israelis subject to Hamas' constant terror. But your argument, that Salaita posted those messages because he was angry, can only be a mitigating factor: if they're not anti-Semitic there's nothing to mitigate; if they are anti-Semitic then I really don't think his pious rage against Israel can justify his hatred of Jews.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:54 AM on September 11


The Boy Who Cried Wolf was a fable about lying. It didn't mean that no one else who cried wolf would ever be taken seriously, or that the act of crying wolf would lose its meaning.

Look, we are back in the same derail. At this point many, many people - including Jewish people, members of the actual group against whom anti-semitism is directed - have said in this thread and in Meta that many - not all - of these tweets are deeply, deeply offensive. And said why. At some point that should be accepted at face value. That there are some Jews who don't find it offensive is not a negation - there are plenty of Clarence Thomases out there who do not acknowledge racism when it's pointed out but does not fit with their political needs. At some point an aha light should go off and the defense of the tweets should start to appear to you as it does to those of us who are offended - as doubling down on the offense. It is entirely possible that Salaita did not mean the worst possible reading of his tweets. It's also possible he did, just to be provocative. There is no doubt that the "anti Semitism" tweet was intended to make the argument that people who say "anti-semitic" about ANYONE who criticizes Israel is crying wolf. The follow-up tweet that many of you keep pulling out to defend that one does not make it okay - most of you are able to recognize a No True Scotsman fallacy when you see one in other contexts. Sure he finds anti-semitism that he recognizes as such abhorrent. Plenty of racists abhor racism - they just don't think it applies to them.

But the thing is, that is not important . The point isn't whether Salaita's tweets were offensive. You can continue to hold the view that they are or that they aren't, and still talk about the issue: He is allowed to be a jerk and still have the job he was promised. He is allowed to be a vile, spewing racist and still have a job (I am not saying he is). His views were known to the university when they offered him the job. Any attempt to take back the contract after the fact had better have a damn good reason (I would argue that "if it turns out he murders students in his spare time" would be such a reason, but I guess even that is open for debate). From a pure free speech point of view, it shouldn't matter whether or not his speech was offensive. If anything, the best free speech cases come when someone is as offensive as possible - precisely because it shouldn't matter. The time to argue about whether he would make a good or bad professor based on his political statements was before the offer was made. It's not like he was hiding them.
posted by Mchelly at 5:59 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


my god joe, anotherpanacea was clearly saying that Salaita's anger is a mitigating factor for his inflammatory tweeting and has no bearing on how he conducts himself in the classroom. As they said, "that doesn't mean much about how he is as a teacher".

What in the world isn't clear about that? There is no good faith interpretation of anotherpanacea's comment that concludes with them saying that 'Salaita was angry so that's why he made anti-semitic comments on twitter'.

That's really an unfair thing to do to anotherpanacea.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:02 AM on September 11


You're missing a couple of messages that were deleted , including the one I was actually responding to. Basically my point was: don't let's bring up the war again.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:15 AM on September 11


There is no good faith

That's really what this revolves around. For some there are trigger words, that simply hearing them is enough to short-circuit rational analysis in good faith, and thus they can attack the critic rather than refute their points.
posted by mikelieman at 6:17 AM on September 11


Where exactly does one bubble in "I am afraid to speak openly about my personal experience with this topic in class because I fear the teacher my be biased; I don't know, but I don't want to find out"? Or "I am afraid to speak openly because I am scared that the Prof's known behavior outside of class will encourage an atmosphere where other students in my class say hateful things about Israelis"?

Teaching evaluations almost always include language about fair treatment and also places for people to write things, not just fill in boxes.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:29 AM on September 11


Basically my point was: don't let's bring up the war again.

The tweets are the text. The war is the context.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:35 AM on September 11


Teaching evals have places for things that actually occur, not for fears. You'll notice that teaching evals from STEM do not generally include reports of female students saying "I am afraid to ask questions or give answers in class because I am scared that people will think of me as a dumb girl," even though that's the lived experience of many women.
posted by Westringia F. at 6:39 AM on September 11


Where exactly does one bubble in "I am afraid to speak openly about my personal experience with this topic in class because I fear the teacher my be biased; I don't know, but I don't want to find out"?

Students are asked to rate a professors "concern and respect" for them. Salaita scores (on this and other factors) are quite high, as you would see if you read the link I posted.

Given the chance, people will preemptively avoid a teacher with a bad reputation.

This is a great argument: even though everyone who took his classes gave him high marks, the ones who didn't wouldn't. Basically, you've turned the evidence AGAINST your claim into support FOR it. Sure, some people will select out, but not all people. My experience is that lots of people take controversial professors' classes, just for the thrill of disagreeing with them. My experience is also that good teachers can separate pedagogy and advocacy.

