Salaita By the Numbers: 5 Cancelled Lectures, 3 Votes of No Confidence, 3849 Boycotters, and 1 NYT Article (Updated Thrice)

by Corey Robin on September 1, 2014

The New York Times has weighed in with a strong piece on the Salaita affair. This is significant for two reasons. First, while we in academia and on social media or the blogosphere have been debating and pushing this story for weeks, it hasn’t really broken into the mainstream. With a few exceptions, no major newspaper has covered it. Now that the Times has, I’m hoping Salaita’s story will get even more attention, possibly from the networks as well. Second, in addition to covering the basics of the case, the piece shows just how divisive and controversial Chancellor Wise’s decision has been, and how it has isolated the University of Illinois.

The decision, which raised questions about contractual loopholes and academic freedom, almost immediately drew pushback from the academic community. Thousands of scholars in a variety of disciplines signed petitions pledging to avoid the campus unless it reversed its decision to rescind the job offer. A number of prominent academic associations also urged the university to reconsider.


In the past few days, several people have followed through on promises to boycott the institution. Two scholars declined invitations to speak at the prestigious Center for Advanced Study/MillerComm Lecture Series this fall, and a campus-based project called off a four-day national conference that it was scheduled to host there in October.


David J. Blacker, a professor of philosophy and legal studies at the University of Delaware, notified the Center for Advanced Study on Aug. 20 that he no longer wanted to participate. His lecture had been scheduled for Sept. 29.


“Instead of choosing education and more speech as the remedy for disagreeable speech,” he wrote to the committee, the University of Illinois “has apparently chosen ‘enforced silence.’ It thus violates what a university must stand for — whatever else it stands for — and therefore I join those who will not participate in the violation. In my judgment, this is a core and nonnegotiable issue of academic freedom.”


Mr. Blacker added that he “would be delighted to reschedule my talk” if the university should decide to reinstate its offer to Mr. Salaita.


The following day, Allen F. Isaacman, a professor of history at the University of Minnesota, also pulled out of the series, offering a similar message. His talk had been scheduled for Oct. 30.


“The University of Illinois’s recent decision to disregard its prior commitment to appoint Professor Salaita confirms my fear of the administration’s blatant disregard for academic freedom,” Mr. Isaacman wrote in a letter to Wayne Pitard, a professor of religion and head of the lecture-series committee. “I do hope that the university administration will reverse its decision before it does irreparable harm to your great institution.”


That same day, the Education Justice Project, which is part of the department of education policy, organization, and leadership at Urbana-Champaign, announced that it was canceling the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison, which it had been scheduled to host.


“This decision has not been easy,” Rebecca Ginsburg, an associate professor in the education policy department, said in an announcement posted on the project’s webpage. The project’s leaders reached the decision only after speaking with would-be presenters and attendees, she wrote. “We concluded that for EJP to host the conference at this time would compromise our ability to come together as a national community of educators and activists.”


Ms. Ginsburg could not be reached for comment Friday; university administrators also did not respond to calls for comment.


On the campus, tensions are just as high.



That evening, however, faculty members in the American Indian studies program, a unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, cast a unanimous vote of no confidence in Ms. Wise’s leadership, criticizing her handling of the last-minute withdrawal of the offer to Mr. Salaita.


“In clear disregard of basic principles of shared governance and unit autonomy, and without basic courtesy and respect for collegiality, Chancellor Wise did not consult American Indian studies nor the college before making her decision,” reads a statement posted on the program’s webpage.


“With this vote of no confidence, the faculty of UIUC’s American Indian studies program also joins the thousands of scholars and organizations in the United States and across the world in seeing the chancellor’s action as a violation of academic freedom and freedom of speech,” the statement says.


The note goes on to encourage other departments to do the same, and to question whether the chancellor deserves the confidence of Illinois’s full faculty.


My only objection to the piece is that its numbers are out of date.


Cancelled Lectures


As of today, five scholars, not two, have canceled lectures or turned down an invitation to a University of Illinois campus. (And there may be more I am not aware of.)


In addition to David Blacker and Allen Isaacman, Eric Schwitzgebel has canceled a talk he was due to give on campus in December and also notified the organizers of a conference on experimental philosophy that he would not be able to deliver the keynote address, as he had been invited to do.


Jonathan Judaken, a humanities scholar, was asked to deliver the keynote address at conference at the UIUC in October; he was also scheduled to speak, while on campus, at the Program in Jewish Culture and Society. He has turned down the invitation. Despite his opposition to the idea of an academic boycott of Israel, and despite his visceral reaction to Salaita’s tweets, he believes the academic freedom issues in this case are so vital that he must boycott the UIUC.


[Chancellor Wise’s] new doctrine of civility ostensibly created to foster a climate where open dialogue, discourse, and debate must be respected has actually planted the latest land mine in this academic battlefield. The result will be opposite of what she intends. Now faculty and students will feel more anxious than ever that views or viewpoints that go beyond the policed confines of what administrators—or worse, the lapdogs of the watchdog groups—define as the norm, will be able to be expressed as part of an open conversation.


It is consequently on the basis of the principles of faculty governance, academic freedom, and freedom of speech that I will not speak at Illinois until Salaita’s job offer is upheld.


This all could have been avoided if Chancellor Wise trusted faculty governance procedures. The faculty who hired Salaita were fully aware of his position on Israel and Zionism and fully equipped to determine if it would negatively impact his ability to teach his classes. There are international experts on the faculty who could have aided the administration in assessing Salaita’s tweets. It is faculty as the leaders of the communities of inquiry in universities and colleges that are best equipped to judge in such cases.


