Israel, academic freedom, and my alma mater

Steven Salaita’s offer to teach Native American studies at the University of Illinois (my alma mater) was rescinded last month after university officials objected to the tone of a lengthy series of recent tweets from Salaita man about Gaza and Israel.

The story has created a backlash against the university, and has more generally provoked a fervent debate about academic freedom and “hate speech.”

Just to set the record straight, Salaita is no friend of Israel. Judging by his tweets — and there are many — he has a visceral contempt for both the country and its people. (He’s not terribly keen on the US either.)

But does that mean he shouldn’t teach?

Steven Salaita

Steven Salaita

You can read through Salaita’s Twitter history for yourself. It’s lengthy, and it won’t take you long to get the flavor of it. In some cases there are 50 to 60 angry anti-Israel, and pro-Gaza, tweets a day.

Several of the tweets, or retweets, are sure to push buttons. For example, there’s this retweet about Adam Lanza, the young man who brutally shot to death nearly two dozen children at Sandy Hook Elementary:


And these:

by-default-2014-09-25-at-1.46.31-PM by-default-2014-09-25-at-1.46.54-PM

And this may be the tweet that finally sealed Salaita’s fate with the university:


I suspect I disagree with Salaita on a lot of issues, and I find his tweets, and overall style, obnoxious. But I’m not sure that’s a quality I’d object to in a professor. Let’s think this through a bit.

First off, Salaita was going to teach about Native Americans, not the Middle East.

Second, his comments were off-campus, as it were, on Twitter. They weren’t in the scope of his academic duties.

And regardless, at what point does one become too obnoxious to teach?

So long as he weren’t an ass about it, I’d find it interesting to hear Salaita’s point of view on the Middle East, Native Americans or any other topic. And so long as students knew what they were getting when signing up for his class, I’m not sure I terribly care if there’s a ridiculously anti-Israel professor teaching a class so long as the university lets ridiculously pro-Israel professors teach as well.

But that presumes that what Salaita tweeted doesn’t constitute hate speech. Does it? And even if it did, does that necessarily mean he’d make a bad professor?

As an aside, Salaita isn’t just a professor who happened to post a few tweets about Israel. He’s written six books on related subjects:

Steven Salaita is Associate Professor of English at Virginia Tech. He is the author of six books: Israel’s Dead Soul; Modern Arab American Fiction: A Reader’s Guide; The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims, and the Poverty of Liberal Thought; Anti-Arab Racism in the USA; The Holy Land in Transit; and Arab American Literary Fictions, Cultures, and Politics.

And, on his Facebook page, Salaita calls the Anti-Defamation League “a hate group”:


Salaita has been a strong advocate of boycotting Israeli academic institutions, and most of his Facebook page is devoted to denouncing Israel, at least for the past three years.

And finally, Salaita wrote a piece for Salon that undercut gay and other human rights advocates concerned about Russia and the Olympics this year.

So there’s a lot more history to this guy than simply a few Tweets.

This is a problem you confront way beyond universities as well. A number of us, for example, were not too thrilled that Mozilla, a while back, picked proud Prop 8 supporter Brendan Eich as its new CEO. And the same issues arose during that debate: Are your fervently-held positions outside the workplace, however obnoxious, ever relevant to your job?

I’d argue: “sometimes.” In Brendan Eich’s case, the fact that he was anti-gay, and actively worked against gay marriage, while running a California tech company which likely has gay staff who are married, was relevant to his ability to perform his job — especially once his own staff, and board, revolted.

I’m not sure what I think about Salaita. I tend to be in the middle on Middle East issues, which tends to make both sides hate me at some point. And while I found myself getting angry reading Salaita’s tweets, I’d still have to hear further argument as to why that’s enough justification to deny the man a job at a university.

As a U of I alum, I don’t want Salaita teaching at U of I. I think his Twitter and Facebook style shows a bit of immaturity in tone, and naiveté about online discourse being some kind of “get out of jail free,” let it all hang out, free-for-all speech zone. Many of his tweets, and Facebook posts, and writings are in your face and obnoxious. (Which left me wondering how old Salaita actually is. He may be a member, and victim, of a generation that grew up thinking there were no repercussions to letting it all hang out online.) It’s also bizarre that no one at the university did any due diligence about what exactly they were buying into.

But having said all of that, I’m honestly divided as to whether my distaste for Salaita, his tone, and many of his views, is sufficient to deny him a job.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

Share This Post

90 Responses to “Israel, academic freedom, and my alma mater”

  1. Jay Benet says:

    Inflammatory can be dangerous. At the very least it can contribute to hostile attitudes toeards certain groups.
    No one would tolerate this kind of vitriol against African Americans or Muslims, and they should not toletate antisemitic vitriol either. In case you want to argue that it wasn’t antisemitic, please spare me. I debated this already ad nauseam. This sort of discourse (even for twitter ) belongs in the gutter not in a university.

  2. A few of that commenter’s comments were deleted because they went off the deep end, into ad hominem territory. As for what you wrote, I’m happy to comment on it. Do you have an objective source confirming its veracity? I just googled, and am not seeing anything.

  3. JudenChino says:


    I don’t believe your comment is responsive to what I wrote. I was responding to the prior comment re: how Israel exploits the good faithed nature of even the best-intentioned people and I provided a relevant and recent example. I certainly don’t think your “brainwashed” or “stupid.”

    Do you agree or disagree with that example as an example of Israel trying to take advantage of people trying to grapple with the issue in good faith, re-summarized here:

    They started an English language hashtag campaign to bring back kidnapped children they knew were already dead and then used such rescue campaign to inflict massive collective punishment on occupied people (which also gave rise to the retaliation by Hamas rockets), including killing over 10 people.

