Chancellor Phyllis Wise Explains the Firing of Steven Salaita

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign chancellor Phyllis Wise has written an open letter to the campus (copied below) explaining her decision not to allow the hiring of Steven Salaita. The letter is an appalling attack on academic freedom and a rejection of the basic values that a university must stand for.

Wise argues, “What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.” Of course, this standard is ridiculous: individuals should be free to say personal and “disrespectful” things about others (for example, everyone should be free to say that Wise’s argument here is both stupid and evil, without facing punishment from the respect police). Respect is not a fundamental value of any university, and being “disrespectful” is not an academic crime. But it’s notable that Salaita really didn’t say anything personal about anyone. So here Wise greatly expands the concept, declaring that not only persons but “viewpoints themselves” must be protected from any disrespectful words. I am puzzled as to exactly how a free university could possibly operate when no one is allowed to be disrespectful toward any viewpoint. Presumably, Wise will quickly act to fire anyone who has ever disrespected or demeaned Nazism, terrorism, racism, sexism, and homophobia. Since all “viewpoints” are protected, then biology professors must be fired for disrespecting creationism as false, along with any other professor who is found to believe or know anything.

Wise’s other main argument confirms this absurd approach: “A Jewish student, a Palestinian student, or any student of any faith or background must feel confident that personal views can be expressed and that philosophical disagreements with a faculty member can be debated in a civil, thoughtful and mutually respectful manner.” If what a professors tweets before they’re even hired might undermine those “confident” feelings, then all professors would have to be banned from ever expressing any opinion anywhere, lest it create any doubt that a student will be unable to debate in a respectful manner. There is clear evidence in Salaita’s teaching evaluations that students are free to express disagreements with him. But since the standard that Wise sets is the imagined feelings of students, rather than actual evidence or reality, Salaita’s long experience as a teacher is no defense.

Wise claims, “We have a particular duty to our students to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals.” That sentence is exactly right. But Wise’s grotesque mistake is imagining that one of the rights of an individual is to be protected from the possibility of hearing “disrespectful” criticism. To the contrary, one of the fundamental rights of individual students is the right to hear dissenting viewpoints without censorship, and Wise is clearly violating that right of students to hear Salaita teach when she imposes her personal standards of “civility” on a university.

Here is Wise’s full statement:

Dear Colleagues:

As you may be aware, Vice President Christophe Pierre and I wrote to Prof. Steven Salaita on Aug. 1, informing him of the university’s decision not to recommend further action by the Board of Trustees concerning his potential appointment to the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Since this decision, many of you have expressed your concern about its potential impact on academic freedom. I want to assure you in the strongest possible terms that all of us – my administration, the university administration and I – absolutely are committed to this bedrock principle. I began my career as a scientist challenging accepted ideas and pre-conceived notions, and I have continued during my career to invite and encourage such debates in all aspects of university life.

A pre-eminent university must always be a home for difficult discussions and for the teaching of diverse ideas. One of our core missions is to welcome and encourage differing perspectives. Robust – and even intense and provocative – debate and disagreement are deeply valued and critical to the success of our university.

As a university community, we also are committed to creating a welcoming environment for faculty and students alike to explore the most difficult, contentious and complex issues facing our society today. Our Inclusive Illinois initiative is based on the premise that education is a process that starts with our collective willingness to search for answers together – learning from each other in a respectful way that supports a diversity of worldviews, histories and cultural knowledge.

The decision regarding Prof. Salaita was not influenced in any way by his positions on the conflict in the Middle East nor his criticism of Israel. Our university is home to a wide diversity of opinions on issues of politics and foreign policy. Some of our faculty are critical of Israel, while others are strong supporters. These debates make us stronger as an institution and force advocates of all viewpoints to confront the arguments and perspectives offered by others. We are a university built on precisely this type of dialogue, discourse and debate.

What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them. We have a particular duty to our students to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals.

As chancellor, it is my responsibility to ensure that all perspectives are welcome and that our discourse, regardless of subject matter or viewpoint, allows new concepts and differing points of view to be discussed in and outside the classroom in a scholarly, civil and productive manner.

A Jewish student, a Palestinian student, or any student of any faith or background must feel confident that personal views can be expressed and that philosophical disagreements with a faculty member can be debated in a civil, thoughtful and mutually respectful manner. Most important, every student must know that every instructor recognizes and values that student as a human being. If we have lost that, we have lost much more than our standing as a world-class institution of higher education.