Contrary to the muddled ways it is being used today as a political cudgel, academic freedom is about the right of academics to say what they will without the interference of groups outside the academy policing their positions. Faculty governance is about giving faculty the right to make all decisions within the academy pertaining to their domains of expertise, most significantly hiring decisions. And freedom of speech is our most basic right as Americans.


Campus watchdogs who monitor the academy claim they do so to uphold what is best in higher education. But Salaita’s case shows once more that they threaten to turn campuses from refuges of critical inquiry into battlegrounds of political correctness and narrow norms.


And Julie Livingston, a Rutgers historian and MacArthur Fellow, has canceled a talk at the University of Illinois at Chicago (a UIUC sister campus, whose chancellor came out in support of Chancellor Wise). Livingston writes:


With great sadness I am writing to cancel my upcoming talk at UIC scheduled for September 17, given your chancellor’s recent statement of support for the actions of Phyllis Wise and the U of I Board of Trustees in the Steven Salaita case. While I had been looking forward to engaging with colleagues and students at UIC, I cannot in good conscience visit your campus until the Steven Salaita matter is resolved in a manner that upholds the principles of academic freedom and shared governance that are fundamental to American higher education and the necessary exchange of ideas, especially where difficult and potentially polarizing issues are concerned. I very much hope that your leadership will listen to their faculty and to the several thousand scholars (including myself) who have signed a pledge to boycott the University of Illinois, reflect on their actions, and reverse the errant course on which they have embarked in this matter. Should that happen I would welcome very much the chance to come and speak.


So five cancellations or refusals of an invitation.


No Confidence Votes


In addition, three departments at the UIUC, not one, have taken a vote of no confidence in the leadership of UIUC. In addition to the American Indian Studies department vote discussed by the Times, the Asian American Studies department and the philosophy department have voted no confidence in the chancellor. The philosophy department resolution states:


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.


Boycott


The philosophy vote is especially important, to my mind, because it demonstrates the power of the boycott. Of all the disciplines, philosophy has been the strongest in defending academic freedom at the UIUC. Over 530 philosophers have joined the boycott, more than any other field. Why that’s the case, I’m not sure. But the fact that philosophy is the only department at UIUC—besides Asian American and American Indian Studies (where Salaita’s  connections are strong)—to have voted no confidence is symptomatic of the power of the boycott. Seeing so many of their colleagues across the country and around the world take this strong stand, the philosophers at UIUC have now communicated to the administration that the campus is growing increasingly ungovernable. Chancellor Wise will not get any peace on campus till she and the trustees reverse their decision. As even this generally negative piece in a local paper acknowledges.


This is why I  want to press one of the newer boycott initiatives, from Alan Sokal of NYU, for natural scientists. Getting support among the natural scientists is critical, as they are often a favored constituency at big research campuses like UIUC. They draw the big money from federal grants; they have a lot of power. I want to urge any one of you who is a natural scientist to join this boycott pledge and to urge your friends and colleagues in the natural sciences to do the same. With just the right amount of pressure from all of you, we might see something similar to the philosophy vote on the natural sciences side of the UIUC campus.


For a complete list of the boycott statements, go here. While I haven’t gotten a complete update on the numbers, we have at least 3849 signed up for the boycott as of tonight.


AAUP


The American Association of University Professors has issued a strong statement on the Salaita affair. Here are some of the highlights.


The letter details the extensive dealings between Salaita and the University of Illinois subsequent to his signing of the offer letter he received in October 2013. Among other things, the AAUP reveals that Chancellor Wise invited Salaita to a welcome reception for new faculty.

Toward the end of January, Professor Salaita wrote to Professor Byrd about scheduling a visit to Urbana-Champaign in order to make arrangements for a place to live for him and his family. He states that they visited the area in March and subsequently initiated the purchase of an apartment, including payment of “earnest” money, which was subsequently forfeited when the agreement was voided following the abrupt notification regarding his appointment. During this visit, the AIS faculty hosted a dinner for him and his family to welcome him to the faculty. In early April he was notified of his fall teaching assignment, and he finalized his course book orders in mid-summer.


In the intervening months between his October 2013 acceptance of the appointment and early August 2014, when you notified him of its termination, Professor Salaita received information from various offices of the university, indicating that they had been informed of his appointment, including an invitation from your office to attend your August 19 reception “welcoming faculty and academic professionals who joined the Illinois community in 2014,” as the invitation stated. Nothing was said to Professor Salaita about board action still to come, and we are informed that it is not uncommon for board action on new appointments to take place only after the appointment has begun and the appointee is already at work.


Because the AAUP recognizes that Salaita was in fact hired by the UIUC, they reach a vastly different conclusion about what Chancellor Wise has done to him and what Wise must now do.

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.



Until these issues have been resolved, we look upon Professor Salaita’s situation as that of a faculty member suspended from his academic responsibilities pending a hearing on his fitness to continue. Under the joint 1958 Statement on Procedural St andards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings, any such suspension is to be with pay. As detailed earlier in this letter, Professor Salaita has incurred major financial expenses since he accepted the University of Illinois offer. We urge–indeed insist–that he be paid salary as set in the terms of the appointment pending the result of the CAFT proceeding.


Brian Leiter has an interesting followup on the AAUP letter, which I urge you all to read, along with the fascinating comment thread that ensues.


The AAUP brings up the issue of Salaita’s financial standing. If you haven’t donated to the fund set up by his friends and colleagues to help him fight his case and support his family, please do so now. Click on this link and then go to the right-hand side of the page. People often urge individuals in Salaita’s situation to sue. He may have to. But lawsuits cost money. Like a lot of money. Unless you’re independently wealthy, they’re hard to paid for. Like really hard to pay for. So please help Salaita out. And while you’re over there, check out these awesome testimonials from his former students. You know, students: the very people Chancellor Wise and Salaita’s critics claim to be protecting.