    I don’t know why you deleted the comment you were responding to but I agree with the sentiment that “it’s complicated” response is a cop-out, which serves the status quo, which, in this case, serves the powerful actor, which is the State of Israel, which maintains it’s violent and illegal military occupation, for over 40 years now. In fact, I’m really disappointed you deleted that comment as it was well written, polite, civil and on topic. Sure, it was in strong disagreement with you but I don’t believe the commenter accused you of being unethical, immoral or anything like that.

  4. We all have the automatic right to a job at a publicly-funded school? Cool :)

  5. You seem to be under the mistaken assumption that the first thing I’d ever heard about the Arab-Israeli conflict is this story about the three settlers. Some of us started studying, and then working on, this issue nearly thirty years ago. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that anyone who disagrees with you is obviously brainwashed or stupid. It’s a common fallacy I’ve noted on the left and right on various hot-button issues. If only everyone else weren’t so stupid they’d all agree with you. LIfe is a tad more complicated than that :)

  6. Hatfield says:

    Well, my comment was only to help elucidate the guy’s academic credentials. I don’t know what standards Champagne-Urbana has for professors. I believe this was a tenured position, so one would think the candidate would be somewhat of a deal in the field. But Salaita doesn’t seem that way. Then again, the university’s standards aren’t mine. When I was in academia (Columbia), an offer for a tenured position was a big deal. Those candidates published widely in their field and were hired to bring something to the department. What does Salaita bring besides hate? I would wonder, why was the offer made?

  7. Well, I’ve learned over the years that sometimes people disagree with you for other reasons than simply “they’re ignorant.” It’s not an effective argument.

  8. As you’ve shown in other comments that you’re no longer capable of civil discussion, perhaps it’s time for you to move on. It is sad that on this issue, and so many others, so many people are so incapable of having any kind of sane discussion. And they wonder why it never gets resolved.

  9. JudenChino says:

    Israel knows how to exploit the good nature of even the best-intentioned people, and John falls into that trap in my opinion.

    Right, the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli settlers was a horrific crime. No doubt about that. And what does Israel do? They knew the kids were killed within the first few hours, but that didn’t stop them from (i) issuing a gag order re: the fact that they were known to be dead, (ii) start a twitter hashtag campaign, in English, #BringBackOurBoys, boys who they knew were already dead, (iii) arrested hundreds in the West Bank, without due process and are being held to this every dad on “administrative grounds” (isn’t this kidnapping?) and (iv) in searching for the three boys, collective massive collective punishment (checkpoints, thousands unable to work, thousands of houses ransacked) upon the West Bank, killed about 10 people while searching.

    So us in the US, we only heard about (ii) and were completely oblivious to the fact that we were being emotionally played and that an objectively greater harm (10 killed is more than 3, isn’t it, plus thousands unable to work and more than a few homes were bulldozed) was imposed on Palestinians. This harm was an impetus to the resumption of rocket fire, which us in the West acted like it happened out of no where and in isolation.

  10. goulo says:

    > “making sure that his countrymen are killed by hamas terrorists?”

    I’m trying to decide if that’s clever acerbic wit or just an unintentional Freudian slip…

    Either way, it seems clear indeed that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is indeed ensuring that Israelis will continue to be killed by Hamas terrorists. I’m not saying terrorism is justified, but if you treat people like shit, expect to get shit back.

    If some foreign power invaded the US and occupied it and treated US citizens the way Israel has been doing for decades, a lot of US citizens would sure be going on killing sprees.

    (Hell, plenty of US citizens go on killing sprees without any particularly compelling provocation…)

    (And plenty of the same US citizens who currently criticize Hamas
    would be praising US citizens who attacked back by whatever means they found necessary/appropriate in a hypothetical US occupation “Red Dawn” type-scenario.)

  11. Demosthenes says:

    I didn’t say that.

    Reading glasses broken?

  12. News Nag says:

    But professers endorsing policies that directly result in genocidal attacks on Palestinians would be okay with you, right? Shallow hypocrite!

  13. News Nag says:

    And you don’t have a right to speak in a public forum because you are against free speech. How’s that suit ya?

  14. News Nag says:

    John’s tries to be very fair, but when he says he’s “in the middle” on the Middle East (assuming he means Palestine and Israel), it’s hard to accept that he doesn’t come to his position with an unaware preconceived bias toward the country with the only real power between the two, the power that controls the dialogue and the actions through violent manipulation and Machiavellian-caliber deceit. There’s a lot he doesn’t see that’s going on. Israel knows how to exploit the good nature of even the best-intentioned people, and John falls into that trap in my opinion.

  15. Naja pallida says:

    A PhD in the field is not a reasonable basis on which to teach a subject?

  16. Merdiadman says:

    Lots of people say inflammatory things. The very idea of free speech is to make sure people can say inflammatory things. So what is your point?

  17. Merdiadman says:

    Your post is extremely racist John and that is the problem here. When did a Palestinian strap a bomb to a chest and blow up a plane? How is ISIS even in the same comment about the Palestinian freedom movement? You conflate them in an exercise of racism, pure and simple. Whether or not one group was oppressed in the past is no justification for oppression now. How can you, as a self proclaimed intellectual, even make that reference? And where are Jews oppressed today? Being the subject of discrimination by bigots does not equal oppression.

    There are people, people John, human beings, who are living under occupation and constant humiliation and oppression. This isn’t Oppression Olympics, this is about trying to find a solution. From your comments, it appears you side with the militaristic security state view that all people need to just shut up and live under the rule of whoever their occupier is. In this case, it seems you agree with the aggressive Zionist view that the very existence of Palestinians is inconvenient and they should all just go away.

