BY KELLY HAND
In his article “Steven Salaita, the Media, and the Struggle for Academic Freedom” in the January-February 2016 issue of Academe, Peter N. Kirstein writes about media coverage of the controversy surrounding Steven Salaita’s dismissal by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The issue’s special focus on media and the faculty was inspired in part by the Salaita case and the attention it attracted in mainstream publications, as well as those specializing in higher education.
Kirstein followed the case closely from the day in August 2014 when Inside Higher Ed broke the news about Salaita’s dismissal from a position he had not yet begun. As chair of the Illinois AAUP conference’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, Kirstein notes that the majority of academic freedom cases do not attract media attention, but this one was unique because it revolved around a faculty member’s use of social media. Alluding to our collective obsession with technology and fascination with social media, he speculates that if Salaita had expressed his views in a more traditional format, such as a letter criticizing Israel’s attacks on Gaza, there would have been minimal reaction.
Kirstein offers a detailed account of how mainstream and higher education publications in both the US and Israel covered developments in the Salaita case over the course of more than a year, up to the time of his legal settlement with UIUC in November 2015. His analysis of a wide range of articles, with attention to their accompanying headlines and titles, calls attention to the divergence in viewpoints about the political and academic freedom issues at stake in the case.
Responding to questions posed by Inside Higher Ed editor Scott Jaschik in an e-mail interview, Kirstein considers how the Salaita case “raised issues about academic policies that have systemic implications across the academy.” He comments on the media’s role in serving the common good and sees media coverage of the Salaita case as an important contribution to safeguarding academic freedom.
Articles from the current and past issues of Academe are available online. AAUP members receive a subscription to the magazine, available both by mail and as a downloadable PDF, as a benefit of membership.