Update (midnight)


Someone on Facebook just brought to my attention that there is a sixth lecture cancellation. This one by Pomona English professor Kyla Wazana Tompkins, who was scheduled to give a talk at UIUC in September.


Update (12:30 am)


I should have also mentioned to other cancellations. The first, which the Times discusses in that excerpt and which I’ve mentioned in a previous post, is that the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison, which was scheduled to be hosted at UIUC, was canceled. The second is that Columbia Professor Bruce Robbins canceled a screening of a film that was supposed to take place at UIUC. I should have remembered this one especially, as it was what inspired my original call for a boycott of UIUC.


So the title of this post should really be: “Salaita By the Numbers: 6 Cancelled Lectures, 1 Cancelled Screening, 1 Cancelled Conference, 3 Votes of No Confidence, 3849 Boycotters, and 1 NYT Article.”


Update (September 1, 10:30 am)


Change that headline to “Salaita By the Numbers: 7 Cancelled Lectures, 1 Cancelled Screening, 1 Cancelled Conference, 3 Votes of No Confidence, 3849 Boycotters, and 1 NYT Article.”


I was just informed that Karma Chavez, associate professor of communication arts and Chican@ and Latin@ Studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, canceled her lecture at the UIUC Center for Writing Studies, which was scheduled for September 18.

{ 53 comments }

1

Gabriel 09.01.14 at 4:32 am

Thanks for the update, Corey. I’ll bring the new boycott list to my wife’s attention, as she’s a Harvard scientist, and I’m sure she’ll pass the info along.

2

Corey Robin 09.01.14 at 4:43 am

Many thanks, Gabriel.

3

Omega Centauri 09.01.14 at 4:48 am

I can only imagine the counterpressure from the Zionist camp. Salaita has probably become a (negative) cause-celeb for them, so any backpedaling -or even another university which chooses to hire him, may find a certain camp of donars boycotting things. There is no way UI can win no matter what it chooses to do.

Thanks, its good to see the progress being made, especially regarding the nat sciences, which I had noted were previously conspicuous by their absense. I imagine these are tough times for large numbers of innocent stakeholders , students, and faculty particularly.

4

js. 09.01.14 at 5:00 am

Over 530 philosophers have joined the boycott, more than any other field. Why that’s the case, I’m not sure.

Probably helps to have Leiter on the case. I’m not joking—people really pay attention to him in philosophy. I would honestly be curious about sign-ups before and after his (very very good) article. (And thanks again and as always.)

5

Corey Robin 09.01.14 at 5:22 am

Yes, I agree: Brian’s had a huge effect.

6

Dave Heasman 09.01.14 at 9:53 am

Quite a turnup for the books, eh? Blacklisted for NOT being the agent of a foreign power.

7

James Wimberley 09.01.14 at 10:03 am

“The Education Justice Project …. announced that it was canceling the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison …”
Why? All they needed to do was make the two-letter change to “Higher Education as Prison.”

8

Kevin Donoghue 09.01.14 at 12:15 pm

Your title somehow reminds me of a famous epitaph for an army mule: “In memory of Maggie, who in her time kicked two colonels, four majors, ten captains, 24 lieutenants, 42 sergeants, 432 other ranks, and one Mills bomb.”

Chancellor Wise might want to consider changing her name.

9

Lynne 09.01.14 at 12:26 pm

Thanks for the update. I’m glad to see momentum building. Probably this next two weeks will be critical in building even more momentum, as the new term starts. I hope it surges.

10

CarlD 09.01.14 at 3:30 pm

Gradually coming on board here. At first he looked to me like a loose cannon with a hot topic, a guy who certainly deserved a job but that any given Chancellor might reasonably not want pissing on her carpets. Wasn’t sure that kind of preference rose to the level of academic freedom.

But I’ve been convinced by the discussion here and elsewhere that letting para-academics, and even colleagues for that matter, have effective control over not just the contents but the modes, tones, and affects of our speech is chilling to the free exchange of ideas. In which the critiques of phallo-logo-Eurocentric reason all suggest we should include emotions, much as I think that’s problematic.

I was still a little worried that he was one of those pseudo-critical activist teachers who enforce a righteous dogma in the classroom (this still not being grounds for dismissal, but taking the steam out of my outrage). His teaching evals were frankly laughable as ‘proof’ otherwise; students love someone who will game-plan an easy A on the test for them. But the detailed qualitative testimonials from former students fill in the details of a challenging teacher committed to investigation and reflection, which brings the evals back into a positive light.

Blahblah boring stuff about me. Signed the petition, and not at all in a knee-jerk academic leaping to the defense of corporate privileges kind of way, for what it’s worth.

11

NattyB 09.01.14 at 4:28 pm

@CarlD,

“But the detailed qualitative testimonials from former students fill in the details of a challenging teacher committed to investigation and reflection, which brings the evals back into a positive light.”

Could you provide a link? I haven’t read those yet.

N.B.: This was the link http://mondoweiss.net/2014/08/reading-salaita-illinois-1.html that convinced me he was being railroaded, given that many (though not all) of his most “offensive tweets” were being willfully misinterpreted.

12

Peter Dorman 09.01.14 at 5:07 pm

I have a couple of thoughts on this case.

1. There has been quite a bit of discussion in the blogosphere over whether the offer letter to Salaita constituted the inception of a contractual relationship. I have little expertise in the matter (other than having read, many years ago, P. S. Atiyah’s fantastic Rise and Fall of Freedom of Contract, which considers in some depth the role of reliance), and I don’t know whether the courts will view Salaita as having contractual rights to due process, including relevant stipulations concerning academic freedom.