    If I’m wrong, then answer my question. What should the terms of the final deal look like and who has responsibility for making the offer public? Or is your view that the occupied people who have no weapons share the same blame as the occupier prevent you from even engaging in the through process of finding a solution?

  18. Jay Benet says:

    The problem with Salaita’s tweets is that they are inflammatory. Consider the tweet about having all settlers go missing. I can see some people, some students perhaps, interpreting this as licence to violence. All this before he even got tenure. This is not about an obnoxious professor, but about a dangerous professor.

  19. When the smaller boy in the playground straps a bomb on his girlfriend and blows your mom’s plane up at 35,000, then yes, he shares some of the blame for why the bigger boy doesn’t like him.

    One could argue that Jews being nearly extermined in the early 1940s, and 3,000 years of oppression, make them “little guys” too. And the state of Israel has not felt wholly secure since its founding, so that as well makes it the smaller boy, in terms of the larger battle it feels it is fighting.

    And is ISIS the smaller boy too?

    Perhaps because I’ve learned international relations through my travels, and through a course of study that did not focus on theory, but rather focused on practical case studies, I’ve never been one to let theory “prove” my point. I find it interesting, and perhaps illuminating, but not per se prima facie proof of anything.

    I just disagree at a very basic level with anyone who feels that one side holds the lion’s share of the blame on this issue.

  20. Merdiadman says:

    I am certainly not someone that would say the Palestinians are free of any blame or act like boy scouts. What I am suggesting is the primary point left our of Western discourse; the Israelis hold all the power. While the smaller boy in the playground that continues to fight the biggest bully is not free from blame, he is not the party we would hold primarily responsible.

    Here is the very simple question I would like every Israeli cabinet member and ambassador to answer. Without an answer to this question, the rest of the conversation is useless.

    Q: What are the terms of the final deal you would offer to the Palestinians?

    You see, this is very simple. Israeli is in control. I have no issue whatsoever if the condition a state on revising the Hamas charter or a land swap or whatever. But as the party in power they have to tell the world what those terms would be. All the debate and blame game is meant to distract from that fundamental question because the Israeli government doesn’t want to answer it.

    Before someone says that Israel offered Arafat a Palestinian state in 2000, that is patently false. I challenge anyone to produce a document to the contrary. What they offered Arafat was surface control over roughly 90% of the then unsettled West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Israelis would keep control over all airspace, water, minerals, archeology, borders, international treaties that affect these things and military contracts. Hardly a state.

  21. I appreciate the strong views on each side, but when people pretend that one side has done all the violence, with zero provocation over the decades, while the other has been acting like Boy Scouts, I think they do a disservice to the truth, and to any real effort to resolve this decades-long conflict. The chicken-and-egg nature of this conflict is what makes it so intractable.

  22. Ferdiad says:

    This thread is a classic example of those in power setting the
    boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not. There is no question
    that Salaita was terminated because of speech. None. He was already
    offered the job. His speech was the reason that job was taken away from

    Subjugated people all over the world and throughout history
    always have to deal with this dilemma. Just look at the Palestinian
    cause itself. If you are a person who supports a two state solution,
    when will that second state be delivered? And how do the Palestinians
    achieve it? If they take the “civil” course of action they should enter
    negotiations and wait 60 years or more. But what happens when the
    Israelis act “uncivil” and take land and disposes people of their homes?
    The answer is that the Palestinians are supposed to continue to be
    “civil” and just keep negotiating. Just like Ferguson is supposed to
    be “civil” and stay in their homes, shut up and let the justice system
    do nothing about the killing of a teenager. Besides, the Israeli
    government has told us a two state solution will never happen. So why

    start with some facts that no rational person can dispute. Israel is
    the much stronger power in this conflict. Isreael has the best weapons
    money can buy. Israel is the occupying power. Israel controls the
    land, air and sea surrounding Palestinian populations. Israel has the
    power to decide at any moment whether or not Palestinian people have
    freedom (either in the form of their own state or within Israeli
    society). In the latest attack on Gaza, more than 2,000 civilians were
    killed, including more than 500 innocent children. On the other side,
    68 soldiers were killed and three civilians. There is not other
    conflict in the history of mankind where progressives would even attempt
    to justify the actions of the much larger military power
    disproportionately murdering so many of its occupied population of
    civilians. None.

    So back to Salaita. Why are his tweets
    distasteful, but the killing of 2,000 people isn’t? Why are his tweets
    so distasteful that he is denied a job at a state funded University, but
    the states sends hundreds of millions of dollars to Israel while it is
    killing 500 children? Why is that not so distasteful so as to draw the
    ire of this blog? You see, that is the is the point of all this. Those
    in power get to decide what is “obnoxious” and what isn’t. It is
    hypocritical to criticize Salaita for saying that it shouldn’t shock
    anyone if Netanyahu showed up wearing a necklace made of Palestinian
    children, but then remain silent as Netanyahu actually does order the
    military strikes that kill 500 Palestinian children. Salaita’s tweet is
    actually brilliant in this respect and is terrific speech. It exposes
    this exact hypocrisy. Those in power actually have the capabilities of
    ordering the death and destruction of an entire population with the
    stroke of a pen. But those people are “civilized.” The opposition and
    resistance are left with homemade rockets and some brave supporters who
    make “uncivilized” tweets.

    But if you look deeper, Salaita is
    spot on. If you are sympathetic to Palestinian freedom movement, why
    would it shock you if Netanyahu showed up with the teeth of Palestinian
    kids? If you are part of the power structure, that statement offends
    you but the actual death of kids and elimination of entire families
    doesn’t. At least not enough for you to say or do anything about it,
    but you Will do something about a single professor that wants to speak
    his mind.

