Salaita says UI appeased ‘a few wealthy donors’ and destroyed his career

US Politics
on 19 Comments

This is now six days old, but we failed to pick it up: Steven Salaita had a dignified op-ed up at the Chicago Tribune, “U of I destroyed my career,” saying that wealthy donors to the University of Illinois acted to put the kibosh on his job when he dared to go on twitter to condemn Israel’s actions in Gaza:

In the weeks before my move [to Illinois from Virginia, in July], I watched in anguish as Israel killed more than 2,100 people during its recent bombing of Gaza, 70 percent of them civilians, according to the United Nations. Like so many others, I took to my Twitter account. I posted tweets critical of Israel’s actions, mourning in particular the death of more than 500 of Gaza’s children.

A partisan political blog cherry-picked a few of those tweets from hundreds to create the false impression that I am anti-Semitic. Publicly disclosed documents reveal that, within days, University of Illinois donors who disagreed with my criticism of Israeli policy threatened to withhold money if I wasn’t fired. My academic career was destroyed over gross mischaracterizations of a few 140-character posts.

This is not only devastating to my family; it is a grave threat to faculty and students everywhere….

In response to the overwhelming criticism, the university and its supporters argue that, constitutional and contractual obligations aside, my challenges to Israeli government action were anti-Semitic, and my discourse on Twitter — a medium that is designed to be quick and sometimes cutting — was “uncivil.”

Such tactics are increasingly being used to silence faculty and students on campuses across the country for speaking in support of Palestinian human rights…

In taking the extraordinary step of terminating me from a tenured position, University of Illinois leadership adopted a false narrative in order to appease a few wealthy donors rather than uphold critical principles of free speech and academic freedom.

Salaita also went on Law and Disorder last week and spoke movingly about the support he’s gotten, his importance to Israel supports because he endorsed BDS, and the degree to which the “incivility” discourse about his criticisms of Israeli recalls the discourse about Native Americans in the U.S., which is his area of study. “In this case civility means acquiescence to power, and incivility equates to dissent.” On that show too, he spoke about donor pressure.

The head of the American Jewish Committee in Chicago has responded to Salaita  in the Chicago Tribune by saying that Salaita’s incivility re Israel on twitter constituted “intimidating behavior that no student, Jewish or otherwise, should be forced to confront in a university setting.”

Scholar Denise Cummins has a strong op-ed in favor of Steven Salaita up at PBS, she also talks about “wealthy donors.”

In the Salaita case, wealthy donors overrode faculty governance in order to control faculty hiring. They did this because they vehemently disagreed with the job candidate’s political beliefs as expressed on Twitter. Professors in American universities develop their own courses and select their own curricular materials. So this means that these wealthy donors exercised direct control over curricular content — what students can and will learn in the classroom — when they decided who should be hired to teach at UIUC.The Salaita case has opened up a Pandora’s box of conflicting issues in American academe. The tenure faculty are outraged that the rights, freedoms, and privileges of one of their own have been so summarily curtailed, and faculty governance so casually brushed aside. Yet they are remarkably silent when these same offenses are committed against the new faculty majority of adjuncts. Academic freedom is indeed a cause worth fighting for, a vital necessity in a free and productive society. But as these two parallel stories – the abuse of adjuncts and the fall of Salaita — so plainly demonstrate, tenure is neither necessary nor sufficient to guarantee such freedom.

This should be a moment of deep reflection inside the Jewish community. These wealthy donors are Zionists, the same people Rep. Beto O’Rourke is afraid of in El Paso. We play a central role in supporting liberal institutions because of our astounding success in the United States. Yet our community is wholly identified as Zionist, in fact the American Jewish Committee was once anti-Zionist and now it is completely Zionist, meaning that it hushes any criticism of a foreign country; and so a passionate Palestinian intellectual, Steve Salaita, can set off a panic in the fundraising offices of a major university with a few angry, witty, brilliant tweets. And lose his job. Is that the kind of power we want? No. We want to exercise power with our brains, with our young social justice activists, with our fresh brave universalists.