I believe, however, that commentators are conflating legal assessment with the relevance of academic freedom. AF is not simply a protection enjoyed by individual faculty who are contractual members of an academic community; it is a benefit and right for the community as a whole. AF does not mean only that individual academics have the right to speak and write freely, but also that in matters of curriculum, hiring, extramural activities (conferences, academic exchanges) and all other similar arenas there be no external political constraints on the range of ideas expressed. From a community standpoint, there is little difference between having an administrator say to a faculty hiring committee, “You can’t hire X because his views are politically unacceptable”, and having them fire a professor for the same reason. Yes, there may be differences at the individual level: not being hired is not the same as being fired. (How salient this difference is in the Salaita case has been a big topic of debate.) But AF should not be seen as essentially an employment security benefit enjoyed by individuals (like the right to prior notification in the event of a layoff), but a condition that needs to be fulfilled for academic communities to perform their social function of untrammeled inquiry, which often puts them in tension with interests outside academia.

2. The Salaita case is exemplary in demonstrating why AF is essential. We do not live in “society in general” but in a particular kind of society in which wealth is concentrated in a few hands and exerts grossly disproportionate influence over public and private life. The University of Illinois depends on a relatively small number of donors—individuals with enough spare cash to make up for declining public revenue. This is largely the same set of individuals who finance political campaigns and have disproportionate influence over politics. In practice, AF functions as a defense against the influence of the rich, directly or through the political system, over the content of the university’s teaching and research. It is hardly airtight, but it’s what we have. Those who think UI is justified in letting donors influence academic hiring should consider where they would draw the line: what academic functions should donors not intervene in? Can they veto courses and majors that have been vetted by the appropriate academic units? Monographs by university presses they find objectionable? Research funding?

Unlike some other countries, AF in the US is not guaranteed by our constitution. It exists only to the extent that we defend it ourselves.

13

Josh Garoon 09.01.14 at 5:09 pm

Jonathan Judaken’s HuffPost piece is very much worth the read; for those who haven’t already seen it:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-judaken/boycotting-university-of-illinois_b_5709371.html

14

novakant 09.01.14 at 6:28 pm

But the notion of academic freedom is rather fuzzy in this debate:

On the one hand people insist that Salaita’s tweets are a purely private matter that doesn’t have anything to do with his teaching or status as an academic. On the other hand they want this private speech to be protected by academic freedom – something doesn’t quite add up here.

15

Ex Adjunct 09.01.14 at 7:08 pm

I support Chancellor Wise and the statement of the Board of Trustees of UIUC against academic freedom. This is because I am an embittered former adjunct. In my ressentiment, I side with the administrators against the faculty, after having been exploited and then discarded.

16

Corey Robin 09.01.14 at 7:26 pm

novakant:

Nobody says it’s a private matter; the most common argument is that his tweets are a form of political speech, extramural to his academic work. And such speech is in fact protected by academic freedom. Going to back to WWI and John Dewey, that was among the original points of academic freedom. Not really fuzzy at all.

Personally I would want to extend this freedom more broadly, on First Amendment grounds, to all American workers: that they should not be punished by employers for their political speech. Again, nothing inconsistent about it. Just wrote about it here today:

http://coreyrobin.com/2014/09/01/labor-day-readings/

But that’s a bigger argument.

17

CarlD 09.01.14 at 7:27 pm

@NattyB – linked above, at the bottom of the “AAUP” section.

18

J Thomas 09.01.14 at 7:39 pm

The US labor force is around 150 million. If the average worker was qualified to work for 1 ten million employers and at any given time 100,000 of them were hiring, I wouldn’t worry too much about employee rights to freedom of speech.

It looks to me like the problem is that there are too few employers, they are too big, and the jobs are too specialized.

19

JW Mason 09.01.14 at 7:54 pm

I just want to second Peter Dorman’s excellent comment @12.

20

Corey Robin 09.01.14 at 8:00 pm

J Thomas: It would improve the situation, but for reasons that Chris Bertram, Alex Gourevitch, and I explored in this post, I don’t think it would really solve it.

http://crookedtimber.org/2012/07/01/let-it-bleed-libertarianism-and-the-workplace/

21

Mike Schilling 09.01.14 at 9:48 pm

The real problem here is the chilling effect on other academics, who will feel compelled to express themselves clearly and in complete sentences.

22

Anderson 09.01.14 at 9:56 pm

I have a counter for you, U-IL defenders.

How about universities refuse to hire anyone NOT on record in social media as outraged at Israel’s massacres of civilians?

23

A.J. 09.01.14 at 11:20 pm

While I freely admit that Salaita is in the right morally, and probably legally, I’m not going to be picking this hill to die on.

It certainly doesn’t right the wrong done to Professor Salaita, but there’s something a little galling about hearing the BDS crowd with its insistence on , shall we say, a contingent and nuanced view of the importance of academic freedom holler about how it’s due the utmost reverence now that it’s their ox being gored.

24

Gabriel 09.01.14 at 11:37 pm

Re: 23

Yes, because academics voluntarily refusing to continue academic relationships with institutions who aid and abet war crimes is exactly the same as an institution professionally punishing someone for tweets that upset fundraisers. Obviously. It’s all very contingent and nuanced.