    I was taught in college once that the last socially
    acceptable form of racism is against Arabs. That is playing out here.
    There are lots of commentators, professors, politicians and writers that
    regular say offensive things about Arabs, Arab society, Palestinians
    and their movement, but nothing happens to them. Just the other day in a
    major news outlet there was an article about how Arab civilization has
    completely failed. But the article failed to even explore the fact that
    Western policy might be a contributing fact. The implication is that
    Arabs themselves are failed people = racism.

    If we want to look
    at what is civilized and what isn’t, we need to explore Salaita’s point
    about Zionism. I’m less interested in that word, as I think it is a
    distraction, but his point is well taken. Whatever word we want to use,
    there is a movement inside (and with support from outside) Israel that
    is a far right wing religious movement that is grounded in racism. This
    movement has a stranglehold on Israeli politics. It is extremely
    uncivil, but that is rarely explored in Western media. Instead, we fire
    professors. But in Israel, when a professor makes a simple statement
    of condolence for the people killed in Gaza he is censured. If Salaita
    has simply tweeted 50 times “Israel is a violent oppressive state,” he
    would have faced the same fate. Lets face it, he was terminated for
    speech and his strong message against Israel, not because of any
    particular word he used. He is an activist for a cause, what else do
    you expect him to focus on? That is like saying a professor that
    advocates for action on climate change is unfit for service to teach
    because she constantly tweats about the negative effects of global
    warming. Hogwash. This is about censorship. Plain and simple.

    Take a look at the following if you want to educate yourself. Then,
    ponder what is civil and what isn’t. The real shame here is the most
    people (especially American Jews) have no idea what is really going on
    there. If they did, they would be appalled. That is why the Israeli
    war machine supporters are so focused on making the diaspora believe
    that Palestinians simply want to kill all Jews. It is the only tool
    they have to keep people distracted. And to be clear, if you think this
    is all about Jews, you are very wrong. The Zionist (if you want to use
    that word) supporters are much more diverse than that. It includes the
    world military/security establishment and some Arab states. In
    particular, Saudi Arabia. The last thing the Kingdom wants is a
    flourishing Arab democracy on its doorstep. Think about the shock waves
    that would send through the autocratic US sponsored Arab world.

    is a mob chanting for the death of kids in Gaza and publicly calling
    for the death of an Arab Knesset member. If this happened in the US,
    how would we react? In Israel, nothing happened to this group. In
    fact, the police protected them.

    Here is the racism that is infecting many segments of Israeli society.

    Don’t take it from me, what is going on, here it is in the words of Israeli leaders.

    Finally, for a good understanding of what is happening, watch this.

  23. BrandySpears says:

    “Gays are partly to blame when people say homophobic shit”.
    No, he doesn’t have a right to a job at a publicly funded school.

  24. Hatfield says:

    This is what I found for his CV:


    Ph.D., Native American Studies; Theory and Modernity, University of Oklahoma, 2003

    MA, English, Radford (Va.) University, 1999

    BS, Political Science, Radford, 1997


    Associate Professor, Virginia Tech, 2009-14

    Assistant Professor, Virginia Tech 2006-09

    Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, 2003-06


    Modern Arab American Fiction: A Reader’s Guide, 2011

    Israel’s Dead Soul, 2011

    The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims, and the Poverty of Liberal Thought, 2008

    Arab American Literary Fictions, Cultures, and Politics, 2007

    The Holy Land in Transit: Colonialism and the Quest for Canaan, 2006

    Anti-Arab Racism in the USA: Where It Comes From and What It Means for Politics Today, 2006


    If this is correct, there is no basis at all for hiring him in Native American studies, let alone even being considered for the job. Is the barrel that empty?

  25. Demosthenes says:

    Excellent comment. The only reason people fight to get into the “Upper Ivies” are prestige in the degree and future contacts.

  26. reno_expat says:

    I find that less troubling. To me, the marginal product of Harvard and Yale isn’t students educated, it is knowledge produced by the faculty. The faculty there are not tenured for their teaching evals, but for the work they produce when they are not teaching. The education isn’t necessarily better. World class researchers are not always world class instructors. There is obvious value in the brand on the diploma and in graduating with a wide network of friends who also have that cache of being Harvard or Yale graduates, but selling off those spots in the freshman class to the highest bidder does not undermine the research portion of the university.

  27. Basil says:

    Here is a better analysis of Salaita’s tweets. To label him as anti-Semetic is just not supported by the facts (Salaita made me aware of Macklemore’s anti-Semetic stunt — that’s a disappointment to say the least!). To say that he is anti-Zionist is obviously true, and there should be no problem with that. It’s pretty rare to meet Palestinian-Americans who are pro-Zionist, since that would be asking them to legitimate their own dispossession. To conflate the two is both dangerous and intellectually dishonest, although on both sides of Israel-Palestine issues do it with depressing frequency.

    The issue is much broader than Israel-Palestine or anti-Semitism. It is an issue of academic freedom and governance, and the role of donors in editing scholarship or selecting professors. U of I has no set a precedent for say, the Koch Brothers, to block the appointment of a biologist who wants to study the impact of climate change on say bird migration patterns, or maybe a climatologist studying frequency of hurricanes. This cuts across a lot subject areas in the Humanities, Social Sciences and Life Sciences. The implications are pretty dire for higher education – when has scholarship not been controversial?

    Secondarily, there is an issue of the way this was done — the man had a signed contract, left his previous tenured job at University of Virginia and sold his house. There are significant legal questions, involving his free speech rights, and whether a public university can fire him for that (I’ve read some analysis that says that U of I overstepped its boundaries, but we will know in this next year or so, as this is almost certain to go to court). Here is the link:

  28. Demosthenes says:

    Indeed. That is why we see the stupid progeny of donors get into Harvard, Yale, etc.