As a member of the faculty, I firmly believe that a tenured faculty position at the University of Illinois is a tremendous honor and a unique privilege. Tenure also brings with it a heavy responsibility to continue the traditions of scholarship and civility upon which our university is built.

I am committed to working closely with you to identify how the campus administration can support our collective duty to inspire and facilitate thoughtful consideration of diverse opinions and discourse on challenging issues.


Phyllis M. Wise

UPDATE: The University of Illinois Board of Trustees has issued a statement in support of Wise’s decision.

61 thoughts on “Chancellor Phyllis Wise Explains the Firing of Steven Salaita

  1. We are still left with the basic question revealed by the media discussion of the contract offer letter. If the letter stated that the offer was subject to approval of the board of trustees, then does Prof. Salaita not have a contractual right to have his appointment reviewed by the board for an up or down vote?

    Does not the contract offer letter commit the university to a board review and, as such, does the Chancellor’s withdrawal of the letter or refusal to submit the appointment for review by the board constitute a breach of contract, related to but independent of the employment offer itself?

    Ultimately, the silence of Prof. Salaita is problematic because we do not know the language used in the letter, we do not know whether or not he has requested that the UIUC Faculty Senate investigate his academic freedom per statutory academic freedom rights, we do not know whether or not he has independently written to the board of trustees to review his case — or whether any other citizen group has so written to the board. Public university boards of trustees are not private clubs; they, too, are subject to laws determining their operations and most public boards have at least one or more public meetings where anyone may pose a question.

    What we do not know is whether or not the Chancellor has indeed made this decision legally or whether she has been asked to “fall on her sword” so that the board will not review the matter. Is it clear that the board would indeed reject the appointment? Is it possible that this is an end-run of the board by its leadership, leaning on the Chancellor to make the problem go away?

    Ordinarily one would be tempted to condemn Prof. Salaita for not having at least formally requested AAUP assistance (unlike Prof. Ward Churchill, for example, who did so but was not initially assisted at the national level). However, once one realizes that Cary Nelson, member of Committee A and past president of the organization, has publicly “taken sides” in the matter — and neither he nor the AAUP leadership have indicated that he would recuse himself from the committee’s deliberations — Prof. Salaita finds himself on a very lonely island indeed.

    Dewey and Lovejoy are turning in their graves — perhaps even moreso at the irregularities in AAUP’s governance that the case has revealed.

      • Interestingly, the letter posted is itself a “revised” letter — but in any event, it does appear to be a contract between the Chancellor and Prof. Salaita for the board of trustees to review the appointment.

        In my view, everything should be done by citizens of Illinois and/or members of the UIUC community to compel the board of trustees to review the appointment and make a formal decision on the record. While details of personnel matters — aside from the list of names of appointees, of course — are not generally revealed to the public, the fact of whether or not the board reviewed the offer would likely be subject to state freedom of information laws.

        A savvy FOI request might ask for documentation of the number and dates of employment offers made by the Chancellor which were not acted upon by the board after formal candidate acceptance of the offer had been effectuated. As in the case of the Nazareth College candidate who dared to negotiate an offer, only to find the offer withdrawn, it may be that this is not as rare an occurrence as one might expect.

    • A few points that you have missed: The AAUP national and Illinois chapters have both issued statements on the affair (supporting Salaita)—even the committee of which Cary Nelson remains a member. The letter of appointment has been publicly released. The legality of the action remains unclear—there are several articles by legal scholars that differ on their interpretation, but I would say the stronger arguments indicate that the dehiring was illegal. Salaita is not speaking, yes, but this must be on advice of his counsel as they pursue the legal case. As we all know, he is no blushing violet and were this not to be likely settled in court, I’m certain he would be speaking out vociferously.

      • One of the points I did not miss was the fact that indeed the National AAUP leadership as well as the Illinois chapter leadership and National Committee A have issued public statements, apparently in the absence of their usual insistence on the receipt of a direct request from the aggrieved professor. (Some professors are apparently “more equal” than other professors in the eyes of the AAUP leadership.)

