Twitter, Salaita, and Goldrick-Rab

I have an essay about the Salaita case posted today at University World News. Salaita’s dismissal and the case of Sara Goldrick-Rab may lead some people to think that professors must never use Twitter, but I think that would be a mistake.

Twitter doesn’t cause controversial statements. There’s nothing about 140 characters that makes people stupid. These are the sorts of things people say all the time. But Twitter allows people to widely distribute offensive comments, and to clearly attribute them to the author. A century ago, the AAUP’s Declaration of Principles (wrongly) tried to declare the classroom a private space, and to ban students from telling others what their professors said, for fear that newspapers might take what was said out of context. Today, many people have the same view of Twitter, and advise professors that they should stay from Twitter lest their thoughts get them in trouble.

I disagree. The better solution is to fully protect academic freedom so that professors don’t need to spend their lives in a cone of silence, fearful that any offhand comment might cost them their job. We need to encourage faculty to participate in public debates as much as possible, and not shy away from communication for fear of a public shaming every time they say something controversial. Faculty should not be immune from criticism, but neither should they be punished for expressing their ideas in public. If that happens, then we will lose a valuable voice in public discussions.

3 thoughts on “Twitter, Salaita, and Goldrick-Rab

  1. On the classroom: It appears that if a professor reads his/her lecture, or records his/her lecture as it is being spoken, then the contents of the lecture are copyrighted under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Therefore, far from being a public space and a public communication, a professor’s lecture in the classroom is a multiple-protected exercise of academic freedom and intellectual property rights.

  2. No one said differently but fair use is often violated.

    Nevertheless, to treat the classroom as a public space would appear to be contrary to the multiple contractual arrangements which are in play at any one time (student-university, faculty-university, faculty-student, university-collective bargaining agent, etc.).

    It would seem that characterizing the classroom as private is closer to the actual controlling legal contracts of the situation. Normally, members of the public may not simply walk in to a classroom, even at a public university.

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