Cary Nelson: An Appointment to RejectSoon 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."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.John K. Wilson: Fighting the Twitter Police
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.
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 DefensibleThe 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.Corey Robin: Another Anti-Zionist Professor Punished for His Views
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.
In accordance with Nelson's dicta, I presume the following individuals would be not hireable at the University of Illinois.Brian Leiter: University of Illinois Repeals the First Amendment for Its Faculty
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.
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.
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:(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.)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.
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