        That Prof. Nelson continues to participate in any of National Committee A’s official communications in this matter despite his attempts to influence the public perception of the case remains highly problematic and undermines all confidence in AAUP governance, both from administrations and faculty alike.

        In the case of Prof. Ward Churchill who requested AAUP assistance, it took the National AAUP leadership literally years to officially recognize the academic freedom issues of the case, while the Colorado Chapter and Conference were alone in supporting his academic freedom.

        Further, these recent AAUP pronouncements contrast dramatically with the manner in which the National AAUP and Committee A handled the case of Prof. Grabowski at SUNY-Buffalo — a part-time faculty member with two appointment contracts, one of which was non-renewed and the other ignored by the system leadership (cf. .

        AAUP leaders including Prof. Nelson refused to issue any supporting statements whatsoever, actively undermining Prof. Grabowski’s union grievance chair, requiring that the system leadership address AAUP first — because the SUNY union UUP President was on the side of the administration, contending that adjuncts have no academic freedom rights when non-renewed (cf.

        The Grabowski case itself was in many ways far more egregious and ripe for AAUP support than that of Prof. Salaita because SUNY was and is already under AAUP censure for academic freedom violations since the early 70s. SUNY administration had subsequent to the censure also denied tenure to an African American Prof. Dube who had made public comments perceived to be anti-Semitic, as in Prof. Salaita’s case (cf. Instead of reaffirming the censure and supporting Prof. Grabowski’s academic freedom, AAUP permitted SUNY administration to actively further erode academic freedom in one of the largest public university systems in the world.

        Dewey and Lovejoy are turning in their graves. A few public “statements” by AAUP leaders do not erase the facts of these current and past circumstances wherein AAUP leaders compromise AAUP principles of academic freedom and governance.

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  4. Thanks for this excellent and powerful statement. It’s slightly marred by the just one thing: ‘But it’s notable that Salaita really didn’t say anything personal about anyone.’ That’s clearly false. E.g., Salaita tweeted: ‘I have no clue what “telegenically dead” means. All I know is that Netanyahu is still alive and he’s really fucking ugly.’ But of course such personal attacks did not provide good grounds to rescind the decision to hire.

    • Re: ‘But it’s notable that Salaita really didn’t say anything personal about anyone.’

      There was also the message, retweeted without comment by Salaita, that Jeffrey Goldberg’s story should have ended at the “pointy end of a shiv.” Since it’s unclear what it means for a story to be stabbed to death, it certainly sounds like the original tweet expressed the wish that the story should have ended with the journalist’s being stabbed. I suppose you could say that there’s no evidence that Salaita endorsed the original tweet when he retweeted it, or that repeating something shouldn’t be construed as saying it. Fair enough. But this is still an example of a Salaita-utterance that is clearly personal in nature, so why not mention it?

      Even if you see nothing wrong with saying this about journalists you dislike, or with repeating it in a way that suggests approval or sympathy with the sentiment, can you at least see why some might find it genuinely disturbing?

  5. Cannot thank you enough for this. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. And I changed my profile before posting this so that my university would not be able to track me. #McCarthyReturns

  6. “We have a particular duty to our students to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals.” This sounds very good, and I would love to see Chancellor Wise take it a few steps further. How about interviewing each student (and faculty member, and staff member) at the conclusion of each semester to ensure that they have been treated respectfully—and if not, to address the problem efficiently and effectively? That would be great.

  7. The AAUP has never (really) addressed the question of faculty collegiality and appointment, reappointment and tenure. The visceral response of many faculty is that any such consideration is an open door to political bias. However, it is obvious to me that faculty, when voting on initial appointments (and perhaps, reappointments) think about the question. Some say it may be considered under “service.” Whatever people say, it is a consideration in extreme situations among most human beings, at least at the half dozen institutions where I have taught over the past 50 years. So is it better to face the issue directly, on leave it under the rug? Slogans are not helpful. Life is complex and risks abound.

    There probably is a consensus that the question is relevant with respect to faculty-student interactions. Is that a threat to academic freedom.

  8. “Respect is not a fundamental value of any university, and being “disrespectful” is not an academic crime.”

    Salaita: “Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.”

    The post has been linked by a respected academic who agrees with it while also (unmentioned in his link) being a supporter of “hate speech” laws. I won’t offer an opinion on whether or not the quote from Salaita can be classified as hate speech, but I don’t have to because I oppose the laws made to regulate whatever it is.

