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Letter to the editor: Ohio State should take note of Illinois professor’s firing

Professor Steven Salaita talks with a member of the press on Sept. 9 in Urbana, Ill. Salaita was fired from the University of Illinois after he posted tweets about Israeli attacks in Gaza.  Credit: Courtesy of MCT

Professor Steven Salaita talks with a member of the press on Sept. 9 in Urbana, Ill. Salaita was fired from the University of Illinois after he posted tweets about Israeli attacks in Gaza.
Credit: Courtesy of MCT

Letter to the editor:

At this very moment, a crisis that has the potential to challenge the very meaning of academic freedom, shared governance and free-speech rights is embroiling the University of Illinois — and Ohio State had better take note.

Over the last four weeks, more than 5,000 scholars across the country and the world have joined a boycott of Illinois. At least 15 Illinois academic departments have formally expressed their views that Chancellor Phyllis Wise is no longer fit to fulfill her professional duties because of her sudden and arbitrary decision to block the hiring of professor Steven Salaita from a tenured professorship in Illinois’ American Indian Studies program. His crime? “Personal and disrespectful words” (read: criticism of Israeli human rights violations) posted to his Twitter account during Israel’s brutal assault on the Gaza Strip this summer. 

The assault, misleadingly dubbed “Operation Protective Edge” by the Israeli government, was carried out with the help of U.S. taxpayer-funded bombs and munitions. By the end of the offensive, more than 2,000 Palestinian men, women and children were dead ­— about 70 percent of them civilians.

As numerous constitutional law scholars have already noted in open letters to Illinois, the civility standard by which Illinois justified its not hiring Salaita constitutes patent “viewpoint discrimination” — an unconstitutional and impermissible burden on free speech. Nevertheless, although false accusations about Salaita’s quality as an instructor and alleged anti-Semitic views have been thoroughly discredited by articles that looked at his teaching record and his tweets, he has still not been given his rightfully-earned teaching post. While pro-Israel forces and six-figure donors appear to have won the battle at Illinois (at least for now), they won’t win the war. 

People march in support of professor Steven Salaita through the University of Illinois quad on Sept. 9 in Urbana, Ill. Credit: Courtesy of MCT

People march in support of professor Steven Salaita through the University of Illinois quad on Sept. 9 in Urbana, Ill.
Credit: Courtesy of MCT

It is exceedingly ironic that in the days after the American Studies Association voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions last year, Illinois released a statement opposing such efforts, while touting its belief in “the critical importance of the ability of faculty to pursue learning, discovery and engagement without regard to political considerations.” Yet it is Illinois that is now the target of a growing boycott for its wanton punishment of Salaita for his professed political views. The strength of this boycott movement will only increase after the Board of Trustees’ recent confirmation of its decision to de-hire Salaita. The damage to Illinois’ reputation and to academic freedom has been done.

Unfortunately, the same forces working to silence pro-Palestinian voices in Illinois are taking root in Ohio. Like Illinois, in the immediate aftermath of the American Studies Association vote last year, the OSU administration issued an official statement opposing boycotts without a single ounce of student or faculty input. Though it similarly touted its commitment to academic freedom, the administration’s false pretense of speaking for OSU’s diverse student and faculty population (which the Campaign for Boycotts, Divestment and Sactions at OSU called out in its online petition) betrayed its politically-expedient conception of academic “freedom.”

As we will soon see, the arbitrary — and clearly illegal — firing of Salaita, when juxtaposed with the powerful moral statement of the ongoing Illinois boycott, will expose Wise’s concern for “civility” for what it truly is: a poorly disguised attempt to appease donors and pro-Israel external forces. We at the Campaign for BDS at OSU stand in solidarity with Salaita and oppose the ongoing repression of Palestinian and pro-Palestinian voices on campus and in the community. We encourage you to join us in our efforts to hold OSU to a broader and more inclusive conception of “academic freedom.”

Brian Yeh
Member of the Campaign for BDS at OSU
yeh.130@osu.edu

18 comments

  1. Professors have a clause in their contracts that mean they can be fired or removed from faculty for specific reasons.

    But if it was an Israeli professor, I’m sure you’d be cheering.