  29. reno_expat says:

    The subsidiary point is a part of the problem. It would be outrageous to have an oil company use donations to control faculty of a climatology department. I don’t really see this any differently. At its base level, a donor is using their money to control the debate on campus.

  30. Demosthenes says:

    Mr. Aravosis: I enjoyed this article and have a similar dilemma. Like you, I’m a graduate of Illinois and a fellow Hellene. The balance of interests here, I believe, favor not offering a position to this man. A state university is more than a place of teaching. It’s a publicly funded and highly visible member of the community. If Dr. Salaita had his (offensive) views and didn’t publicize them in the most offensive way possible, I would argue in his support. But he is loudly and openly arguing what I believe to be highly offensive anti-Semetic points. His lack of discretion not only shows immaturity (as you correctly state), but a flash temper and and an abject lack of common sense. If he were retained, you can be guaranteed that Dr. Salaita would, again and again, embarrass his employer and, I think, become political football. It’s best our alma mater has acted now.

    A subsidiary point — which is why I note it separately. Illinois’s state funding is declining, so it is increasingly forced to seek donations. Dr. Salaita teaching there would make donors hesitant to give. Don’t think for a second that this didn’t factor into the decision.


  31. Sean says:

    What would be the proper response if Eich had given money to a group attempting to legalize slavery in the U.S.?

  32. Dr. Death says:

    When you have a person who has so much outright hatred & venom about a given international situation (?) how can you trust him to honestly teach a class about an unrelated subject without some of that personal hatred “spillover”?

  33. Hatfield says:

    Has he written books on his area of expertise? Is he a big deal in Native American studies?

  34. reno_expat says:

    Correct. Ignorance is no excuse. So what are you talking about? This is an insane straw man argument. He was not randomly selected for this job. His application was considered against all other applicants, he then gave a job talk in the department and the appointment was voted first by a hiring committee within the department and then by the entire department (although based on the recommendations of the hiring committee). If he had “no significant scholarship” and was not an appropriate hire for this department I’m fairly certain that someone within the department would have spoken up at some point in the process. Trying to dismiss the man as unqualified is completely orthogonal to this particular debate. The man may have objectionable views, but they are frankly no more objectionable than things I’ve heard academics say about Palestinians, knowing their jobs are safe. For me, the most troubling part of this story is about universities acting like corporations.

    There are plenty of examples of people with PhDs in one field teaching in another. I can find you plenty of political scientists trained in economics or statistics departments, or members of African American Studies departments with degrees in all types of art and history. American Indian Studies is not a field with a long history and there aren’t many departments so you are naturally going to get people with all sorts of backgrounds. It is also a field that would be considered interdisciplinary. It would be insane to expect a single person to be a specialist in art and writing and history and every other facet of the field. We don’t expect literature professors to be experts in all fields of literature, they specialize in something narrow like 19th century Russian literature, so it is absolutely appropriate to consider an English PhD who writes about indigenous peoples as a candidate for a job in AIS.

  35. Mark_in_MN says:

    Justification, it seems to me, is about whether or not it’s correct or if we see it as morally or ethically acceptable. But that’s a matter on which people can justly disagree, that is, it is a matter open for debate. Saying that it was disgusting is a matter of personal opinion and tastes, not an objective statement of fact. Where do we draw the line on when such judgements, opinions, and matter of taste become reason to fire someone (or rescind an offer that was already made and accepted), and when it does not?

    Perhaps the statement of the American Historical Association is apropos here:

    “The First Amendment protects speech, both civil and uncivil. It does so for good reason. The United States made a wager that democracy can flourish only with a robustly open public sphere where conflicting opinions can vigorously engage one another. Such a public sphere rests on the recognition that speech on matters of public concern is often emotional and that it employs a variety of idioms and styles. Hence American law protects not only polite discourse but also vulgarity, not only sweet rationality but also impassioned denunciation. “Civility” is a laudable ideal, and many of us wish that American public life had more of it today. Indeed the AHA recommends it as part of our own Statement on the Standards of Professional Conduct. But imposing the requirement of “civility” on speech in a university community or any other sector of our public sphere—and punishing infractions—can only backfire. Such a policy produces a chilling effect, inhibiting the full exchange of ideas that both scholarly investigation and democratic institutions need.”


  36. Mark_in_MN says:

    Which makes me wonder how you explain the Native American Studies program hiring him? It doesn’t appear to be a case of someone else hiring him and saying he’d teach in that program.

  37. walt kovacs says:

    the supremes have been clear on the issue….giving money to a cause or pol is considered speech…so the cases are equivalent

  38. walt kovacs says:

    ignorance is no excuse

    salaita is a published author and his phd is also published

    and he has no significant scholarship in the field he was hired to teach

  39. BeccaM says:

    I essentially told you I was done interacting with you. How you took it is entirely your problem.

    Think what you like, I honestly don’t give a shit. I don’t engage in arguments simply because you’ve demanded one.

  40. BloggerDave says:

    That was your original topic, wasn’t it?

  41. Ok I’ll check it out, thanks :)

  42. If that teacher made comments about all Afrikaners being horrible people, I might be worried that the person couldn’t be unbiased when teaching an Afrikaner student.

  43. He’s not the first to discover weltschmerz. I simply don’t accept his empathy as an excuse for disgusting behavior. If that was the problem, that in a moment of grief he said something stupid, then he should have deleted it after the fact. He didn’t. Which seems to suggest he stands by it, even though the immediate anguish is gone.