    The author of this post tries to separate the formal and structural (the integrity of academia etc) from the normative. Not gonna happen.

    The pale of the academic normative is broader than the pale of the common normative, but they shift in tandem. You should leave discussion of academic “freedom” to libertarians and focus on tenure as due process and academic independence -best defined as “once past the post, you’re in” – as better for society than its opposite. Salaita was let in and he followed the rules. Wise hasn’t.

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  10. when all this blew up my first thoughts were actually about Biology & Physical Anthropology Professors who do not teach Creationism…interesting to see someone else also wondered about this…I suspect they will find their lectures under attack now as a result of this issue. Will the University fire anyone who is not yet tenured? Will everyone have their lecture contents reviewed by administrators? Brrr…..

  11. The central issue here is that hiring should be done based an a faculty member’s expertise. The department is where that decision is made because that is where the expertise resides. It is an attack on the quality of the discipline if a bunch of CEOs without the necessary expertise overrule the decision that was made on an academic basis simply because their sensitivities have been offended. This opens the door for them to be able to decide that creationism and any number of wacky ideas should be taught at the university no matter what the scientists have to say about it.

  12. An addendum I would add to John McNay’s view:

    I think Salaita’s public media comments arguably bring into question his ability to teach a class (that is to say, one can reasonably at least ask, do public statements of a strong nature potentially color instructor-student relations); but that argument is not one to be decided by the Chancellor or the Board–it’s an argument that can be properly considered only by the department, as having the sole proper expertise to make such decisions. And the department already expressed its judgement on the matter by extending the invitation to hire, having to hand whatever information (on Salaita’s past teaching as well as his well-known political views) they thought appropriate to make that decision. If there is any conceivable basis to say that argument needs to be emergency-reviewed in light of comments since the offer of employment (seems very doubtful to me, but it is within the range of conception), then the department–or at least the chair–is where such a review should start.

    Clearly, the Chancellor is basing this act on public relations grounds, not on academic ones. And while public relations is, indeed, within the purview of the Chancellor, rescinding letters of appointment is not within the proper jurisdiction of public relations manipulation.

  13. Pingback: Univ. of Illinois admits pre-emptive firing of Israel critic Steven Salaita | Council for the National Interest

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  16. Wilson’s attempts to relativize civility are not persuasive. Prof. Salaita exhibited, not only the lowest standard, but crossed that self-evident line in the sand: once you publicly advocate physical harm or killing against specific people (in his case of West Bank residents) you’ve crossed the civility line and, more importantly, shown yourself to be unwilling to make robust, informed, and balanced arguments. That scholars in and beyond his field could defend this discourse or claim it has no impact on civility indicates something pernicious about accepted standards of discourse in these fields. The public is growing tired of such arguments that betray a protected class of professionals who feel very little responsibility to the public interest, to diverse students, and to providing a genuine education (not simply knowledge of their partisan perspective); they feel fatigued with the lack of commitment to pedagogies designed to help students explore and navigate a complex, data-rich, and challenging world with clashing ideas and perspectives using tools of civility, agility, and intelligence–none of which Prof. Salaita models here. If Wilson himself is so confused about definitions of civility, he might simply refer to the comment field rules outlined here, which recognize and require a clear standard of civility: “your comments…must not degrade others” (i.e., “rednecks,” Israelis, Arab-Israelis, other minority students, etc.). The contractual issues are simply a matter of law and will likely result in a payout (hence, Prof. Salaita’s silence). Likewise, this case has nothing to do with academic freedom–Prof. Salaita was not fired for his words but simply not hired as a suitable colleague & pedagogue. Prof. Salaita placed his own collegial and scholarly reputation under scrutiny with his choice of words and arguments.In that sense, the broad discussion of this issue–and the desire by members in the academic community and beyond–to hold the line on standards of civility, inclusivity, and accountability has been positive and healthy.

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  20. John K. Wilson: “Respect is not a fundamental value of any university.”

    From the 1940 AAUP Statement on Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure, the bedrock statement of academic freedom in the United States (emphasis added):

    “When [college and university teachers] speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should SHOW RESPECT for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.”