  2. Your article clearly reflects your own anti-Israel bias.
    1. You call Israel’s actions a brutal assault.
    A. You ignore that Hamas started the fighting by launching indiscriminate rockets trying to kill as many civilians as possible. B. Hamas is considered a terrorist org. by US, West. C. Hamas calls for Israel’s existence and killing of all Jews.
    2. You state as a fact that 70% of casualties are civilians yet you state that the professor made “alleged” anti-semitic statements.
    A. You assume that is true. That is what Palestinian authorities claims and many of their claims have been shown to be false. Israel claims that perhaps 50% are fighters. B. You do not disclose the statements made by the professor.
    3. You state as a fact Israel’s human rights violations.
    A. You ignore that the US and even the UN have stated that Hamas committed human rights violations by storing weapons in schools and fighting in civilian buildings. B. Now even UN has issued a report commending Israel on its efforts to minimize civilian casualties.
    There is much more to demonstrate your either your ignorance, naivete, bias, etc.

  3. I know you are supposed to be overly opinionated and emotional, given that it is a Letter-To-The-Editor. But if you are not even going to include the Tweets this “Professor” thought were worth sharing with the world, then your entire defense of his situation means nothing. Steven Salaita posted some extremely strange opinions to Twitter, things a sane person wouldn’t even speak to an open audience. I can understand his emotional state, but can’t understand his stupidity. He clearly does not deserve a prestigious teaching position anywhere outside the Arab world, where his comments would most likely have been applauded.

  4. The Israeli apologists are out in force on this one!
    How dare anyone have an opinion in opposition to theirs and use the freedom to speak about it?

  5. Interesting note to the academic world from the head of South Asian and ME studies at Illinois. See long quote from Jewish students, staff, alums, and faculty:

    Some of you may be concerned about applying for a job at our university because of the higher administration’s decision not to forward Steven Salaita’s appointment to the Board of Trustees because of his “uncivil” tweets of justifiable outrage over the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. His tweets prompted prominent pro-Israel donors to threaten to stop donating to the University of Illinois, and the President of the Board of Trustees, Christopher Kennedy (son of Robert Kennedy), pressured Chancellor Wise not to follow through with the appointment. As you are probably aware, some academics at other institutions have decided to boycott our campus because of this. Most people have stressed the principle of academic freedom, which is of course extremely important, but from the vantage point of the faculty here at UIUC, the violation of the principle of shared governance is just as important. I would like you all to know that many departments in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, including the Department of Religion, have voted to issue statements of no confidence in the leadership of the Board of Trustees, the President of the University of Illinois and the Chancellor of the Urbana-Champaign campus. A group of forty Jewish faculty, students, staff and alumni also sent a letter to Chancellor Wise and the Board of Trustees in support of Steven Salaita that said, “As Jewish members of this campus community, we insist that you do not speak for us in your unjust actions. In no way do Professor Salaita’s words, tweets, or presence on campus make us feel unsafe, disrespected, or threatened, as your public letter indicated. . . .” The letter protested the equation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and said that the administration is “disregarding a large and growing number of Jewish perspectives that oppose Israeli military occupation, settler expansion, and the assault on Palestine. We did not survive ethnic cleansing and carry on the legacy of our people to have our existence used to justify the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, or their unethical treatment when they speak out against the murder, violence, and displacement of their own people.” It argued that the University’s action deprived the campus of “an invaluable scholarly voice to help lead this community in a conversation about why as well as how to stop this from ever happening again.”

    The furor over this on our campus is still in full throttle and will likely not subside any time soon. As a result, faculty hiring procedures are being reviewed for probable revision, in order to avoid situations like this in the future. We are still demanding that Salaita’s position be reinstated, though I am not optimistic that that will happen. But I do believe important changes will happen. It seems that higher administration officials had no idea that they would provoke this sort of reaction.

  6. Comments above in response to mine such as “The Israeli apologists are out in force on this one!”, also reflect an anti-Israel bias, etc. The foregoing comment is simply an ad hominem attack on the author (me here) and not on the merits of my comment. The facts stated in my comment are undisputed at true.

  7. Are people who support Hamas akin to people who supported the Nazis?

    Seems to me they are.

    Nazis destroyed all the Jews of Europe. Hamas never stops talking about destroying Jews.

    Nazis depicted Jews as beneath contempt just as Hamas does. Nazis blamed Jews for all their problems and so does Hamas.

    Seems to me the only difference is Hamas does not have the military required to really kill off all the Jews of Israel. If they did have these weapons everyone knows they would use them as indiscriminately as the Nazis did.

    I wonder what sort of person supports an organization that is today’s Nazis. What moral and intellectual blindness do these Nazi worshipers suffer from?