25

Main Street Muse 09.02.14 at 12:17 am

For U of I to insist that a professor required by the University to start teaching in August is at risk of not being approved by a board meeting in September – that’s simply wrong – and I’ll bet that Salaita’s termination legally cannot be upheld. The university established a working relationship with him when they assigned him classes and talked about him publicly as an employee worthy of the protections of academic freedom (before August 1.) Unfortunately, the students in the classes he was to teach will take the hit. But of course, teaching and students matter little in the higher ed universe these days…

HOWEVER, that a professor’s personal speech – publicly posted on social media – does not need to be academic in tone but is protected by academic freedom is an odd and circuitous argument that most outside of academia will little understand. Salaita’s language was inappropriate, juvenile and not what I would expect from students, let alone an academic. To justify this because he was ‘just tweeting’ shows an alarming ignorance of the power of social media to sway public opinion.

I urge academics to consider social media to be an extension of the classroom – with all that entails – rather than some padded room where it is wholly appropriate to rant at will. Certainly, his extramural “argument” against Israel has backfired, in that we are spending far too much time on Salaita and not on the very serious issues at stake in the Middle East.

26

Corey Robin 09.02.14 at 12:36 am

Main Street Muse: “HOWEVER, that a professor’s personal speech…does not need to be academic in tone but is protected by academic freedom is an odd and circuitous argument that most outside of academia will little understand.”

You’re reading a blog right now that by almost any academic standard would not be considered “academic in tone.” The notion that a professor’s speech outside the classroom and outside academic publications should always be “academic in tone” is risible. If I get into an argument with my neighbor and wind up shouting “Fuck you” at her, should that be considered grounds for my dismissal or dehiring? If I jump up and down at my nieces’ soccer games, screaming at them to crush the other team, should that be considered grounds for my dismissal? Moving to political speech: If I attend an antiwar rally and am spotted carrying a sign saying “Bush sucks; so do his wars,” should that be considered grounds for firing?

One can spell these scenarios out ad infinitum. The point is that your standard is so strict it would basically mean that no professor could blog (and certainly not write many of the posts here at CT) or ever speak in any way that sounds like s/he is writing anything other than a heavily footnoted article in an academic journal. That ship has sailed a long time ago, as this post by Mark Graber makes clear.

http://balkin.blogspot.ca/2014/09/steven-salaita-and-modern-university.html

27

Main Street Muse 09.02.14 at 1:27 am

“You’re reading a blog right now that by almost any academic standard would not be considered “academic in tone.” The notion that a professor’s speech outside the classroom and outside academic publications should always be “academic in tone” is risible.”

Corey – It is absolutely NOT risible to urge academics to act professionally on twitter. Salaita’s argument was very poorly expressed – with (published) language that is not acceptable in the classroom – and his arguments in the end have been very unsuccessful – we are expending energy focusing on Salaita, not on the topic of his tweets.

I disagree with you about this blog – this IS academic in nature – though not like an academic journal – it explores academic and intellectual topics at length and in the blog posts I have read, the CT tribe is filled with academics who are professional in tone, if also passionate and emotional at times – and yes, slip in the occasional swear word. Your passion, Corey, is used to help sway public opinion but IMHO, you do it in a way that remains professional. And your dedication to the principle of academic freedom is admirable. You put your neck out there to advocate for this extremely important protection. As contingent faculty, I do not have academic freedom; I do not have job protections. When I see a professor use this freedom to behave as a juvenile, as Salaita did, I feel it diminishes the real value of this very important protection. Why do academics want to act like Ann Coulter? God help us, everyone!

51 years ago, a man stood at the nation’s capital and used words to help change pubic opinion. Here’s just one idea he had to share: “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” I agree with Martin. I realize that in academia, that’s “risible.”

28

CarlD 09.02.14 at 2:51 am

Wow. Graber’s piece is not doing us any favors. Apart from being obviously dashed off and slipshod, it fundamentally confuses free speech (a guarantee to citizens with respect to the government) and academic freedom (a condition of guild function). This kind of discourse fail is making it really hard for me to stay clear on the issue I’m supposed to be upset about.

29

Corey Robin 09.02.14 at 2:58 am

Main Street: “Your passion, Corey, is used to help sway public opinion but IMHO, you do it in a way that remains professional.”

Thank you very much. I appreciate (genuinely) the vote of confidence. But I can guarantee you that there’s not a single university administrator who would agree with you — and quite a few members of the faculty who would very much disagree.

30

Kaveh 09.02.14 at 3:05 am

Main Street Muse @27
I realize that in academia, that’s “risible.”

But there’s a difference between saying Salaita ought to conduct himself better on Twitter, and saying he conducted himself so badly he can be fired for it. Not to mention that this view of proper conduct gives people a lot of room to suppress speech they disagree with by being “offended” by it, while others have no recourse against speech that really does offend them, because it is simply too prevalent.

31

Rich Puchalsky 09.02.14 at 3:58 am

Main Street Muse: “Salaita’s language was inappropriate, juvenile and not what I would expect from students, let alone an academic. “

I brought this up at the tail end of another thread with Andrew F., who similarly scolded the tone of Salaita’s tweets. Presumably his tweets would have been OK if he’d just chosen a pseudonym, so that his employers couldn’t easily identify him as who he was?

Would I have to use a pseudonym on Twitter if I were a student in your class? It sounds very much like “not what I’d expect from students” is a judgement that would create a hostile class environment for me, if I ever Tweeted something that didn’t come up to your standards.

32

Colin Danby 09.02.14 at 4:03 am

MSM, You can argue on a variety of grounds that certain kinds of language, tone, and vehemence are unproductive or counterproductive in public speech. Surely such arguments would apply to everyone, not just members of a particular secular priesthood.

(In any case, chastisement of other people’s political speech is a routine part *of* political speech.)

But I’m troubled by the idea that twitter, or any public expression, is an “extension of the classroom.” If you teach, you know that you develop a teaching persona for that purpose — one that is generally much more patient and forgiving even than your scholarly persona. (It’s interesting to show students copies of anonymous referee reports – they’re surprised by how mean academics can be to each other.)