    It’s true that a tenured professor can’t be discharged for being a jackass. That’s not because he has a right to be a jackass, but because there’s no way to enforce a divide between “your-fired-because-you’re-an-unpleasant-fool” and “you’re-fired-because-the-research-you’re-doing-has-inconvenient-implications.”

    But some professors obviously believe that being a jerk is a positive qualification for the job.

    • Respect is not a fundamental value of any university, but it is an ethical ideal for individuals. If we say that universities should be allowed to punish professors for disrespect (or for not exercising appropriate restraint), then virtually anyone could be fired. Of course, true respect for the opinions of others requires engaging them in a discussion. The most disrespectful thing you can do is have someone fired for expressing their opinions, so if respect is a core university value, then the University of Illinois administration is the one primarily guilty of violating it.

      • It’s not a “value” but it’s an “ideal.” Puh-leaze. You got caught in an intentional misstatement and now you’re quibbling.

        As I said, universities cannot punish tenured jerks by firing them. Not because you have the right to be a jerk, but because we don’t trust administrators to fire only the jerks. But we, the society that grants you academic freedom – and it’s a norm, not a legal right – we have a right to expect tenured professors to know how to behave in public. If they don’t – well, there’s nothing that can be done. They are free to embarrass themselves and their institutions. That doesn’t mean that they have the right to do so. It means that they can’t be restrained without infringing on the rights of their colleagues.

        But you treat hands-off restraint as a license to play the fool. And so have all the professors who’ve taken Salaita’s side. All of you quote the first half of Paragraph 3 of the Statement of Principles. None of you have the integrity to quote the second half. You are interested only in your own prerogatives. You show no concern at all for the role your institutions play in society.

        You’re right that Salaita couldn’t have been fired for what he tweeted. It’s lucky for UIUC that he hadn’t been hired yet. Now they won’t have to put with him.

        And please don’t me that he had been hired. That’s a legal opinion, and you’ve already told us that you’re not dealing in legal opinions.

      • Bloix, this is no misstatement, and it’s not a quibble but a crucial point you’re misunderstanding. The ideals for how teachers should act as people are different from the ideals for how institutions should act in punishing teachers. Thus, professors ideally should try to be reasonable and thoughtful and show respect for others, but institutions cannot punish them for being “disrespectful” in their extramural comments. Respect in extramural comments is a value of common decency and kindness, but it is not a fundamental principle of a university, which is based upon academic values of research and teaching and not punishment for what you do on the internet outside of work. It would be like firing a professor for yelling mean things at his dog. No one should approve of yelling mean things at a dog, but it’s not the business of a university to enforce this value.

        You misunderstand the 1940 Statement and the fact that the 1970 Interpretive Comments override the old dicta of the 1940 Statement. So, the first part of section 3, “When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline,” remains valid. The remaining part of section 3, on “special obligations,” was immediately overruled by an “interpretation” stating that discipline could only be justified if there were “grave doubts concerning the teacher’s fitness.” Then the section was again overruled by the 1970 Interpretive Comments to say that the standard is “clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness” and so on. So, quoting the second half is not a sign of “integrity,” but an indication that you don’t understand that the text has effectively been amended to remove this part as a justification for punishment of professors.

        And being hired is not just a legal opinion, it is also a moral opinion. A college can be morally responsible under AAUP rules for a hiring even if some legal technicality made the contract legally invalid.

  21. I am confused. You wrote “Respect is not a fundamental value of any university, and being ‘disrespectful’ is not an academic crime. But it’s notable that Salaita really didn’t say anything personal about anyone.” Salaita tweeted “At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?”. How is that tweet not personal about Netanyahu?

    • Wilson: “Salaita really didn’t say anything personal about anyone.”

      Salaita: “It turns out American college kids aren’t very good at ground combat.”

      The dead American “college kids” that Salaita was ridiculing are Max Steinberg, 24, from Woodland Hills, California, and Sean Carmeli, 21, from South Padre Island, Texas.

      see, e.g.,

      Is there anything WIlson says that doesn’t have to be checked?

      • I don’t give a damn if Salaita makes personal comments. He should be perfectly free to make personal comments. If you think criticism of government officials is a personal comment, that’s fine. I was trying to explain why the U of I suddenly decided that “viewpoints” and not just persons needed to be given “respect,” and my guess was that very few of Salaita’s tweets had any personal attacks. This isn’t something that needs to be “checked” because I never said it.

