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August 06, 2014


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Aren't the professor's comments exactly the sort of inflammatory (and, I think) non-substantive ones that would be moderated if posted here?

They're certainly not comments that would be tolerated if made by a student in class, or lauded as constructive and helpful if made by anyone.

I don't see why professors should be uniquely immunized from the natural consequences of such language.


The value of tenure stems from the public interest in promoting academic freedom. These tweets sounds viciously hateful; replace the references to Israelis and Palestinians with references to Caucasians and African Americans with the hatred expressed towards African Americans and I doubt there would be any question that this speech deserves no protection.

"Fou-mouthed" is a very good adjective to describe this speech.


"replace the references to Israelis and Palestinians with references to Caucasians and African Americans with the hatred expressed towards African Americans"

Interesting thought experiment. But what if we did it the other way "with the hatred expressed towards Caucasians"?

I doubt there would be any question that this speech DOES deserve protection.

So I guess the question is, are the Israelis like the Caucasians or the African Americans in this situation?

Former Editor


I think that a better question would be, should the targeted ethnic group really matter in the context of an academic freedom discussion? It seems to me that it probably shouldn't. Saying that it's "ok" if its one group being targeted but "not ok" if it's a different group involves the kind of career impacting political/value judgment that academic freedom is supposed to insulate faculty members from. In other words, I'm of the view that either no comments with this level of vitriol are protected by academic freedom or all of them are, regardless of target. Please note, I'm not endorsing Salaita's comments. I'm only making a larger point about how we should do line-drawing in the context of an academic freedom discussion.

Really, I think this issue hinges more on the question of whether the tone of a professor's comments can move an expression otherwise protected by academic freedom into unprotected territory. For example, if Salaita's comments had been restricted to phrases like "I strongly condemn the immoral behavior of the Israeli government," I doubt his offer would have been pulled. I can see both sides of that question and would be curious to get the input of some of the faculty members who comment here on it.

"Since Salaita did not yet have tenure at Illinois, is this just a case study of why tenure matters?"

Doesn't look like it to me. While tenure is a mechanism designed to protect academic freedom, I'd like to think that few would argue that even pre-tenure faculty expressions are entitled to protection and that sufficiently unprofessional conduct on the part of a tenured faculty member should be cause for dismissal. Drawing the line on what is "sufficiently unprofessional" is the real difficulty.

Just saying...

"Steven Salaita - formerly a controversial English professor at Virginia Tech - was offered a new tenured job in the American Indian studies program at the University of Illinois."

From English to American Indian studies??? Why? And since when is every utterance by someone who just happens to be a college prof an expression of academic freedom? Do they ever take off the academic robes and become just a mere mortal??

Steven Lubet

Here is one of Salaita's tweets that was not in the article (sorry; cannot figure out how to paste in the image):

"Zionists: transforming 'antisemitism' from something horrible into something honorable since 1948."

Would any major university offer a tenured position to somebody who called racism -- against any group, for any reason -- honorable?

Also, earlier this year the University of Illinois trustees de-tenured a professor for behavior that included incivility, so they have a non-ideological track record in that regard:

Steve Diamond

The AAUP has issued a statement expressing its concern about academic freedom in this situation. It can be read at LUN.


To Steven Lubet's points: The tone and content of these tweets was offensive and reckless. But I read that particular tweet to mean that Zionists had transformed what *they* *called* "antisemitism" -- hence the internal quotes around that word -- into something honorable. You seem to understand him as suggesting that antisemitism or racism, as he would regard it, is honorable; guessing he has a very narrow view of what true antisemitism is, but he could be read as saying that the word was being deprived of its important, condemning force, rather than endorsing racism (as he sees it). Twitter is not great at irony, and I'm sure there are other examples.

P.S. Illinois' earlier action, based on differentiable non-ideological circumstances, probably does little to inform the question of whether this was on ideological grounds.

Steven Lubet

To Anan: Yes, he put scare quotes around "anti-Semitism," which is usually a signal that the writer does not believe in the existence of the quoted subject. Salieta has other tweets to similar effect, condoning anti-Semitism (you know, as in attacks on French synagogues) as the fault of Zionists.

Here is another of his tweets, this time approving of the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli children: "You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing."

It is one thing to defend Salaita on free speech principles, but let's not paper over the true nature of his comments, which extol murder and rationalize racism.

Tired of the Double Standards

Let's also remember that this decison was related to an initial hire, not promotion and tenure. Since when does a university have to hire someone who as Steven Lubet accurately noted extols murder and rationalizes racism against Jews?


I don't agree that scare quotes are usually (let alone invariably) used to deny the existence in toto of the quoted subject; they deny that the term was properly invoked by the original speaker. For those interested in further discussion of that particular tweet, you might find this interesting -- particularly the comment that puts the tweet in context of other preceding it by a few minutes.

It's too bad that querying an understanding of one tweet risks being viewed as an attempt to "paper over" the true nature of these comments. I find others -- particularly the one mentioned about West Bank settlers -- far worse, and I'm inclined to think a non-hire (if that's what this was) might be justified. But that's neither here nor there.

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