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those tweets, on August 1st, U. of I. Chancellor Phyllis Wise informed Salaita in an email that the offer was being rescinded because his appointment was subject to approval by the university’s board of trustees, and the appointment would not be submitted to the board: “We believe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. I found on a web site why they did not hire him. Shaved head. No Mohawk. Cant teach American Indian Studies with a shaved head. And another thing. He is in solidarity with the Ferguson crowd. Hands Up! Don’t Shoot! Wanna Loot! (see the photo above)

  2. Veterans Today
    “AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) exercises near total control over the electoral process in America
    through the ability to outspend any other group and destroy anyone who stands against them.”
    We must break the Jewish-Zionist hold on US political life

    1. “AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) exercises near total control over the electoral process in America
      through the ability to outspend any other group and destroy anyone who stands against them.”
      Do you also say that about the Koch brothers and their hold on American politics?
      (I know the right here will say George Soros but it is not an equivalency vy any stretch)

      1. leejcaroll – the Koch Bros are a whistle call for progressives. George Soros spends much more money funneled through a series of organizations. The nice thing is that if you know the names of the organizations, you know what George is funneling money into. Anything Soros sends money to, I do not trust. There is no consensus on AIPAC, since membership comes from everywhere.

  3. Darren – thanks for going fishing.

    Can you imagine being a Jewish student in his classroom while he went on a rant claiming that the Jews should all “disappear?”

  4. Laser:

    What does any change in the security of the WTC have to do with hijacked planes flying into them? How would a security guard possibly be expected to prevent this?

    Muslim extremists boarded a plane and took it over. The passengers assumed they were going to be held hostage, as had happened in the past, and they were told there was a bomb on board. (According to the phone calls from the plane the passengers retook, they were told there was a bomb on board.) So the first 2 planes cooperated. They were flown into the Twin Towers, on camera.

    The Jews did not orchestrate 9/11.

    The Bush family did not orchestrate 9/11.

    It’s fanatic Muslim extremists who killed thousands of innocent civilians on 9/11 in yet another suicide attack on men, women, and children.

    Seriously, why are the Jews blamed for everything?

  5. The fact is that this Prof went FAR beyond the bounds of civil discourse and the U of I is quite right in refusing him employment. Such public utterances bring the university into disrepute and I assume that he posted that he was a soon to be member of the university. In all my postings, I make sure NOT to advertise who I work for because of this factor.

  6. I wouldn’t want him in classrooms, expressing his views. Professors do and it’s unfair to the student and paying parents. His actions brought too much negative exposure to the school. As a Professor, this negativity would interfere with education.

  7. I support the decision not to employ this man.

    If he is so loose lipped about advocating what he has on Twitter, what is to say he is not going to do such things in the classroom. By his words he seems to be more likely to be a problem employee and the university can certainly find another candidate who is at least as qualified. I would hope the students’ education would be more important than an individual claiming a right to work there.

  8. You humans have a phrase here which I will employ and change the terms around a bit.
    What looks like a schmuck, quacks like a schmuck, and drools like a schmuck…it s schmuck.
    Schmucks and the University of Illinois dont mix. This particular schmuck needs an $85,000.00 a year job in Iran.

  9. Normally I would be for academic freedom, but since the liberals are shutting down academic freedom I have to agree that withholding the offer is a good one. This guy would be the first in line to shut down any student who supported Israel in his classes.

  10. Further… “Professor Salaita’s words while strident and vulgar were an impassioned plea to end the violence currently taking place in the Middle East.” Not true, he was calling for more violence.

  11. I concur with those who’ve said it may not be his point of view, but his call for violence against a journalist and his sophomoric behavior. That suggests a lack of maturity which would give me pause if I were in a position to hire.

  12. 2 points…
    “I do not think his political opinions should affect his job security…” Is calling for people to die a political opinion?

    “He is also part of a large number of faculty members who have called for boycotting Israeli academic institutions.” So it is ok to cause others to loose income and employment opportunities over “political” views, but not his own? I don’t get it.

    His free speech rights were not violated, nobody told him he couldn’t speak his mind and say what he really felt. But speech does come at a cost, both positive and negative. Sorry dude, you spoke a bit too soon.

  13. Israel to blame – PUHHHLLLEEAASSEEE

    If you are going to hi-jack a thread “Patriot” – please do it with some class

    and much more facts than just this anti-semitc/zionist hate..

    AE911Truth and others seek a full investigation as we all know the Kean Commission (as the Warren Commission) are government B.S.

    Loose Change Film begs many questions – too!

    Be that as it may, the much more likely scenario is – the Bush family was involved – MUCH.Bush’s were partners with the Bin Laden family. Bush family members owned the security company purportedly protecting the World Trade Center.

    Mr. Rodriquez knows strange stuff went on security wise – just days prior.

    I’m a many who is living a conspiracy theory turned reality (sued Romney for Racketeering) and need facts – not Pulp Fiction – to lambast a society.

    BS got U.S. into war with Iraq – and now you wish for U.S. to use BS v Israel!

  14. “Frankly, I find many of the sentiments expressed by Salaita to be highly disturbing.”

    I do as well. A tenured professor needs to have better control, and judgement, than to post the kinds of things this man did. Wishing people would go missing (and presumably killed) is not in any sense acceptable for a professor of anything to believe. He is welcome to believe what he wants, however abhorrent. But placing him on the public payroll, and trusting him with the education of young adults is not a right. It is a position of trust that Salaita abused by publicly speaking out for Israelis to be kidnapped and murdered. That’s not the kind of person that should be in our public universities.

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