In any case, I haven’t yet run across anyone claiming that Salaita’s use of twitter was well-advised or politically effective or a model for us all to follow. But I’m also sure most CT regulars would fail the Phyllis Wise test that they never demean a point of view.

Finally, while I generally agree with your preferences re public speech and strive to be anodyne, I’ve never had to watch my relatives killed on TV. Would I meet your approval then? This piece: http://coreyrobin.com/2014/08/24/a-letter-from-bonnie-honig-to-phyllis-wise/ is good on that.

33

novakant 09.02.14 at 10:48 am

One can spell these scenarios out ad infinitum.

Indeed one could – and your scenarios are chosen to suit your point of view, while I could come up with with scenarios trying to undermine it, yawn. So let’s just agree to disagree.

What I would like to know, though, is the following: are there no limits whatsoever to what a professor should be able to say in public without repercussions? Does academic freedom protect racist, misogynist, homophobic, anti-semitic or anti-muslim speech?

34

J Thomas 09.02.14 at 12:36 pm

#33 Novakant

Does academic freedom protect racist, misogynist, homophobic, anti-semitic or anti-muslim speech?

It ought to. But it does not.

So for example misogynist speech is utterly unacceptable, but misandrist speech makes people kind of uncomfortable but they mostly accept it. I think this is because women are an oppressed minority (majority) which has only recently been able to speak out, so we can’t hold them to the same standards we do men.

Until recently anti-Zionist speech was not protected either. Somebody who criticized Israel in public was beyond the pale, considered somewhere between a racist and a child molester. But the society has changed, and now some criticism of Israel is considered to be protected political speech. Needless to say, many zionists consider that utterly unacceptable.

35

Colin Danby 09.02.14 at 4:19 pm

The short answer, Novokant, is that when we do reviews of faculty for any purpose – hiring, promotion, tenure, renewal, merit – there is absolutely no category in the review for external political activity. Not only would it be illegal and wrong for about six reasons, but additionally, hard though it may be for some folks to believe, we don’t [insert pungent intensifier here] care about what people do off the job. It’s enough work to make a careful and fair assessment of the data we get about teaching, research & creative output, and service in its many varieties.

36

CarlD 09.02.14 at 6:35 pm

All the civility stuff is a complete red herring.

http://qz.com/242637/the-complete-guide-to-swearing-at-work/

But, it’s also apparently part of the administrative playbook lately.

http://crookedtimber.org/2013/09/15/university-of-oregon-to-faculty-you-belong-to-me/

37

novakant 09.03.14 at 8:45 am

Thanks for answering so openly, Colin. Needless to say I find this attitude rather odd.
I support strong privacy protections, but the behaviour in question is neither private nor unrelated to the person’s academic position.

If the nice young sociology professor with the lovely “teaching persona” is a regular poster on stormfront.org and dons his KKK robe to burn crosses on the weekends – then neither students nor the faculty/administration can be expected to just ignore it in the name of academic freedom.

38

AcademicLurker 09.03.14 at 10:53 am

there is absolutely no category in the review for external political activity.

I support strong privacy protections, but the behaviour in question is neither private

So professors are allowed to participate in political life as long as they confine it to their living rooms? A person’s politics are not “private” in the same sense that a person’s sex life is. In fact, politics are kind of public by definition.

So is everyone else banned from political activity (that someone somewhere finds objectionable: that covers only a vanishingly small amount of political activity of course…), or is it just professors whose job renders it forbidden on pain of being fired?

39

Z 09.03.14 at 12:08 pm

If the nice young sociology professor with the lovely “teaching persona” is a regular poster on stormfront.org and dons his KKK robe to burn crosses on the weekends.

Your choice of examples are very problematic, because the acts mentioned are potentially illegal (both could be in my country, and I understand that even in the US, cross burning is not protected under free speech) and I don’t think that anybody suggested that illegal acts are protected by academic freedom, so let me stick to an actual case. I have a colleague who vocally and publicly advocates torture and summary executions of Palestinians (among many others). I don’t support any effort to terminate summarily his employment, which in my mind is tied to his (superb) scholarly contribution. Do you? Why or why not?

More generally, you must be noticing that several official academic bodies (Corey mentioned a couple) have reached the conclusion that the behavior of the UIUC was a serious and extraordinary breach of normal practices. So independently of whether you personally agree, you must realize that whatever the particular of the case in question (say the contents of the tweets) something literally anormal is going on.

40

Z 09.03.14 at 12:14 pm

Also, these very clear words from the American Association of University Professor.

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.”

Have grave doubts been raised regarding Steven Salaita’s fitness for his position? If so, based on what evidence?

41

Colin Danby 09.03.14 at 6:20 pm

Thanks, Novokant:

1. I don’t think this has anything to do with privacy, quite the opposite: it has to do with people’s right to be public, and the benefits to public discourse. Peter Dorman @12 was excellent on this.

2. “nor unrelated to the person’s academic position” is a bit vague, no?

3. Any defense of free speech* can be confronted with examples of really awful speech. Surely, says the reproachful critic, you don’t want to defend this, or this. The answer is that it’s an unavoidable cost of free speech that there will be speech out there that’s offensive and wrong and deeply disturbing. I beg you to consider the flip side: all modern arguments for censorship *start* by saying yes we should have open debate and creative expression, but then come the qualifiers: but of course you can’t affront anyone’s religion, but of course you can’t undermine the state, but of course you can’t stir up tensions, but of course you can’t offend morality, but of course you can’t insult the Dear Leader, but of course you can’t behave like a hooligan, but of course you can’t demean another point of view.

