The Debate Over the Salaita Case

Today’s InsideHigherEd includes dueling essays on the Salaita firing by me and by Cary Nelson. You can read my comment on Nelson’s essay here.

Nelson’s assertion that “I believe this was an academic, not a political, decision” strains all credulity. No one can seriously believe that the political consequences of hiring a controversial professor had no role in the administration’s decision.

Nelson also comes dangerously close to embracing the position of the Supreme Court in Garcetti v. Ceballos, where the Court ruled that government employees have protection for their statements as private citizens, unless those statements are related to their work. Nelson is arguing that a math professor can freely tweet about Israel without retaliation, but because Salaiti has done scholarly work about the Middle East, Nelson claims that anything he tweets on the subject is part of “the whole Salaita package.”

As I note in my essay, academics should be judged on their academic work, not on every public comment they’ve ever made. Most important of all, they should be judged by their peers, not fired without any due process by administrators over controversial statements.

9 thoughts on “The Debate Over the Salaita Case

  1. It looks like Inside Higher Ed may have removed the option to comment as well as the comments themselves. Which, unless it’s a technical issue, is kind of ironic.

    • The reader will recall an earlier comment posting which clearly indicated that Inside Higher Education actively censors comments, moreso even than CHE — and has generally censored them to “protect” the AAUP hierarchy. One of the IHE head editors has more than once been a panel presenter at an AAUP conference.

      Ironic, yes, but for many interlocking political reasons.

  2. There are many solid points that are made here. However, I am not sure if Garcetti applies here. I believe the monstrous decision of the Supreme Court in that case dealt with the right to punish government employees who criticise a supervisor or employer in the performance of their public duties. It is unclear if the case even applies to public-university faculty. In any case the apparent blacklisting of Professor Salaita, however, is perhaps different because his tweets do not criticise a current or prospective employer but instead the conduct of Israel in the Gaza Strip. In my own academic freedom case, I was subjected to intense criticism arising from an e-mail to an Air Force Academy cadet. The fact that I had tenure provided me with some protection but not from sanctions. Professor Salaita apparently was offered a tenured position at the rank of associate professor at the University of Illinois. No one including Illinois Committee A, national AAUP or numerous other sources have speculated that if Salaita were indeed hired and granted tenure, whether his dismissal is an even more flagrant violation of a multiplicity of AAUP documents. These would include the 1958 Statement on Procedural Standards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings and Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure. I realise this case in somewhat shrouded in mystery due to the refusal of any of the parties to discuss this incident. I understand the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure is going to investigate this matter. Perhaps that will lead to a restoration of Salaita’s job and clarify these unfortunate matters. If not, then I think AAUP Committee A has an obligation to initiate a full-fledged investigation of the Salaita case.

    • As for the parties to the instant case refusing to discuss the incident: What happened to the AAUP’s earlier requirement that the affected faculty member must first himself or herself seek or authorize the assistance of Committee A? Further, we have already seen that if the UIUC had a faculty union affiliated with AAUP which supported the administration’s position (as Prof. Nelson now does), then, as the CUNY adjunct learned at this blog, the AAUP leadership would attack the professor and his supporters under the ongoing “noli me tangere” policy in exchange for the thirty pieces of silver of agency fees.

      The unfortunate situation before us is that a prominent member of Committee A has already personally “ruled” in the court of public opinion, whether or not we as individuals agree with his “ruling.” Perhaps he will recognize that he must fully recuse himself from any participation in a formal review of this case _if and when_ the affected faculty member requests and cooperates with an AAUP Committee A investigation.

      Rather than debate the merits of a case in the press without the benefit of a formal request and the submission of all essential documents to AAUP by the affected professor, AAUP leaders might have taken a higher road and expressed a public invitation to the professor to provide the organization with a formal request. The hypocrisy and politics of the AAUP hierarchy is highlighted by the fact of National’s year/s long silence on the Ward Churchill case based on his alleged failure to have contacted the Association for a review. Apparently, the AAUP leadership has learned very little about standardizing operating procedures since that high-profile case. If memory serves correctly, National also undermined and alienated the leadership of a very active state conference by its failure to invite and involve Ward Churchill at the National Committee A level.

      Addendum: Those who have read the full Garcetti opinion and dicta know that the Supreme Court did not rule on whether or not it applied to the speech of academic public employees (cf. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/05pdf/04-473.pdf). Until they weigh in on this issue via a case granted a certiorari, we are speculating if we assume the “Garcetti exception” will one day be the law of the land. The Leonard Jeffries case at NYU was about extramural speech, as was the Dube case in SUNY — the latter a seemingly forgotten case which technically was added to the SUNY censure by AAUP but appears nowhere on the AAUP Website.

    • How and where would a comment censored by IHE be available to us to confirm the truth of that statement? That’s the power of censorship: it kills the voice for the intended audience.

  3. John, can you confirm that the University of Illinois retained a Chicago law firm to represent it on the Salaita case, and if so, provide a credible source? I need such a source, though I can’t recall where I saw the reference.

  4. Pingback: 2014 Through the Academe Blog: August | The Academe Blog

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