    And as I said earlier, I’ve been shocked and outraged by death in the Middle East on all side for going on 4 decades. It hasn’t hardened me to it. But I also don’t react to it as if it’s suddenly the recent invention of one side in the dispute. There’s “anguish” on all sides, causing a lot of bad behavior :)

  44. JudenChino says:

    This is the best one (I linked to it in an earlier post below):

  45. DRoseDARs says:

    Aww, your ignorwance is adorwable. I just wanna pinch your wittle cheeks. <3

    Netanyahu has been a despicable Human being LONG before this latest incident…

  46. LOL ok

  47. JudenChino says:

    Why, because I engaged you respectfully and in good faith? And you essentially told me to f— off.

    So yah, if you think I’m suggesting you’re being racist then so be it. Have a nice day.

  48. JudenChino says:

    Actually, nothing justifies the Adam Lanza tweet. It was disgusting.

    Why must it be justified? He said it was a statement of anguish re: all the dead children. It’s certainly a grotesque statement but I don’t believe one should be forbidden from such statements of anguish, especially if duly triggered. Grapple with it John. Don’t just run away from it, which I believe you’re doing here:

    These are not the first civilians to ever be killed in this conflict. It’s horrible, all around — and has been for over half a century.

    Yes, but we as Americans underwrite the deaths of these civilians. That’s why I care (I also care because of my religion). I appreciate your good faith concerns and I take you to be 100% sincere. I think you should be shocked by his statements. I’d hope you reflect on why he made such statements instead of deeming him a loon and of questionable temperament. Somethings warrant outrage, anger and hyperbole.

  49. Actually, nothing justifies the Adam Lanza tweet. It was disgusting. And the kind of broadbrush simplistic animus that he appears to evidence throughout his ongoing social media tirade.

    And the thing is, I care about children being killed on all sides. About planes being blown up mid-air, and innocent people plunging 35,000 feet, alive part of the way down to their certain deaths. And lots of other atrocities. These are not the first civilians to ever be killed in this conflict. It’s horrible, all around — and has been for over half a century.

  50. Do you have the link to Corey Robin’s piece?

  51. BloggerDave says:

    I agree but the fact remains that the foreigners you’re talking about are not trying to get a job as a college professor…

  52. BeccaM says:

    I’m done interacting with you, if the last comment did not make it clear.

  53. JudenChino says:

    Do you believe a black professor who was boycotting South Africa would have a hard time teaching White Students? How about teaching an Afrikaner student?

  54. JudenChino says:

    It’s because he speaks flawless English. Our press venerates him likes he’s a Meet the Press understudy for John McCain.

  55. BeccaM says:

    Care to share the steps in your logic to reach such conclusion?

    Actually, no.

  56. Sean says:

    I was thinking about that too! For instance, would I support a professor who said the Nazis were right to gas the Jews? No. How can I defend that position? Where does a liberal, secular-humanist draw the line? What I can come up with now is: I oppose any ideology that defines one group of people as inherently better than others. And which supports and justifies unequal rights and/or discrimination and violence against “inferiors.” – Your thoughts?

  57. reno_expat says:

    I will not comment on the quality of his academic work. I am not qualified. I study a tangentially related social science field and know nothing of American Indian Studies. I know enough about my own field to know that no one should care what anyone outside of his field has to say about his scholarship.

    As an academic, the issue wasn’t that he wasn’t hired. If you don’t want to hire the guy because of his online presence, by all means, do not hire the man. The issue that is problematic here is that he was hired (with all of that information out there) and then the administration went back on it. He had tenure at Virginia Tech that he resigned in order to take the job at Illinois. The U of I somehow did not have procedures in place to vote his tenure before he left his old job and expected him to work for several months without formally possessing his job because the board of trustees had not voted it. It is also troubling that his peers in AIS wanted to hire him and the chancellor changed her mind under pressure from the development office without consulting anyone on the academic side. As a third generation academic, ours is a system that often neglects reasonable bureaucratic processes and functions on a lot of pro-forma votes. If I was in a position to weigh a job offer from U of I at this point, I have a much stronger reason to not trust them and I certainly would not do anything that would require me to resign tenure at another institution. This makes the acquisition of senior scholars orders of magnitude harder than it already is. Corey Robin did a wonderful job writing about the point of view of working academics over at his blog

  58. It’s the old “I oppose a witchhunt, but what do you do when they actually catch a witch?” problem ;-)

  59. JudenChino says:

    They also didn’t ooze venom from every pour every time gays came up in discussion. His entire online persona that I’ve seen oozes. And that gives me pause.

    Well over 500+ children were killed. I think that’s relevant for the Adam Lanza tweet, no? You seem to be more bothered by the tone of his tweets, than what gave rise to them. You may think that’s unfair of me, but I believe that’s an accurate statement. I think the unnecessary deaths of 500+ children with the full backing of my country, to be worse than “venomous tweets in response.”

    Are there times when outrage and/or hyperbole may be warranted, like at a time when a literally captive (borders are closed) native population is being slaughtered with the full support of the US media/political elite and such violence has been perpetrated on such captive and occupied peoples for over 40 years?

    Have you even seen the pictures of Gaza? Looks like Dresden. I’m surprised he was so calm.

  60. +1 I’m not sure that I like that they fired him, but after reading his Twitter feed and Facebook page, I also think they were probably right about him. So it divides me :)

  61. Sean says:

    You raised some excellent questions by bringing up the Eich/Mozilla case. Eich was giving money to keep civil rights away from fellow citizens he is prejudiced against – so I’m still for him getting tossed out. Salaita, on the other hand, has a controversial opinion about a foreign policy issue – I don’t think that’s cause for him to be fired from a University. It’s important that Universities provide a haven where unpopular opinions can be expressed. Having said that, however, I disagree with Salaita, and suspect he’s a bit of a bigot and hypocrite.