        Mordechai Kedar has suggested raping Palestinian women as a deterrent to Hamas.
        He’s going to be in the US in a few months. I suggest doing some opposition research and putting every professor who invites him on a watch list. If they’re untenured, or if they want to switch jobs etc. you swing into action. etc. etc.
        Is this what you want?

        John Yoo has a job; our education system is flooded with idiots and the deeply corrupt. It were ever thus. Life goes on. Academic freedom means that once the system has let someone in, they’re even more free to be stupid than they would be otherwise. It also mean they’re more free to be sharper and observant if that’s what they are. But we won’t be able to judge one or the other for a while. Maybe it will be up to our kids.

        I’m a more concerned for the kids in Gaza than I am about your sensitivities or those of US college kids. But the students haven’t complained, and neither have teachers. Still, as usual, I’m more than a little disgusted at the self-regard of academia. You represent the vanguard of the mainstream, no more no less. Change begins elsewhere. This debate is over the freedom granted the avant-garde of the elite. Enough

      • John Wilson: “…my guess was that very few of Salaita’s tweets had any personal attacks.”

        I just saw this. You’re saying now that this GUESS was the basis for your categorical statement? —

        “But it’s notable that Salaita really didn’t say anything personal about anyone.”

        Would you concede that a guess isn’t a sufficient basis for such an assertion?

        • Let me put this in its original context: I was trying to understand why the Chancellor declared a ban on “words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.” Why would she go beyond personal attacks to the much broader ban on demeaning any viewpoints, which is an absurd kind of moral relativism? My guess (because I had to guess at her motives) was that she didn’t think Salaita had made personal attacks, since that was my general impression of his most controversial tweets. Since I haven’t read everything Salaita has ever written, I wasn’t try to summarize his life’s work, just the tweets that had drawn the most opposition, and those were not about personal attacks, but about his criticism of Israel. And that was my theory about why Chancellor Wise made the very disturbing declaration about protecting “viewpoints”: she was trying to make demeaning pro-Israel viewpoints a punishable offense, because that was the only thoughtcrime Salaita committed. So a guess is a sufficient basis for speculating on Wise’s motives. But the primary point was that Wise’s “demeaning viewpoints” theory is utterly wrong, and this whole digression about the quantity of Salaita’s personal attacks (which are also protected free speech) is a complete distraction.

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  23. The question is not what you give a damn about.The question is whether what you wrote was true or false.

    You wrote: “Salaita really didn’t say anything personal about anyone.” That is a false statement.

    Salaita ridiculed two dead American “college kids,” Max Steinberg and Sean Carmeli, saying that they died because they weren’t “any good at ground combat.”

    You now pretend that what you said was, “my guess was that very few of Salaita’s tweets had any personal attacks.” You are misrepresenting your own words – and admitting that you hadn’t read all his tweets before you represented to the world that he had not said “anything personal about anyone.”

    Apparently truth, like respect, is not a fundamental value – if not of the university, then at least of some university professors.

    • So your proof that I’m a liar is that you dig up some tweet where Salaita specifically named two people and insulted them. Oh, wait, except that Salaita didn’t name them, he just made a reference to the day’s news events. Let me explain what a personal attack is: it’s when somebody falsely accuses me of lying and then desperately searches for some generalization I made, and wrongly turns it into an absolutist declaration that Salaita never said anything personal in his entire life. My (quite true and reasonable) point was that in the controversial tweets that got him fired, Salaita wasn’t making personal attacks, he was expressing criticism of the Israeli government, which is why the U of I is declaring that viewpoint attacks must be forbidden and not just personal attacks. So far in these comments, I’ve pointed out many times when your attacks on me were false and factually wrong, and now you just ignore those comments. That doesn’t mean you’re a liar or that you’re misrepresenting your own words, or that you don’t value the truth. But when you accuse me of lying about something that I didn’t declare as an absolute, and don’t care about, and is totally irrelevant to my argument and to this debate, you’re just grasping for argumentative straws rather than confronting the core issues here. Yes, when I rapidly wrote this blog post in the span of a few minutes without any editing and hurriedly put it online before news outlets did so that the U of I statement could be read with analysis as soon as possible, I probably should have written “generally” instead of “really” so that no one could maliciously misinterpret what I was obviously stating and distract the entire conversation. I suppose now you can claim that by using an inferior adverb, I have violated the AAUP’s admonition to “be accurate” and can be fired or “not hired” from an academic job.

