Until two weeks ago, Steven Salaita was heading to a job at the University of Illinois as a professor of American Indian Studies. He had already resigned from his position at Virginia Tech; everything seemed sewn up. Now the chancellor of the University of Illinois has overturned Salaita’s appointment and rescinded the offer. Because of Israel.
Corey Robin has done an excellent job, both at his blog and at Crooked Timber, detailed the nonsensical unhiring/firing of Steven Salaita due, apparently, to a series of tweets about the recent Israeli incursion in Gaza.
I tweeted a bit with Robin and William Adler about this issue yesterday, and Adler’s thoughts on the matter sum things up quite well:
In looking through Salaita’s tweets, it’s clear that he sometimes retweets things that I consider over-the-top and objectionable, and that his manner of expressing things would probably strike many people as odious. I wouldn’t write the things he writes, partly because I disagree with him and partly because I don’t use such strident language.
But the notion that someone’s job might be taken from him for taking a political position on Twitter that offends his colleagues is far more troubling than what Salaita has written. Let’s be clear: Salaita doesn’t seem to have been writing racist or anti-Semitic screeds or inciting people to violence. He seems only to be expressing his opposition to the Israeli government and its policy of occupation. HIs firing would be like firing someone who brashly opposes the Obama administration’s policy of drone strikes or who was stridently critical of the Bush administration’s war in Iraq or use of waterboarding.
I’ve been known to write strongly worded criticisms of elected officials, for example, because of their position on the death penalty, on immigration, or even on university budgetary matters. And I’ve occasionally disagreed with colleagues in online discussions, sometimes quite vigorously, on a wide variety of topics. But I don’t imagine for a moment that any of us would want the university to weigh in on those discussions to tell us who is in the right and who’d better watch what he says.