This despite the fact that plenty of professors with tenure get very low marks on student evals, because they don't have to worry about teaching if they don't want to.

I agree that Salaita is a jerk on social media, but this "the fact that all the evidence opposes my claim means I'm right" is just silly. You've worked yourself into a position where you're no longer updating your views on the basis of new evidence.

The worst part if that you've developed all this self-sealing circularity in support of the following claim: students' comfort should trump any considerations, like the fact that Salaita had to watch Israel kill his countrymen and their children and not utter a peep about it.

No one in their right mind would expect an African-American professor to only say nice and civil things about the Ferguson police department. No one in their right mind would expect a female professor to only say nice and civil things about rapists and child molesters. And yet Palestinian professors are expected to only say nice and civil things about the invading army that is killing chilldren in their homeland.

It's just a weird double standard. Sometimes events justify intemperateness.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:53 AM on September 11


I'm sure that if a STEM prof said something on the internet that would make women feel scared in their classroom, that could be written on a teaching evaluation
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:54 AM on September 11


Mchelly: At this point many, many people - including Jewish people, members of the actual group against whom anti-semitism is directed - have said in this thread and in Meta that many - not all - of these tweets are deeply, deeply offensive. And said why. At some point that should be accepted at face value.

Omitted: a reference to any claim that the tweets are not offensive. The two camps here are (a) those who think they're offensive and anti-Zionist, and (b) those who think they're offensive and anti-Semitic. There is of course some gray area in the middle, but if there is anyone here who's said that none of his tweets are offensive, I must have missed it.

there are plenty of Clarence Thomases out there who do not acknowledge racism when it's pointed out but does not fit with their political needs.

I am certain that, at some point, Clarence Thomas has denied racism in something that, as it turns out, wasn't actually racist. The fact that he has a different definition of what racism is doesn't mean he's simply doing so based on the fact that accepting the racism wouldn't fit with his political needs. Similarly, several Jews in this thread dispute your sincerely-held belief that the tweets are incontrovertibly anti-Semitic, and to imply that they're doing so simply because accepting that they're anti-Semitic would violate their political beliefs is quite a cheap shot that assumes away their ability to look at the situation and come to a different yet still reasonable conclusion about the content of the tweets.

There is no doubt that the "anti Semitism" tweet was intended to make the argument that people who say "anti-semitic" about ANYONE who criticizes Israel is crying wolf. The follow-up tweet that many of you keep pulling out to defend that one does not make it okay - most of you are able to recognize a No True Scotsman fallacy when you see one in other contexts. Sure he finds anti-semitism that he recognizes as such abhorrent. Plenty of racists abhor racism - they just don't think it applies to them.

There is actually significant doubt about exactly this, and you're completely wrong in summarizing the case against your interpretation. First of all, the "follow-up tweet" as you're calling it was actually a previous tweet, the content of which used the same "antisemitic" in scare-quotes formulation:
If it's "antisemitic" to deplore colonization, land theft, and child murder, then what choice does any person of conscience have?"
This was not some after-the-fact attempt to define "antisemitic" down, rather, it was a refusal to accept a label that he feel was erroneously applied to him and to others, who he feels are simply fighting back against colonization, land theft, and child murder.

Of course, your central point -- that he still didn't deserve to lose his job even if the way he expressed his views is repugnant -- is correct.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:47 AM on September 11


I apologize - I thought that he made another, later tweet which was more differentiating - I can't find it now in the thread (possibly it was deleted?) and don't have time to go through his feed to find the one I was remembering. I do not accept that prior tweet as evidence that in any way exonerates him, because it requires you to accept his terms of the occupation - that "child murder" is part of Zionism or explicit Israeli policy. You could just as easily oppose Palestinian nationalism on the grounds that they endorse child murder - and make a much stronger case. Blood libel is well-documented and it is not simply offensive. Sometimes anti-Zionism actually is anti-Semitism. I have no problem acknowledging that sometimes it isn't. What concerns me is how few people supporting Salaita in this thread will give an inch and admit that sometimes it is.
posted by Mchelly at 8:25 AM on September 11


Mchelly: What concerns me is how few people supporting Salaita in this thread will give an inch and admit that sometimes it is.

Again, you've omitted a citation of anyone who's said that anti-Zionism can never be anti-Semitism. I see people saying that they don't believe in this case that it was, not that it never is.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:31 AM on September 11


anti-Zionism can be and sometimes is anti-Semitism.

Can you now quit it with the strawmen?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:37 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Some anti-Zionism is motivated by anti-Semitism.
Salaita is an anti-Zionist.
Therefore, Salaita is an anti-Semite.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:50 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]



Some anti-Zionism is motivated by anti-Semitism.
Salaita is an anti-Zionist.
Therefore, Salaita is an anti-Semite.