  8. I applaud the efforts to get this professor his job. I am hopeful this will boost my chances of landing a tenured position at Illinois.

  9. sas0621, I suggest you look up what “ad hominem” means…. you seem to be giving a fine example of it in your points above.

    Nevermind actually touching on what the Israeli state has done to the Palestinians, how they control every aspect of their lives, keep them caged in, tell them how they can live, when they can live.
    I’d want to get rid of the Israelis, too, if I was forced to live under their thumb.
    The irony is ridiculous.
    If anyone is attempting to engender Nazi level thinking and actions, it is Israel.
    Their actions speak louder than any.

    But, please, lets hear the same tired arguments for Israelis justification killing women and children again… I know, I know… “they started it!”
    I’m sure you’ll convince me next time.
    *yawn.

  10. The Hasbara Network

    I see our work is paying off (internet trolls, that is…)

  11. Touchy subject…

  12. I think we should help Abbas and his dear friends and allies Hamas create a Palestinian state. Since Hamas is more popular than Abbas let’s call it Hamasistan. It could be based on all the other Islamist states. Women would have zero rights. Gays would be hung. Jews would be verboten. Non-Muslims would be killed unless they convert to Islam or pay a crippling tax that is designed just for them.

    I think this makes a lot of sense and is something college punks should march for, shout about, and pretend they care about. The world needs another Islamist state. What will we do without another one?

    In Hamasistan criminals will be punished by being tied to the back of jeeps and skinned to death on dirt roads until they die. The lucky criminals will simply be pushed off rooftops, and if they’re really lucky the rooftop will be very high.

    In Hamasistan they will blame all their problems on Israel that way the politicians can line their Swiss Vaults with endless international aid money and not be held accountable.

    In Hamasistan they will shoot rockets into Israel during rush hour and when schools get out. That’s the way they do things in Hamasistan. Then they will blame Israel for making them do it.

    Yes, this will solve all the problems just ask any leftist, liberal, dreaming moron and he will scream it at you as if there is no doubt about it.

  13. The Hasbara Network

    Arafat, you’re doing an amazing job and will be getting a raise very soon. Keep it up! 🙂

  14. Arafat! Quit spreading your peaceful messages of Islam. I’m sick of people thinking this will end with anything except death for infidels that will not accept Muslim rule in the entire Middle Eastern region thingy. Women will have rights…the right to shut up and make babies, lots of babies… Now come back to bed… Muhammad just doesn’t toss my salad as well as you can $;)%+

  15. My previous comment was deleted for whatever reason, and I would like to repost it, as I believe it to be a constructive addition to this conversation, unlike many the above comments:

    Salaita has been very publicly against Israel, both professionally and personally and the University of Illinois would have been stupid if it had not been aware of this when it offered him the position. He published “Israel’s Dead Soul” in 2011 and was still offered the position, making a strong case for the claim that he was not pushed under the rug because of his anti-Israel sentiments, but rather the specific content of the tweets during the Gaza conflict.

    You have characterized Salaita’s tweets as “criticism of Israel’s human rights violations”. I invite you to take a closer look at the some of the tweets posted by Salaita, and place yourself in the University’s shoes. Among these tweets, Salaita said, “I wish all of the *expletive* West Bank Settlers would go missing” and asked if anyone would be surprised “if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children.” He also tweeted “Zionists: transforming ‘anti-semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.” These statements are not criticism, they do not call for tweets, and, in many cases, actually call for additional violence against Israelis. If you are unable to see how a University might find these remarks (especially the one uplifting antisemitism) troubling, I have nothing further to say to you.

    Does this mean he has no right to teach students? That’s not for me to decide. But the nature of his tweets should not be misconstrued. I think this (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-salatia-university-of-illinois-zorn-oped-0914-20140912-column.html) article sums up this whole situation very well when it concludes: “no matter the tone or subject of his tweets, it remained the U. of I.’s prerogative to weigh them while his employment status was still pending. The preservation of academic freedom doesn’t require a university to seal the deal with someone it believes will be a disruptive presence on campus.”

  16. Hey guys, ready for BDS to come to Ohio State?

  17. No way! I’ll be out there boycotting BDS! They are the worst kind of hypocrites and liars.

  18. Allah,

    Point taken. Posthaste I am grabbing my AK47…on my way to practice jihad (inner struggle) so that I can meet you and 72 virgins on the other side.

    “Allahu Akbar” I screamed out as I cut off the infidel’s head.

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