*The relation between academic freedom and free speech is subtle and contested; I refer anyone who wants to harp on that to the AAUP material. I take the simple-minded position that you shouldn’t be fired from *any* job because of your political speech.

42

A.J 09.03.14 at 8:48 pm

@24

So all the pious homilies about the only remedy for even the most abhorrent speech being more speech, and the need for any conception of academic freedom to extend beyond the narrow boundaries of official academic duties goes out the window when the subject is boycotting Israel rather than inveighing against it?

As for the blather about aiding and abetting war crimes, does anyone care to make a case that there are no major American research universities more complicit in war crimes like the US drone warfare campaigns(to say nothing of the entire Iraq War or other offenses) than Haifa’s Al-Qasemi Academic College of Education(with its focus on Islamic studies) or the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, both of which would be covered under the blanket academic ban sought by BDS?

43

J Thomas 09.04.14 at 1:24 pm

#42 A.J

As for the blather about aiding and abetting war crimes, does anyone care to make a case that there are no major American research universities more complicit in war crimes like the US drone warfare campaigns(to say nothing of the entire Iraq War or other offenses) than [....]

You raise a good point. Why should academics who have done nothing wrong be hurt to assist BDS against Israel?

Sometimes innocents do get hurt for higher goals — it could be argued that US academics should have maintained full relations with German academics throughout WWII, but it just was not practical. Still, we should try to be precise if we can.

Here’s an argument — since Palestinian universities get no contact with the outside world except as permitted and censored by the Israeli government, any BDS action against Israel will hurt Palestinian universities even more than it does Israeli ones.

But I suppose the BDS movement would feel that can’t be helped.

I suppose it would make sense for people in the BDS movement to individually make individual exceptions and argue about it. Like, some of them could point out anti-Israel actions that individual academics did, and argue those academics should get full cooperation from everybody participating in BDS. The Israeli government would probably be interested in which professors the international BDS movement thought were good guys. Similarly they could publish reports about anti-Israel actions taken by particular Israeli educational institutions.

Well, on another hand, what do Israeli academic institutions do to help academic freedom for Palestinian academic institutions? Do they help Palestinian institutions stay open when the Israeli government wants them closed down? Do they do joint projects? Do they invite palestinian professors to speak and speak at palestinian schools? Do they assist palestinian researchers who try to attend international meetings, when the Israeli government usually blocks that? Do they assist Palestinian schools in getting internet access, and access to libraries and research tools that the Israeli government tries to prevent?

Sauce for the goose….

It seems to me that an Israeli university which essentially participates in sanctions on Gaza universities has given up any right not to be boycotted.

But an Israeli university that has a Palestinian university speak up for them — that recommendation ought to go a long way.

44

Main Street Muse 09.04.14 at 9:42 pm

Rich P – “Would I have to use a pseudonym on Twitter if I were a student in your class? It sounds very much like “not what I’d expect from students” is a judgement that would create a hostile class environment for me, if I ever Tweeted something that didn’t come up to your standards.”

I use a pseudonym, quite honestly, because I am contingent faculty. I do not have academic freedom and I never will. But if I did, I would not use it to scream and swear and rant as Salaita did. It pains me to see a tenured academic abuse this privilege to speak freely on controversial topics, as Salaita has done.

I teach public speaking – and in my class, unprofessional language is not acceptable in student speeches. I suppose one could fault me for limiting their freedom of speech… and I suppose there are those who think that any attempt to raise the civility of discourse among students is creating a “hostile environment” at the university. Such are the bizarre ways of academia.

My students do engage with me (the real me, not the pseudonym) on Twitter and some act in ways that are not professional. When they come to me for advice on getting a job or developing their resume, I always counsel them to clean up their public social media presence – I cannot in good conscience let them think that swearing and ranting is appropriate public behavior. Salaita sets a terrible example for students who seek to enter the professional, not academic, arena.

Academia is THE ONLY sector that protects the right of an employee to rant and rail and swear at will for weeks at a time in a public forum. Salaita’s tweets were not an argument by any stretch of the imagination. They were rants that rival Ann Coulter’s spew. I wish that academics would seek to rise above such terrible discourse. My bad, I suppose, in the world of academia.

Colin Danby “Finally, while I generally agree with your preferences re public speech and strive to be anodyne, I’ve never had to watch my relatives killed on TV. Would I meet your approval then? This piece: http://coreyrobin.com/2014/08/24/a-letter-from-bonnie-honig-to-phyllis-wise/ is good on that.”

I have never seen a family member killed on TV. Did Salaita see family members killed? Seems to be conjecture. My grandfather’s brother was killed by an IRA terrorist during the time of troubles. My grandfather clearly LOATHED the IRA – but he never swore like a sailor about it around us.

MLK gave his “I have a dream” speech to the nation just a couple months after spending time in the Birmingham jail. A few weeks after the March on Washington, the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed, killing four little girls. Feel free to check out how King used words to respond to that terrible tragedy: http://stanford.io/1twZbzp – hint – “fuck the KKK” was not used. Would Salaita’s verbal tactics been a better course of action for civil rights leaders like King?

Again, I ask all of you who protect Salaita’s right to argue as he did – did Salaita use the power of language to help solve this issue? Did he help the BDS cause in any way? No. When academics engage in public discourse, I really, really, really wish they’d consider this apparently restrictive and awful notion: avoid sinking into the slime of hysteria and rants. Rise above the Fox News model of speaking to evoke only controversy, hatred and discord. Please.

45

J Thomas 09.04.14 at 9:51 pm

MSM, I agree with you right down the line about the most effective way that Salaita could have influenced public opinion.

Still, I don’t think his unfortunate reaction while 0.2% of Gaza was being slaughtered is reason to deny his tenure.

