University of Illinois Rescinds Offer Of Professor After He Posts Anti-Israeli Tweets

dJZiSXft_400x400There is a controversy at the University of Illinois over the right of faculty to express views on social media outside of their positions. Steven Salaita had already been offered a tenured position in the American Indian studies program on the Champaign-Urbana campus and was just waiting for approval by the university’s Board of Trustees, usually a perfunctory stage. However, Salaita posted strongly anti-Israeli sentiments after the start of the recent war in Gaza. After those postings, he was informed that the university was rescinding its offer due to opposition on the board.

Salaita is a former associate professor at Virginia Tech. He was offered the new job with an $85,000 salary last October to begin on January 2014. The University was enthusiastic about his joining the faculty. In a letter from Brian Ross, the interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, he was told “Please let me express my sincere enthusiasm about your joining us. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers a wonderfully supportive community, and it has always taken a high interest in its newcomers. I feel sure that your career can flourish here, and I hope earnestly that you will accept our invitation.” Salaita signed the offer letter and accepted the position.

The situation changed when Salaita turned to Twitter to express his views about the Israeli attacks in Gaza. For example, on June 20, after three Israelis were kidnapped and killed, Salaita wrote: “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the (expletive) West Bank settlers would go missing.” Then, on July 22, he wrote: “#Israel kills civilians faster than the speed of 4G.”

He has also tweeted that “Zionists: transforming ‘anti-semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.” In another tweet he suggested that journalist Jeffrey Goldberg ought to get “the pointy end of a shiv.”

Just a couple weeks after those tweets, on August 1st, U. of I. Chancellor Phyllis Wise informed Salaita in an email that the offer was being rescinded because his appointment was subject to approval by the university’s board of trustees, and the appointment would not be submitted to the board: “We believe that an affirmative Board vote approving your appointment is unlikely. We therefore will not be in a position to appoint you to the faculty … Thank you for your interest in and consideration of the University of Illinois.”

Steven Lubet of Northwestern University Law School wrote in the Chicago Tribune: “I am among those who find Salaita’s tweets loathsome and incendiary, and not merely outspoken — more on that below — but, like nearly all academics, I do not think his political opinions should affect his job security at his university.”

Hundreds of academics have signed a petition demanding that the University reinstate the offer and pledging to boycott the university if the decision stands. They insist that he is being denied academic freedom as well as the freedom of speech outside of his employment. Peter Kirstein, vice president of the Illinois chapter of the American Association of University Professors, called the action “outlandish” and “highly irregular” as well as a violation of “academic freedom, due process.” Likewise, the legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, Baher Azmy called the action “unprecedented and plainly unlawful in violation of the most elementary principles of academic freedom.” She added that “It is quite transparent that they terminated him because they disliked what he was saying about atrocities in Gaza.”

crnelsonHowever, U. of I. English professor Cary Nelson, former national president of the American Association of University Professors, supports the decision to rescind the offer. He notes that Salaita had not yet been formally hired and that his tweets showed that he was “not the right fit for the campus.” He views the tweets as anti-Semitic and can be viewed as linked to his work: “It is because the tweets are an extension of his publication, they are central to his work and many feel they cross the line into anti-Semitism. The anti-Semitism does (bother me) and what appears to be almost a solicitation of violence.” Nelson has been criticized on the Internet by advocacy groups for being part of an effort to block Salaita due to his views.

However, the connection to his work is precisely the point for many of his supporters who note that the university was already aware of his views since he is the author of a 2011 book, “Israel’s Dead Soul.” He has a long academic interest in colonialism and Palestine. This also includes his book, The Holy Land in Transit: Colonialism and the Quest for Canaan: Middle East Studies Beyond Dominant Paradigms (Syracuse Universi ty Press).He is also part of a large number of faculty members who have called for boycotting Israeli academic institutions.

Clearly, the university has a stronger legal claim based on the lack of final approval of the position. However, it has a less compelling basis under academic freedom principles which are the very touchstone of any legitimate academic institution. There are many professor with outspoken pro-Israeli (and sometimes anti-Palestinian) views who are quite outspoken on those who attack Israel. It is part of the diversity of positions that characterize universities. Students and faculty have sharply different views on the subject and a campus is where such views are expressed openly and freely.