    • I’d say you have Wilson dead to rights, but he’s defending Salaita and I’m not; I’m defending academic independence. So answer my question above: Mordechai Kedar has suggested raping Palestinian women as a deterrent to Hamas. John Yoo still has a job. Larry Summers is still teaching and he has female students.

      We can keep going down this absurd path if you want.

      • So pointing out that you are wrong when you are wrong is “malicious.” This from a man who argues that respect is not a value.

        And you do it again:

        Wilson: “My (quite true and reasonable) point was that in the controversial tweets that got him fired, Salaita wasn’t making personal attacks, he was expressing criticism of the Israeli government”

        Your point is not “true” on either point. He did make personal attacks, as I demonstrated above. And he was not “expressing criticism of the Israeli government.” He was rejecting the legitimacy of the Zionist project and attacking supporters of Israel’s existence (including Americans) in harsh terms.

        I’m not arguing that Salaita’s views mean he is not qualified to be a professor. I’m pointing out that you do not know what you are talking about.


        “All life is sacred. Unless you’re a Zionist, for whom most life is a mere inconvenience to ethnographic supremacy”

        “Understand that whenever a Zionist frets about Palestinian violence, it is a projection of his own brute psyche”

        “Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948”

        “If you’re defending Israel right now you’re an awful human being”

        “Zionist uplift in America: every little Jewish boy and girl can grow up to be the leader of a murderous colonial regime”

        “No wonder Israel prefers killing Palestinians from the sky. It turns out American college kids aren’t very good at ground combat.”

        For years, Salaita has written extensively on his view that Israel is a racist, colonialist project and that its supporters are racists. This position is a major theme of his work as an academic.

        His views were well known when UIUC extended him an offer, and I don’t argue that they disqualify him to be a tenured professor. They don’t qualify him, either, of course.

        But you would be more credible advocate for Salaita if you demonstrated even a superficial understanding of his work and beliefs.

  24. Pingback: UIUC and Academic Freedom | Bibliographic Wilderness

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  26. I’ve seen many people argue that someone’s extramural tweets aren’t a good indication of how s/he will perform in a professional capacity.

    But the question no one seems to want to ask is: What if it turns out that they are indicative? What if the administration was led to review Dr. Salaita’s scholarly output in light of his tweets, only to assess that his work fell short of standards of serious scholarship they expect to guide the hiring of faculty in all disciplines? That certainly could be what’s going on here, in which case the administration arguably should have made that clearer (though perhaps there may have been legal reasons not to?).

    I’d be interested to hear how the academic freedom argument would apply to that scenario. Mr. Wilson?

    • The research work (and his teaching record) stands on its own, so the tweets can’t indicate anything. But your second question is, what if the U of I did what the U of Colorado did to Ward Churchill: controversy over extramural utterances led people to scrutinize every word he’d written, and that led to charges of research misconduct. I find that approach highly suspect, and prone to abuse, as I argued with regard to Churchill. But this didn’t happen here. There is absolutely no indication that research quality had anything to do with the administration’s decision. Emails indicate that the Chancellor was consulting with trustees, donors, and development officials, but almost no academic experts. And the stated explanation had nothing to do with scholarship. But, hypothetically, if they had made done this to Salaita, then the appropriate standard would be what is required to dismiss a tenured professor. Otherwise, controversial faculty would be subject to intense searches for flaws (which can easily be found), while noncontroversial faculty would not, and that system would be a great threat to academic freedom.

  27. Thanks for the response. I agree that the administration’s stated reasons should carry the main weight.

    I’m sympathetic to your position that “the appropriate standard would be what is required to dismiss a tenured professor. Otherwise, controversial faculty would be subject to intense searches for flaws (which can easily be found)…” This statement has the advantage of being specific enough to allow for meaningful engagement. So as an “outside observer” trying to better understand what the exact issue is here (and having thus far found much more heat than light, as they say), this does help.

    Still wondering, though…I acknowledge that the available documentation suggests that the issue I raised is hypothetical, and that there’s a danger of abuse (involving different standards of scrutiny depending on the perceived palatability of one’s views).