46

Collin Street 09.04.14 at 10:10 pm

MSM, I agree with you right down the line about the most effective way that Salaita could have influenced public opinion.

Meh. Multiple people working on a problem means they can/should use multiple approaches: anger, angrilly expressed, has a value here.

47

Ronan(rf) 09.04.14 at 10:30 pm

“It pains me to see a tenured academic abuse this privilege to speak freely on controversial topics, as Salaita has done….When academics engage in public discourse, I really, really, really wish they’d consider this apparently restrictive and awful notion: avoid sinking into the slime of hysteria and rants”

Fair enough, but also(non snarkily) so what ? Does it really matter that Salaita hasn’t performed to your aesthetic standards for public discourse ? It’s been a long couple of threads so I cant remember if you are arguing this in *defence* of what happened to Salaita, or just as an add on; that what happened shouldn’t have but these are your preferences ?

48

Donald Johnson 09.04.14 at 11:36 pm

“Rise above the Fox News model of speaking to evoke only controversy, hatred and discord. Please.”

Okay, deal. Now please stop beating your wife.

49

christian_h 09.04.14 at 11:58 pm

The admonishment towards the oppressed to please not be angry is as old as oppression itself. It is also a version of the perverse way we discuss in particular the conflict in Palestine in general: whatever Palestinians do to protest or fight their dispossession, we find something wrong with it – so wrong in fact that its wrongness is considered an issue more pertinent than the dispossession itself. They must not be use violence (but Israel may of course defend itself!), they must not use civil disobedience (it will make those poor soldiers shoot them), they must not advocate a boycott (anti-semitic!), they certainly must not advocate academic boycott (free academic exchange for white people apparently being an a priori not available as means of political struggle – while the houses of Palestinians, or their water supply, or their lives, are), they must not even publicly express anger. What, i ask, is permissible? asking nicely? Or is that also too much to bear (even using the word Palestine can bring the hammer down, as experience shows) – is simply silently accepting their fate and, to speak with Joan Rivers, dying already the only civil and polite path left to them?

50

Ronan(rf) 09.05.14 at 12:03 am

“When they come to me for advice on getting a job or developing their resume, I always counsel them to clean up their public social media presence – I cannot in good conscience let them think that swearing and ranting is appropriate public behavior.”

Just to add, I agree with you here. This is obviously very good advice to give young college students. I’ve had jobs where ‘social media presence’ wouldn’t have mattered at all, and others where it might.(And one coming up where it probably will, so I’ll just stop using it until I get the lay of the land) Differen’t jobs have different expectations, and you have to be somewhat alert to them if you wan’t to get by.
But you’re really not showing that (1) what Salaita said was beyond the pale (2) that even if it *was* , that professional norms dont protect him, and (3) that the way he was treated was reasonable and/or legal.
On a personal level, I would prefer the sort of freedom of expression that Salatia is supposed to have be extended across the board, but I dont see why undermining it in the one area it seems to have some relevance is a positive.

ps: my grandmother also hated the IRA, and she ALWAYS used foul language when speaking about them ; )

51

J Thomas 09.05.14 at 12:15 am

Well, but if Salaita had only performed up to Martin Luther King’s standards, the zionists would not have had any problem with him and they would have been happy for him to teach at IUIC. It’s only because he got angry that they decided he was their enemy and they should try to get rid of him. If he was more effective they wouldn’t have minded. They said so.

I would like to see Salaita or somebody be as effective as MLK. It’s a lot to ask. I doubt I could do it myself. But still, it would change the game at least until he got killed. I doubt he’d last as long as MLK; the Israeli government is not shy about eliminating threats to their security.

It’s amusing watching these guys explain that it isn’t his stand they object to. “You ask, what would he have to do to keep his tenure? Well if he was Martin Luther King, that would do it. Or Jesus. We wouldn’t deny tenure to Jesus. If he didn’t have any character flaws. But Salaita, he does have a character flaw. We can’t let him teach at UIUC if he’s a Palestinian with a character flaw.”

52

Ronan(rf) 09.05.14 at 12:18 am

Yeah MLK is a high bar, in fairness (anyway they would just have booted him out for all his philandering )

53

js. 09.05.14 at 1:45 am

@Main Street Muse

You’ve made more or less the same point, and several people have responded, and I am not going to say anything very new, but let me try one more time:

You don’t like profanity, e.g., and you think that it demeans public discourse. I—and I’m serious—don’t mind it at all and think that a ‘fuck’ or two don’t in any way harm public discourse; they’re even quite enjoyable! (I don’t swear a lot in online fora; different story in person.) You might find this strange or even somewhat offensive, but e.g. I don’t and most people I know don’t. So what you might find to be uncivil a lot of other people might find to be perfectly fine.

Take another example. You mentioned in a previous thread that you think Corey Robin, while passionate, is professional in his online posts. As Corey himself pointed out, a lot of other people, including quite powerful people, might find his posts to be unprofessional, uncivil, and demeaning of public discourse. If we accept your strictures about profanity, say, why shouldn’t we accept their strictures about whatever they do or don’t find civil?

The point is that, as has been understood for a long time, and given that we’re not talking about attacks on particular individuals—the point is that civility, not being offensive, etc. is a completely arbitrary standard to apply to public life. And it will almost always be used by the powerful to shut down the powerless (relatively speaking). I mean, did Cheney lose his job for saying ‘fuck’ on the Senate floor? Is any executive going to lose his or her job for throwing around a few ‘fucks’? (Not that Salaita was fired for using profanity, obviously, but your argument seems to be all about civility rather than “anti-semitism” or whatever.)

Comments on this entry are closed.