Frankly, I find many of the sentiments expressed by Salaita to be highly disturbing. I do not like to see faculty flippantly referring to killings or disappearances even in the heat of a debate or controversy. As academics we are committed to intellectual exchanges and reason, not joking about journalists being stabbed or settlers disappearing.

However, he has also written more substantively on the Israeli issue. I am very troubled by the action taken in this case and the unclear line being drawn over statements made by academics in such disputes. Indeed, one of my greatest concern is that this decision is not being made by the faculty of his department but by the board, which has little academic standing. I have always been critical of the role of such boards which are often composed of simply big donors, celebrities, or well-connected individuals with precious little understanding of the academic mission or academic freedom.

Here is the board at University of Illinois.

What do you think? Are these views a legitimate reason to block an academic appointment?

Here is the full statement of Illinois AAUP Committee A Statement on Steven Salaita and UIUC

The following is a statement of the Illinois AAUP Committee A:

The Illinois Conference Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the American Association of University Professors supports the honoring of the appointment of Steven G. Salaita in the American Indian Studies program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Reports that the university has voided a job offer, if accurate, due to tweets on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would be a clear violation of Professor Salaita’s academic freedom and an affront to free speech that we enjoy in this country.

Professor Salaita resigned his position at Virginia Tech and was about to assume his new appointment at the University of Illinois. We stand by the appointment and by Professor Salaita and defend his right to engage in extramural utterances.

The AAUP 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure states in reference to extramural utterances: “When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.” It affirms that “The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.” While Professor’s Salaita’s tweets are construed as controversial, the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure affirms the virtue of controversial speech. While the Statement refers to classroom teaching, the virtual classroom today has no limits. In 1970 the 1940 Statement was revised with new “Interpretive Comments.” The second Interpretive Comment would encompass Professor Salaita’s right to be controversial: “The intent of this statement is not to discourage what is ‘controversial.’ Controversy is at the heart of the free academic inquiry which the entire statement is designed to foster.”

Professor Salaita’s words while strident and vulgar were an impassioned plea to end the violence currently taking place in the Middle East. Issues of life and death during bombardment educes significant emotions and expressions of concern that reflect the tragedy that armed conflict confers on its victims. Speech that is deemed controversial should be challenged with further speech that may abhor and challenge a statement. Yet the University of Illinois cannot cancel an appointment based upon Twitter statements that are protected speech in the United States of America.

The AAUP 1940 Statement does require a professor to be “accurate, to exercise appropriate restraint, to show respect for the opinions of others….” However in the AAUP Committee A Statement on Extramural Utterances it states in reference to the 1940 Statement:

[An] administration may file charges in accordance with procedures outlined in the Statement if it feels that a faculty member has failed to observe the above admonitions and believes that the professor’s extramural utterances raise grave doubts concerning the professor’s fitness for continuing service.

We are unaware that the university has afforded Professor Salaita any due process. In the absence of due process, particularly if a contract was signed, any institutional action to reverse an offer of appointment would be a grave violation of academic due process. Furthermore, there is nothing in the Salaita statements about Israel or Zionism that would raise questions about his fitness to teach. These statements were not made in front of students, are not related to a course that is being taught, and do not reflect in any manner his quality of teaching. What one says out of class rarely, in the absence of peer review of teaching, confirms how one teaches. Passion about a topic even if emotionally expressed through social network does not allow one to draw inferences about teaching that could possibly rise to the voiding or reversal of a job appointment.

One must not conjecture about a link between extramural statements and the quality of classroom teaching, absent an unmistakable link that would raise issues of competence. None exist here. Indeed, we affirm that fitness to teach can be enhanced with conviction, commitment and an engagement with the outside world. As a professor who was proffered an appointment in American Indian Studies, we are particularly concerned if a university would void a contract of a professor exercising a right of citizenship in protesting actions of another country that much of the global community including the U.N. Secretary General and even the U.S. State Department have found “disgraceful.”

Peter N. Kirstein, Chair of Illinois Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, Saint Xavier University

Iymen Chehade, Columbia College

Loretta Capeheart, Northeastern Illinois University

J. Walter Kendall III, John Marshall School of Law

John Wilson, editor, Illinois Academe

Source: Chicago Tribune

53 thoughts on “University of Illinois Rescinds Offer Of Professor After He Posts Anti-Israeli Tweets”

  1. Warsprite:

    “This is so absurd. If a White professor in the same situation who had been offered a position at Berkeley tweeted, “I hope all f–king slant-eyed gooks get killed”, would anyone argue he should get the job? Of course not, and anyone who says otherwise is an idiot.”