    But I’m still trying to get clearer about the bigger principles in play. What if you had someone up for an academic position who, for example, posted things on social media that were politically neutral but seemed highly unprofessional (or even, let’s say, delusional, or ever so slightly menacing toward past colleagues), and a closer examination of his or her academic work turned up not only that there were mistakes (which, as you say, can always be found), but that the work undeniably fell short of scholarly standards?

    Would a hiring committee be within its purview to take that into account if it somehow hadn’t noticed that before (say, because it hand’t performed due diligence)? Again, what if it just hadn’t looked all that critically at the candidate’s work, but then, upon looking, found the defects to be truly glaring?

    And what if the hiring department didn’t change course, and an external member of the search committee (for example) brought it to the attention of the dean or provost that there were not only questions about the quality of the scholarship, but a pattern of deficiencies gross enough to raise doubts about whether the candidate was doing serious scholarship at all? (I repeat: I’m NOT suggesting that this is the case with Dr. Salaita’s work, which I’m not familiar with. I’m trying to get at more general issues.) If the dean’s or provost’s office believed that the department was gravely remiss in extending the offer, I believe that the onus would be on them to provide this as their stated reason for a decision to rescind the offer.

    Going back to your position, though: I’m still not convinced that the decision would only be legitimate if the administration was prepared to dismiss a tenured faculty member on similar grounds. If a tenured faculty member earned tenure by the quality of her/his scholarly output, but then did “sub-scholarly” work after that, she or he might have grounds for retaining tenure and her/his academic position due to past scholarly accomplishments. But if someone’s supposed scholarship falls way short when up for a tenure-track position, it seems like the hiring committee could (and should) legitimately take those shortcomings into account in making the hiring decision. And if they can and should, I don’t see why it would be wrong for the administration to do so if they really believe that the department was remiss.

    So this seems like at least some reason to question your position that the appropriate standard should be just the same as would be applicable to the decision to remove a tenured faculty member.

    I’m not saying that I think your position is mistaken. I’m trying to explain why I’m not yet convinced that it’s true (or that it isn’t too strong).

    • In this case, Salaita was hired with tenure, so it should be the standard of firing a tenured professor. If it was a non-tenured hire, I would still be very skeptical of reconsideration. However, I do think that a hiring committee (and no one else) could be justified in reconsideration, because they have full information about this candidates and the other candidates to compare them.

  28. So in your view, then, even if an administration with access to the finalists’ files had compelling evidence that a hiring committee had been grossly remiss in making its offer with tenure (e.g. hiring a poorly qualified candidate over several highly qualified candidates, for corrupt/nepotistic reasons), no one but that same hiring committee should be able to reconsider the hire?

    That’s certainly a view, and maybe it’s even right (or better than the alternatives). But it still seems problematic, assuming that hiring committees are sometimes grossly remiss (or corrupt), and that deans and provosts, who should usually avoid interfering in departmental matters, do have some legitimate oversight role in the tenure process.

    • No, if there is evidence of corruption in the process, then faculty judgments can be overruled (of course, absolutely nothing like that happened with Salaita), as I’ve noted in the tenure case of K.C. Johnson at Brooklyn. And administrative judgments on academic qualifications are relevant during the process, and in Salaita’s case they were overwhelmingly positive. It’s the use of non-academic criteria, retroactively applied by administrators without faculty involvement, after objections based on political reasons, that really makes the Salaita decision indefensible.

  29. I agree that the administration shouldn’t have rescinded the offer in these circumstances.

    My question about corrupt hires was this. I take it that one way in which a hire can be corrupt is if the hiring department realizes (or clearly should have realized) that a candidate’s published work clearly lacked scholarly merit. If a department hired an unqualified candidate over qualified candidates because they shared her/his political views, it seems to me that that would qualify as a corrupt hire.

    That said, let me stress that no one should assert that Salaita’s work is indeed deficient, or that the hiring committee was remiss, without a thorough, competent, and fair-minded examination. I think the piecemeal criticisms that have arisen so far should be taken with a big grain of salt. But it’s hardly out of the question that a serious review will occur, and that it will raise troubling questions about why the offer was made in the first place. Barring evidence of corruption, we could still say that the administration was out of line. But IF Salaita’s work turns out to be of the same caliber as his tweets, and if the administration got wind of this, I think the hiring department should be held to account as well.

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