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August 08, 2014


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Jeff Redding

This report suggests that Professor Salaita was fired, not simply 'not hired':

Steve Diamond

The AAUP has issued a statement (see LUN) in response to Nelson's intervention. It should be noted that Nelson and the current AAUP leadership lie on opposite sides of the organization, with the current leadership showing greater support (correctly in my view as a longtime AAUP member) for collective bargaining and organizing efforts, including those underway at the University of Illinois.

Steven Lubet

Jeff Redding: Electronic Intifada is not exactly an unbiased source, but even the linked report provides no actual support for the claim that Salaita was "fired." It "suggests" that Salaita would not have resigned from Penn State unless he had already been hired at Illinois, but we have plenty of evidence that he is intemperate and impulsive.

Now, perhaps the offer was wrongly withdrawn, but let's be careful about alleging facts in the absence of information -- which is, as it turns out, the position of the national AAUP.

Steve Diamond

Steven, What is the evidence that the "position of the national AAUP" is based on "alleging facts in the absence of information"?

Also, for more background on the differences between Cary Nelson and the current and recently re-elected leadership of the AAUP see LUN.

Jeff Redding

The linked report refers to a source with detailed information of the situation. Regardless, this is clearly an abnormal situation, hence the reason anyone is paying any attention to it. I've seen no indication that it is Professor Salaita who walked away from this position, so I'm assuming that it is the university who has terminated his appointment. Or in other words, it is abnormal behavior on the behalf of the university, and not Professor Salaita, which has created a peculiar and newsworthy situation.

Steve Diamond

Please note that a reply to Cary Nelson was also posted on Inside Higher Ed authored by John Wilson of the Illinois AAUP. The link is LUN. It is called "Fighting the Twitter Police." It is important here to put this in the context of a broader effort to attack the use of social media by academics as at the Kansas university system recently.

Steven Lubet

Steve Diamond: Sorry if I was not clear. I only meant that the position of the national AAUP is that more facts are needed before drawing firm conclusions.


I do not think that anyone here has knowledge of sufficient facts to state whether the university fired Professor Salaita or whether he did not pass the final part of the hiring process. Yes, it is an unusual situation, but given Professor's Salaita's statements, a reasonably prudent person would not have resigned from his previous job until he cleared ALL hurdles for a new job (if employment is important to him).

Steve Diamond

We can all agree that more facts can always be helpful. It might have made sense if Cary Nelson agreed. Among the facts that are not yet clear include:

1) Was Nelson in a prior direct battle in the ASA with Salaita over a boycott of Israel that colored his view of this situation, as is alleged in the Comments section of IHE? And that in the wake of that battle Nelson made monitoring of Salaita a personal pet project? If that is a fact it would have been appropriate for Nelson to disclose that. For the record, I oppose the boycott (and the occupation/blockade of Gaza) and appreciate the AAUP's position on it as well.

2) Was Salaita already a faculty member at Illinois when this decision was made? John Wilson of the Illinois AAUP says yes, Nelson says no.

3) Is it Nelson's view of academic freedom that it is lost when one leaves one academic institution until well, when, the first day of classes at the second institution? After all, even then one could imagine that he could have been fired for the same reason he appears to have been dismissed by Illinois. I would have hoped Nelson's views on the robustness of academic freedom were, well, more robust for someone who was once such an important leader of the AAUP.

4) The national statement of the AAUP was, explicitly, made only because Nelson chose to identify himself as a past president of the organization and they did not want there to be any confusion about the fact that they were concerned about the potential academic freedom issue here.

Paul Horwitz

Jeff, I take it you're referring to this paragraph: "But a source with close knowledge of the situation, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly, disputed Inside Higher Ed’s version. The source told The Electronic Intifada that Salaita had actually been 'fired.'" You would agree that a single-anonymous-source claim is rather a slender reed, wouldn't you?

Out of curiosity, how would you rank this story, as a whole, compared to, say, a story on the IRS in the Daily Caller, one that mixes speculation and irrelevancies with a single anonymous source who, for all we know, is the complainant himself? I grant you it's been a long time since I was in journalism, so perhaps I'm just old fashioned, but it seemed remarkably, even discreditably, poor to me.

Jeff Redding

Paul: Yes, that's the paragraph I'm referring to. It does sound like a lot of the NYTimes' reporting, to be honest. Which is not top-notch, I agree. But in light of the silence from the university here -- which, unless it has been privatized recently, is a public entity with some public responsibility to respond to the public's concerns with the way this has been handled -- it's all I've been able to find on this and it's something (to be interpreted with caution). At the end of the day though, one has to wonder why the university is being so quiet if all of this is above-board and just 'business as normal.' Keep quiet and carry on!

Steven Lubet

You are reading a lot into silence, Jeff, especially since most employers refrain from commenting on personnel issues. Salaita has also been completely silent, which strongly suggests that a deal is in the works.

Of course, the situation is completely different if Salaita has already been hired in a tenured position. If so, he could not be fired without cause and after a hearing (and his tweets, loathsome as I find them, would not amount to cause). But does anyone think that Chancellor Wise and university counsel were unaware of those requirements? At best, one can only say that his status was open to interpretation.

In any event, Salaita's supporters have been less than candid about his tweets. They are violent and racist, and they pre-date the current war in Gaza, so they cannot be excused as a reaction to the most recent events. So go ahead and defend him on academic freedom grounds -- that is a strong case -- but let's not overlook his enthusiasm for kidnapping.

Paul Horwitz

With all due respect, it--both the story in general and the paragraph you cite--does not sound much at all like the Times's reporting. For what it's worth, though, I would say no matter the outlet, a single, non-corroborated anonymous source should be treated with skepticism. In the case of the Times, the primary reason is that any reporter can be misled or lied to by a source with an axe to grind. In this case, I would the possibility that both source and reporter are carrying axes.

Jeff Redding

Paul: Why do you say the reporter is carrying an axe here? Here's the latest report I can find: The university spokesperson appears to have confirmed that Professor Salaita was a University of Illinois faculty member last month.

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