    But wait! It’s OK for them to have a double standard and a complete lack of introspection, right?

  2. Patriot:

    It’s an urban legend that the Jews caused 9/11. We have video of planes flying into the buildings, with people on board. A plane was witnessed to have crashed into the Pentagon. Phone calls came from the hijacked plane that crashed into a field. Evidence exists of the Al Qaeda training program for crashing planes.

    I knew a Persian who’s brother-in-law passionately believed that the Jews knew about 9/11 beforehand, chose not to tell anyone, and stayed home from work that day. He believed that no Jew died in 9/11. It is sickening what people are willing to believe out of hatred and prejudice. I could show him the list of the deceased, with Jewish names, Jewish headstones, and he still wouldn’t believe me.

    I can’t watch the videos because they’re too long for my internet service. So I am basing this response on the headlines. If the video says, “Just kidding,” then my apologies.

  3. Would parents want to send their children to a university where a professor said that Jews should be murdered?

    I am tired of domestic terrorists, criminals, and Liberal extremists becoming entrenched in the education system. Apparently, you become a folk hero if you blow up a few buildings and the organization you led murder a few people. There have been myriad articles written on the hostility on university campuses towards conservative views, and their increasing intolerance.

    Shouldn’t there be some concern about the message it would send to students and parents that a professor who supports murdering Jews would be welcomed to teach there?

    Saying they support Palestine may be cache, but saying that every Jewish man, woman, and child who live in an area should be murdered crosses the line.

    What a pig.

    Good for the university for taking the high ground.

  4. On CSPAN: Architects and Engineers Explain Why 9/11 was a Controlled Demolition Event
    Interview with architect Richard Gage representing 2200 Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth
    U.S. Governments / Media are Covering Up this Mass Murder and Maiming. They are complicit
    This issue exposes the wide and deep corruption of the governments, courts and media

    2200 Architects and Engineers are telling us the U.S. Government is Lying about 9/11
    The U.S. Government is complicit in the murders of 9/11

    Israel did 9/11
    Former Director of studies U.S. Army War College Dr. Alan Sabrosky: Israel did 9/11
    The U.S. military knows Israel did 9/11. We must break the Jewish-Zionist hold on US political life

  5. C’mon. There are tons of anti-Israel academics out there. It’s a growth industry. All the cool kids are Israel haters.

    It’s just not reasonable to believe his offer was rescinded merely because he is anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian. Isn’t it more rational to believe it was rescinded because of idiosyncrasies specific to his personality? His hatred for Israel is all consuming. He appears unable or unwilling to conduct himself civilly and reasonably. University leadership can now see that he’s going to be a liability, not a net positive.

    Given how prevalent anti-Israel sentiment is in academia it just does not make sense that his anti-Israel views are the reason why his offer was rescinded. It seems more likely they decided he’s an unhinged loose canon who is likely going to cause more headaches than he’s worth.

  6. This is so absurd. If a White professor in the same situation who had been offered a position at Berkeley tweeted, “I hope all f–king slant-eyed gooks get killed”, would anyone argue he should get the job? Of course not, and anyone who says otherwise is an idiot.

    This jerk didn’t just express anti-Israel sentiments, he wrote in crude, insulting and abusive language cheering on the murdering of West Bank Israelis. He can drape himself in free speech, but he doesn’t belong as a professor at any credible college or university. He can say what he wants w/o worrying about being put in prison, but he also needs to take personal responsibility for his decisions.

  7. Anything not to address the truth of his comments right?

    Such as
    “Why would Hamas even try to use children as human shields? #Israel has proved for decades that it has no problem shooting them.”

    This is 100% true and particularly damning because it shows the ludicrousness of the current excuse in one sentence.
    There are thousands of anti-Israel tweets on Twitter but this one was singled out by the ADL.

    And another thing , since when does a nation at war get the benefit of the doubt when innocents are killed as to the act being justified?

  8. As one who learned about yiddish roots late in life (learned my “believed” to be grandmother – was actually a step grandmother), I’ve got a Christian Born Again, turn to going to shavitz (and thankful for learning the issues of not mixing dairy with meat – haven’t had heartburn in a decade) –

    to where this Israel – anti Israel banter always perplexes me.

    As for me, the advocating “any” violence (and/or wish for all west bank’rs to vanish) – is automatic grounds for dismissal. It doesn’t bode well for your argument towards peace, to argue contrary ways of resolution.