I am Jewish and anti-Zionist.

Does that mean I am an anti-Semite?
posted by mikelieman at 9:00 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


I think anotherpanacea was attempting sarcasm. Otherwise I would have to assume it was a bad-faith false summarization of what I was saying.
posted by Mchelly at 9:03 AM on September 11


Oh, don't you know? If you are Jewish and anti-Zionist you are self-hating.*

*(disclaimer: I am not actually saying that a Jewish anti-Zionist is a self-hating Jew. I am mocking those that would say such a thing, and also those that would employ the concept of a 'self-hating Jew' as a category of analysis, which is a vile and bigoted characterization. Please don't call me an anti-semite or get me fired or deny me tenure or a new job. Thanks)
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:04 AM on September 11


Indeed. Well, I think we can all agree the point is well-made.
posted by mikelieman at 9:10 AM on September 11


I am interested in the relationship between identifying children casualties and the blood libel.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:13 AM on September 11


The trustees voted not to hire him. 8-1. Now the lawsuits start.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:56 AM on September 11


From an anonymous user:
I've been debating whether or not to say this, but here goes:

I'm a Sabra: a Jew born in Israel. I've been in the US most of my life (Illinois even -- I'm a UI alum!), and as a matter of self-identity I consider myself American and "culturally" Jewish, but not religiously so. I actually haven't been back to Israel since I left as a child, although I still have a lot of family there.

Politically, my feelings about Israel are complicated. It won't surprise anyone that I'm a Zionist; I would not exist, and my family would probably not exist, were it not for the existence of a Jewish homeland. At the same time, I'm also a staunch progressive who rejects expansionist colonialism. I have HUGE issues with Israel's policies. Like Mchelly, I support the two-state solution and the Road Map and an end to occupation.

(This causes no end of argument with my family. I'm too American, they say: I didn't live through their history, so I can't understand how if they give that up then it's a slippery slope. To my ears, though, they just sound racist and scared -- very very scared.)

Anyway, I keep thinking about how I would feel if I were Salaita's student (which I could have been if I hadn't graduated a decade ago). I have no problems with criticisms of Israeli policy -- I'm critical too. That thing about the teeth is obnoxious and tone-deaf, but goodness knows I'd have said equally horrid things about Cheney given the chance. But that thing about settlers going missing? I just.... I mean it's really really upsetting, because these are literally people I & my family care about that he's hyperbolizing about!

I don't accept the excuses that because all he means by "go missing" is simply "leave the occupied territories," it's somehow OK. I mean yes, I'll grant that he only meant "go missing" FIGURATIVELY, not literally -- I assume he's not *actually* calling for kidnapping & murder of "all the fucking West Bank settlers" in real life. But that's definitely the imagery he's drawing upon, and that's why he prefaced it with "You may be too refined to say it, but I'm not." He wouldn't have needed to say "You may be too refined to say it, but I'm not" before "I wish all the West Bank settlers would give us back our land." He said it that way at that time TO EVOKE THAT IMAGE, to punch up his point and get more boo-yahs/RTs.

And that image is really fucking upsetting. I agree the occupiers should leave. I have no end of disagreements with my family in Israel about it. I think they're totally wrong & racist. But I still care about them, and Salaita's hyperbolic rhetorical wish for them to disappear hurts.

So I keep thinking that if I were a student, I'd be pretty uncomfortable taking a class with him, and not in a good challenged-my-worldview way. I'd be uncomfortable knowing that he throws around imagery like that, and I'd be worried that the boundaries between being a Jew, being a Zionist, being an Israeli, and being *a supporter of present Israeli policies* aren't so crisp. Most of all, I'd be afraid to bring up mention particular background in the context of class discussions, when it might very well be relevant, because I'd be scared that this would somehow impact my grade. Not that it actually would -- he could be totally unbiased -- but having read his tweets I'd be scared enough to hold my tongue in a way that I wouldn't with another instructor. (Hell, I'm even posting here with a sock puppet.) And that's a BIG problem for his profession, part of which is *encouraging dialogue specifically about these very difficult subjects*.

Is it a big enough problem that he should be fired/unhired? Probably not, and definitely not like UI did. At the end of the day, I value an atmosphere of free speech & free academic inquiry created by the university MUCH more than the atmosphere created by just one professor. I think Wise did WAY more damage than Salaita ever could. The self-censorship of someone like me in his class is nothing compared to the self-censorship of everyone at a university. But to say that the nature of his inflammatory tweets doesn't impact his ability as a teacher... it would, I assure you it would. I don't think UI did the right thing with the hire-fire, but all other things being equal, I'd be inclined to hire someone who doesn't compromise the equality of his classroom by publicly wishing that "fucking" groups of people anywhere "go missing."
posted by restless_nomad at 11:08 AM on September 11 [7 favorites]


UIUC Reaches Peak Gibberish
Shorter verbatim Phyllis Wise: "People are mixing up this individual personnel issue with the whole question of freedom of speech and academic freedom."