  62. Mwah :)

  63. He comes across, to me, like a bit of a nut. And it’s not his positions, it’s the way he presents his positions, which is a huge difference. My parents weren’t for gay marriage either. They also didn’t ooze venom from every pore every time gays came up in discussion. His entire online persona, that I’ve seen, oozes. And that gives me pause.

  64. JudenChino says:

    Me: Why do you think he’d be unfair to an observant orthodox Jew?

    BeccaM: Because I read the tweets, that’s why.

    I read them too and it’s not self-evident to me why he’d be unfair to an orthodox and observant Jewish student. Care to share the steps in your logic to reach such conclusion?

    And to be clear, I don’t read him as someone with an animus against Jews. I read him as someone who has animus against Israel, which, is a colonial-settler state, and which I’d expect a NA studies prof to reflexively be against, and especially a Palestinian-American NA studies prof.

  65. Yes, and no. To play devil’s advocate, I sometimes get annoyed when foreigners play either the “all you Americans to blame for George Bush,” or on the contrary when they try to claim that we’re not to blame for something our govt did, when in fact most of us supported the govt at the time (going into Afghanistan, I suspect, was quite popular at the time). So, there’s something to be said for sometimes the people are equally guilty, as it were, in supporting govt policy. Having said that, he clearly has a visceral problem with Israel, Israelis, and anyone who supports or defends them.

  66. FLL says:

    Salaita is not the only person who points out that Israel, since its founding, has conflated the State of Israel with Jewishness. You and I and most people acknowledge that historical reality. The founders of Israel no doubt felt it necessary to conflate the two concepts in order to establish a safe haven for Jews immediately after WWII. The disadvantage is that conflating those two concepts causes Jews in general to be targeted by those who oppose Israeli government policy, even though there are many Jews who aren’t Zionist at all. I don’t there is any solution to that particular Catch-22. The dilemma is an intrinsic part of the existence of a Jewish state.

    Something of the same dilemma exists in the religious sphere. Christianity, Islam and Buddhism all actively seek new converts regardless of race or ethnic background. Even Hinduism, which only sporadically seeks new converts, has always openly welcomed new converts who are not of East Indian background (such as Westerners). Judaism stands almost alone as something which is primarily (or almost entirely) the religious experience of an ethnic group. Once again, this is a conundrum without a solution. Does this warrant the criticism that is often directed toward Judaism, e.g., that Judaism is an ethnic/nationalistic cult masquerading as a religion? Or could the same criticism be directed toward Native American religion, since it likewise the exclusive religious experience of Native Americans? What then is the difference between the exclusivity of Judaism and Native American religion? Only a difference in present-day military and economic power? I suspect that if you ask ten different people, you’d get ten entirely different answers.

  67. BeccaM says:

    …he tends to extrapolate to all Israelis, and all supporters of Israel.
    Though this is a larger issue than just him. His Tweeter feed, and his
    use of the word “zionist” (as a slur, in essence) to include,
    apparently, anyone who doesn’t agree with him…


  68. BeccaM says:

    Because I read the tweets, that’s why.

  69. BeccaM says:

    That’s because you’re a reasonable man, John.

  70. JudenChino says:

    Why do you think he’d be unfair to an observant orthodox Jew?

  71. JudenChino says:

    One person’s passion is another obsession, right? The fact that he, a Palestinian-American, made these remarks at a time that Gaza was getting pummeled (with the full support of the America political/media apparatus) is some what relevant, no?

    In fact, I shared many of the same sentiments. Reading the line re: “Z’s if your dream of an ethnocentric state requires killing children, just own it already” — that really effected me! As a liberal American Jew, I really struggle with my “support for Israel.” And that critique, really gets me. Does this Israel I’ve been raised to love and hold dear . . . do they need to slaughter the natives to achieve the promised land?

    And why are you surprised that the University hired him? They’ve been ramping up a comparative indigenous studies program. Salaita, I understand, focused on comparison of treatment of indigenous peoples in Palestine and the US. His scholarship was considered excellent and the Provost (top Academic officer at UIUC) said:

    The uniqueness of his scholarship on the intersection of American Indian, Palestinian, and American Palestinian experiences presents a rare opportunity to add an esoteric perspective on indigeneity to our cultural studies programs on campus


    Also, we have all sorts of people in the Academy who’ve said awful things about the LGBT community. I don’t think, despite my disagreement, such views should be disqualifying. Especially considering that opposing gay marriage was the majority view until like 2 years ago (which speaks to the importance of respecting Free Speech rights, which is relevant since we’re talking about a public Uni.). Would all people, who spoke forcefully in opposition of gay marriage, be rendered unemployable by the Academy, absent any due-process or substantive critique of their actual scholarship?

    Also, he was a tenured prof at VaTech, and he had taught their for 8 years, at which he never imposed his personal views on his students. But, so many people just think, because the guy is virulently anti-Israel/Zionism, that somehow, he wouldn’t be able to teach and engage? He’s also said tons of stuff against Antisemitism. But none of that seems to make the press pages.

    And what’s wrong with pushing the boycott of Israel. You may disagree. And that’s fine. But shouldn’t we laud efforts to reach a peaceful resolution of the Occupation, which is the primary objective of the BDS campaign. Again, you may disagree as to its merits as a tactic, but you cannot disagree that it’s a non-violent approach to end the Occupation, which last I checked, is official US policy.

  72. BloggerDave says:

    It’s speaks volumes of an academic, of all people, who is not able to differentiate the actions of a country’s government from the average citizen of that country. Even the worst of extremist groups make that distinction. This is an especially important point given that as of the last poll by the Israeli Channel 2 news site, 68% of Israelis disapprove of Netanyahu’s treatment of the people in Gaza.

  73. heimaey says:

    Yes, reading through his twitter, it looks like an obsession and something he is passionate about to say the very least.