    Being of 2 faiths reviewing and also having many Muslim and Hindu etc acquaintances – I think some institution out there should be teaching how it all boils down to traditionalism (as ye are born – so ye tend to become).

    IMO – its all about “The Rock” – and will always be about same. It is inevitable (unfortunately) that there will be a world wide conflict about that matter solid.

    It is a sad state of affairs, all wars/ warring;
    but it is a reality that such will bring innocents as collateral damage.

    There’s no simple answer to this;
    but to address one issue at a time.

    You can be a professor – and are entitled to free speech; but once you advocate violence against the party you are finding fault with – for their purported acts of violence;

    you lost your credibility and your job!

  9. Tenure appears to be a double slit experiment and a Rorschach test.

    I grew up thinking that tenure was about academic freedom. But when I was in graduate school it certainly seemed to me that tenure was being given out way too frequently, usually as part of a de rigueur part of a hiring offer and given to people who were just out of their Ph.D program and mostly undistinguished.

    And tenure is given in so many departments where academic freedom is hardly an issue, especially in these days where, in contrast to 100 or more years ago, a departure from a University is more than made up by employment with a think tank.

    So when I’ve asked, and I’ve asked many times online, what I find is that many many (MOST) young professors INSIST that that is what tenure is. Part of the fringe benefits of a hiring plan and NOT a way to protect academic freedom.

    I think this guy’s firing was wrong, and did violate academic freedom, but I just wish that you perfessers would get your act together and decide:

    Tenure: to protect academic freedom or a hiring fringe benefit to lure young candidates.

    Once professors decide what tenure is, then the public can determine the best way to reach that goal

  10. It’s a job like any other. You’re employer has the right to terminate you or rescind an offer of employment if and when you do something that they feel will reflect badly upon them.

  11. Well, you can ‘t give Nazis free speech rights. This guy ‘s opinions are far enough along that spectrum to give him the boot. I think this was a good judgement call. Plus, where would the university be tort -wise, if this nut strapped on a explosive vest and blew up a classroom???

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  12. It was the chancellor who rescinded the offer and refused to submit it to the board. So he was rejected by the chancellor, not the board. Although the chancellor probably talked with a board member or two about the tweets.

    I, too, had very strong feelings about the Israeli knee-jerk reaction to the kidnappings. It was a war-like response to an entire community for a criminal act that may or may not have been done by a member of that community. Is there no Israeli-on-Israeli crime? If I used violent rhetoric, I may have expressed myself much as the professor did.

  13. I can’t speak to the legal aspects of this, but I’m all for open and honest debate regardless of the position one has with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Reasonable people can reach different conclusions. Wishing that a journalist one despises ought to be stabbed, or a group of people one loathes should simply disappear is nothing remotely approaching reasonableness. Salaita may be an outstanding author and lecturer, I don’t know. But what I do know is that this nonsense speaks to his character. That’s not someone I’d want representing my institution.

  14. [music]
    Just got in from Illinois.
    Lock the front door, oh boy!
    Oooh oooh ooh tweet me bigot boy.

  15. Having been in academia all my life, over forty years, I value and cherish the freedom of expression that is accorded within ‘academic freedom.’ However, when those expressions suggest killing those with opposite views, this is no longer within the bounds of ‘academic freedom,’ but has morphed into dangerous territory where one is advocating violence and murder. The board was correct to withdraw their offer; why bring such a person into a community when he has effectively shown his inability to engage in violence-free dialog.

  16. I am all for freedom of expression but one has to question the judgment of an academic who feels criticism should include suggesting that a reporter should be killed with a “shiv”. Perhaps it is not his view of Israel that is the reaso he was canned but the assessment of his judgement as exhibited by the content of his tweets!

  17. He was not yet hired and although his words are abhorrent I would not rescind the offer based on that (I would probably want to) but on the fact that he seems to feel comfortable suggest(ing) that journalist Jeffrey Goldberg ought to get “the pointy end of a shiv.”
    That is not the way an adult acts or speaks, at least one with common sense and sensibilities. He showed the univeristy a side of himself that was probably not on display at the interview(s)

  18. Does your criticism of such board stop when 9 out of 10 conservatives never get tenure or much less even hired in the first place? How much freedom of expression is there when tenured positions are politically lopsided left?

Comments are closed.