Professor Steven Salaita was due to begin working at the University of Illinois. Days before he was scheduled to teach, he had quit his old job and put his house on the market. All in good faith that he had a job. He was fired for ‘Uncivil’ Tweets. The university argued that his position was still conditional on final approval and therefore he wasn’t actually fired – he was just never hired.
This created a lot of discussion. Individuals came down on both sides. In support of the university people argued that the tweets were just unacceptable and that the university was formally right. On the side of the professor was academic freedom, free speech, and that the university knew that he had relied upon their promises when he packed up and moved across the country.
Now a federal court has found in favor of Salaita and has allowed his lawsuit against the University of Illinois to proceed, and the chancellor who rescinded his appointment last year has resigned amid an ethics investigation.
This is good news. I make my position clear and I am happy that academic freedom and free speech are being valued highly.
My argument is not against those individuals who would disagree with me. I don’t mind or care that we are in disagreement. That is the whole point of free speech after all.
But I have a problem with the organizations. Academic groups who spoke out in favor of the University of Illinois. Many of their members were in agreement with them but many of their members were very angry with their organizations supporting the university over the individual academic freedom.
Now that the federal court has found support for Salaita and the concept of academic freedom and the need to protect speech – what are these organizations going to do? Isn’t it time that they apologized? No, they don’t need to apologize to Salaita (even though I think that would be a generous move that demonstrates growth) but I do feel that they should apologize to their members.
Take for example the letter from the American Sociological Association
We write as elected leaders of the American Sociological Association to express our support for your decision not to hire Dr. Steven G. Salaita as a faculty member at the University of Illinois. Although some sociologists disagree with your decision, as a previous letter indicated, we wanted you to know that some sociologists, including leaders of the American Sociological Association, support your decision. We personally feel if a job candidate openly disparages an entire minority group it is a good reason not to hire him or her as a new faculty member. Dr. Salaita’s public expressions of hatred and his public endorsement of violence have no place in the University of Illinois.
The problem is that the university HAD hired him. They were dismissing him. The rhetorical and legal loophole is fake. Most hires are subject to approval and if we were to wait for such approval then the hiring system would grind to a halt. The “elected leaders of the American Sociological Association” spoke for their organization and their members. Now the court has shown them the error of their ways: will they now finally apologizing to their members?
Academic organizations are there to raise awareness about the subject they represent and also to ensure that the academics who make up their organization can carry out their research and teaching without being harassed. They failed. They came down on the side of censorship and they should, at the very least, apologize to the people they claim to represent.
5 thoughts on “Court supports Salaita; will organizations apologize?”
After I read your blog, a Dutch newspaper recommended this detective-like story on how social media caused a witch hunt on academic Hunt: https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/the-timothy-hunt-witch-hunt/
Thank you for the link. The Timothy Hunt story is fascinating and shows what happens when people overreact to anger online.
It is. And on how difficult the use of language is. Today I have used this example in a data protection workshop: a report by our Ombudsman on a complaint of a citizin who was listed as ‘agressive’. The case is very curious; the man was listed agressive because he had put this sentence in an e-mail: ‘p.s. what a nice bicycle you have!’
The civil servant thought it was meant as a threat; the man had seen her with her kids on a typical Dutch familybike in town. The local government had put the man on this list without asking him to explain himself. He states it was meant as a compliment. The result of this all was an official procedure and report of the Ombudsman (not-binding) that the government should have acted de ‘escalating.’
Oh that is so interesting. Judging the content of a email is very tricky. The “nice bicycle” example could be seen as threatening or complimentary. I shall have to use it as an example in teaching.
That would be nice. For i have used so many of your examples!