  74. Fair point. Were such things written about gays, I’d be livid. Also, and this is one of the critiques made of him, he tends to extrapolate to all Israelis, and all supporters of Israel. Though this is a larger issue than just him. His Tweeter feed, and his use of the word “zionist” (as a slur, in essence) to include, apparently, anyone who doesn’t agree with him, is par for the course in terms of the tenor discussions of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

  75. Yes. Though Israel gets us into funny territory of demographic meets politics as it is a Jewish state.

  76. BloggerDave says:

    Imagine the tone and aggressiveness of his tweets being directed at the LGBT community and you’ll have your answer…

  77. Huh. I mean, I like to think I’d be fair to a conservative Christian kid, or a Mormon kid, if I were teaching a writing class, or a politics class, even though I’ve been critical of their religion’s political activism. As strongly opinioned as I am, I try to reserve an objective core. It doesn’t mean I don’t reach conclusions, but I’m willing to change my mind if the evidence, the facts, change, or new evidence arises. So a part of me doesn’t trust this guy, another part appreciates that I have strong opinions too, but I really don’t think I’d hold that against a conservative Christian kid or a Mormon in class. If they’re good, and make a good arguments, even if I don’t agree with it, I’d give em an A. Having said that, his tweets and facebook posts and writings are so, as you put it, obsessive, that I’d be worried that he couldn’t be fair. But again, I’d have raised this at the beginning ,not at the end.

  78. FLL says:

    The guideline works for politics but not for demographic groups. Extreme pro- or anti-capitalism (or Israel or Russia or NATO) works at colleges. However, you can’t extrapolate that logic to demographic groups: one professor supporting civil rights and another supporting the Ku Klux Klan; or one professor teaching the history of Judaism and another teaching modern anti-Semitic propaganda.

  79. walt kovacs says:

    his lack of qualifications should have prevented steve from ever being offered the job

    he has a phd in english, has no scholarship papers in any legit journal on the field of native americans and the only book where he discusses native americans, he does so in a tangential fashion, comparing the palestinian narative to them…which is absurd on its face

    and why should academics be treated any differently than other fields?

    if i were insane enough to use my real name and my employer felt my views would hurt their company, i would have no recourse were i to be terminated or not hired

  80. walt kovacs says:

    evil because of what?

    making sure that his countrymen are killed by hamas terrorists?

  81. BeccaM says:

    Well, consider this: Suppose you were a yamulke-wearing Jewish student assigned to Salaita’s class.

    Do you think you’d get fair treatment and a fair grade from him?

  82. Well, the problem becomes “ridiculously pro-gay vs ridiculously anti-gay”, or even worse (worse?) ridiculously pro-black and ridiculously anti-black. At some point, the things are no longer equal, I would argue.

  83. He is obsessed. That’s why I’m surprised the Univ hired him in the first place. I’m still not convinced the obsession — good word for it — means they should rescind the offer. Actually, that’s a very good point. If they hired him, moved him, and then said “nuh uh,” they probably should at least compensate him.

  84. atalex says:

    As a practical matter, most of the country is employment at will absent an employment contract and/or union protections. While some academics to have heightened free speech rights under the rubric of academic freedom, AFAIK there is nothing that prevents a university from withdrawing an offer of employment made to someone who hasn’t started teaching yet and who gets embroiled in a controversy before he does. There is a long and storied history of professors having to eat shit for years before they earn tenure and thus the right to say what they really think. And given the fact that this guy had been a professor for years, I’d have thought he knew that. It didn’t help that his rhetoric was wildly over the top even by the standards of anti-Zionists.

  85. BeccaM says:

    While I think there are ample reasons to criticize Israel’s behavior and policies towards both Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors, there was one word that jumped into my mind when I read through Salaita’s tweets, comments, and remarks: Hyperbole.

    What’s funny is I kind of agree with some of his positions. But I don’t agree with his absolutism.

    Sure, Native American studies are a different topic. But as a (theoretical) student, could I trust in the objectivity of a teacher who expresses himself in such over-the-top and rather emotional rhetoric? Or is his class going to be an unrelenting barrage of “European settlers 100% evil; indigenous Native American people noble and 100% peaceful victims”?

    The main issue I take with it is his near obsession with Israel made me wonder if he has a line he can draw between information and his own opinion, between objective teaching and outraged indoctrination. Truth and nuance versus painting the entire world in black-and-white…and you don’t get to object to the color Salaita decides to paint you with.

    For what it’s worth though, if Iamlegion is correct and the UofI hired, confirmed, and moved the guy before finding a non-work reason to fire him, the onus is on them to make it right.

  86. heimaey says:

    I mean I kind of agree with a lot of what he’s saying, but what did he expect…?

  87. FLL says:

    From your post:

    I’m not sure I terribly care if there’s a ridiculously anti-Israel professor teaching a class so long as the university lets ridiculously pro-Israel professors teach as well.

    I like the guideline that you propose because it seems fair. Free speech at colleges means something to me because I teach at the college level. (But I still think of all teachers, from elementary school to post-graduate, as members of the same tribe.)

  88. iamlegion says:

    From my understanding, another thing that makes this problematic is a difference of opinion on Salaita’s employment state… The U says they “rescinded the job offer”, but it looks very much like they hired him, confirmed his position, and moved him across the country before noticing his tweets & that he was, at the time of dismissal, an actual employee and therefore entitled to a very different kind of treatment for disciplinary actions.

  89. DRoseDARs says:

    I will grant him the necklace of Palestinian children’s teeth. That’s pretty gallows humor funny and spot-on. Bibi is goddamned evil and yet is made of fucking Teflon. All that blood and nothing sticks.

© 2020 AMERICAblog Media, LLC. All rights reserved. · Entries RSS