This really says it all, doesn't? "I believe in principles, so long as they never have to apply in individual cases. Especially if the development office is involved."
posted by tonycpsu at 11:16 AM on September 11


I think "eliminationist" language like Salaita's "I wish all the settlers would go missing" is inappropriate and our discourse would be vastly improved if we curtailed it. Even if Salaita doesn't *really* mean that he wants all of these people to die, even if he's just expressing his anger about the settlements, speaking that way has a dehumanizing effect. It encourages the listeners to think of these people as less than human, as abstractions to be potentially killed off like video game villains.

The reason I don't see that as grounds for dismissing him (or whatever the legally correct term will turn out to be -- again, I'm not particularly interested in hashing out the legal nuances, I'm interested in the legitimacy of the decision to strip him of his job) is that this standard is simply not applied anywhere else.

I brought up Glenn Reynolds a few hundred comments ago -- Reynolds is the "godfather" of political blogging, and has called for a "more rubble, less trouble" policy in the Middle East and for a barrage of nuclear bombs to be dropped on North Korea if they "start anything" with South Korea. Even if he doesn't *really* mean this, even if he's just beating his chest and expressing his frustration with foreign affairs, this is stupid and dehumanizing discourse that does no one any good. But Reynolds has never been in any danger of losing his job. I don't think anyone has ever suggested it. Moreover, his views are completely mainstream. So we have a lot of work to do to make our discourse more civil.

The dismissal of Salaita is not the first step to a better discourse. It's a one-off explicitly designed to police discussion on one side of one particular topic.
posted by leopard at 11:40 AM on September 11 [4 favorites]


It's notable that Israeli twitter was full of eliminationist rhetoric during the runup to the invasion of Gaza.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:54 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Have the authors of those messages been given jobs at the University of Illinois? If so I think you may have just found evidence of a double standard. If not, you've basically found evidence that a Twitter search for "Arabs" (in Hebrew) during wartime finds a lot of hateful stuff.

Incidentally, and not that it would excuse those other messages, I just did a search (in Arabic) for the word "Jew".

Oh my goodness. It's not even at the level of "I hate Jews": basically, everybody the authors dislike is a "Jew"; if they think there's a conspiracy, it's "Jewish"; any actual references to Jews are in the context of "Jews and dogs", or "Jews, Christians, and dogs".
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:46 PM on September 11


Be it so resolved, then, that there are shitty people all over the place. We done with this?
posted by Etrigan at 6:02 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Have the authors of those messages been given jobs at the University of Illinois?

No but much worse things are said by Glenn Reynolds, Alan Dershowitz, and that guy who said Palestinians won't submit until their women are raped.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:42 PM on September 11


Cary Nelson's Ongoing, If Selective, War On Academic Freedom
The nuance Nelson is willfully forgetting is that tenure is a means of protecting academic freedom, not the sum total of academic freedom. Let is turn to the version of Nelson who supported academic freedom:
Academic freedom gives both students and faculty the right to express their views - in speech, writing, and through electronic communication, both on and off campus - without fear of sanction, unless the manner of expression substantially impairs the rights of others or, in the case of faculty members, those views demonstrate that they are professionally ignorant, incompetent, or dishonest with regard to their discipline or fields of expertise.
Not what this doesn't say - "tenured" faculty. And it shouldn't. If an assistant professor or adjunct instructor is fired for expressing political views, this is a violation of academic freedom even if they do not have access to the same due process rights. Which, in this case, settled the question. Salaita was given an extremely harsh sanction for expressing political views. There has been no showing that he is professionally incompetent or violated the rights of others.
Nelson said Salaita's tweets and other comments about Israel should be taken into consideration now that they've drawn so much attention and criticism.
This is an absolutely remarkable statement. Academic freedom applies...unless someone's electronic communications attract a lot of attention, in which case they're fair game. How this is distinguishable from just abandoning academic freedom altogether is unclear. Like any free speech protection, it is not necessary to protect speech that is unheard or universally regarded as inoffensive.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:52 PM on September 11


Have the authors of those messages been given jobs at the University of Illinois?

No, but one of them is the Prime Minister of Israel.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:44 AM on September 12 [1 favorite]


Ted Cruz likes to conflate disagreement with Israeli policy with anti-Semitism, too:
"I am saddened to see that some here, not everyone, but some here, are so consumed with hate," Cruz as the crowd booed his speech. "I will say this. If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you."

The Texas senator later issued a statement that blamed anti-Semitism for the hostile reception.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:34 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]


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