 

 

 

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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19 Responses

  1. JLewisDickerson
    October 5, 2014, 3:26 pm

    RE: “This should be a moment of deep reflection inside the Jewish community. These wealthy donors are Zionists . . . our community is wholly identified as Zionist, in fact the American Jewish Committee was once anti-Zionist and now it is completely Zionist, meaning that it hushes any criticism of a foreign country [Israel] . . .” ~ Weiss

    JUSTICE LOUIS BRANDEIS ON THE RIGHT OF FREE SPEECH:

    • “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” ~ Whitney v. California, 1927

    • “No danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is an opportunity for full discussion. Only an emergency can justify repression.”

    • “Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burned women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.”

    • “The constitutional right of free speech has been declared to be the same in peace and war. In peace, too, men may differ widely as to what loyalty to our country demands, and an intolerant majority, swayed by passion or by fear, may be prone in the future, as it has been in the past, to stamp as disloyal opinions with which it disagrees.”

    SOURCE – lhttp://quotes.liberty-tree.ca/quotes_by/justice+louis+d.+brandeis

    P.S. EXCERPT: “. . . In 1890, Louis D. Brandeis and Samuel D. Warren noted in the Harvard Law Review that incursions into people’s lives – smutty rags, yellow papers, and the telegraph – had all done their bit to encroach on privacy. ‘The press is overstepping in every direction the obvious bounds of propriety and decency. Gossip is no longer the resource of the idle and the vicious, but has become a trade.’ Through tight reasoning and analogy, the able jurists decided that grounds for a civil wrong in breaching privacy might be found. Since then, it has become part of American law and that of the European Union. . .”
    SOURCE – http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/06/13/the-aclu-privacy-and-obama/

  2. amigo
    October 5, 2014, 3:28 pm

    “The university maintains that Salaita didn’t yet have tenure because he hadn’t started the job, and the trustees have stood behind the chancellor, saying the school “values civility as much as scholarship.”

    How about a new TV show!!!.

    “University Civility Challenge”.

    Bugger the truth and morality.Lets just be civilised liars and apologists for war crimes and land theft.

    • pabelmont
      October 6, 2014, 11:21 am

      CIVILITY IN ACADEME? He sent tweets to his prospective class’s students? To the university’s students? No, to the world and not particularly to UIUC. How can they get away with claiming he was incivil in the academic setting, striking fear into the hearts of (UIUC) university students?

      pfui.

  3. yonah fredman
    October 5, 2014, 4:02 pm

    If Jews who support Israel’s existence are having a tough time dealing with the Gaza war, to expect them to make the effort to come to Salaita’s defense is a bit much.

    The fact that a wealthy few are pushing their weight around against Salaita is their right as wealthy donors. The pushy rich Jews are being pushy on the issue of someone who was uncivil.

    It’s messy and embarrassing, but it really isn’t major except to Salaita and to academic freedom for the semi hired and untenured.

    Gaza is beyond messy and embarrassing. Maybe this war was “necessary” in the same way that the Yom Kippur war was “necessary” as creating a new reality that led to peace between Egypt and Israel and by the perceived necessity of Lebanon War II, because it has led to 8 plus years of standoff between busy Hezbollah and (busy?) Israel. Maybe the Fatah Hamas reconciliation can lead to a situation that Israel will let Gaza thrive or at least survive on a higher level than the siege of the last decade. Optimism? (Is the glass half full or only a tenth full?)

    I suppose people who are less conflicted have both barrels of their shotgun ready to shoot at everything about the Zionists, Salaita included. But it’s not a major story to me.

    • amigo
      October 5, 2014, 4:24 pm

      “I suppose people who are less conflicted have both barrels of their shotgun ready to shoot at everything about the Zionists, Salaita included. But it’s not a major story to me. “- JF

      Of course it s not major to you.It,s only major if Jews are on the receiving end.

      • Mooser
        October 6, 2014, 7:56 pm

        “But it’s not a major story to me.”

        Oh, for sure, Yonah. It was only worth five paragraphs of muttering.

    • Mooser
      October 6, 2014, 8:01 pm

      “I suppose people who are less conflicted have both barrels of their shotgun ready to shoot at everything about the Zionists”

      C’mon, Yonah, you’re slipping! You couldn’t manage ‘all their rockets ready to rain down on everything about Zionism’? Rockets, Yonah, that’s the ticket! Raining rockets.

  4. Philip Munger
    October 5, 2014, 4:50 pm

    …..and the degree to which the “incivility” discourse about his criticisms of Israeli recalls the discourse about Native Americans in the U.S., which is his area of study. “In this case civility means acquiescence to power, and incivility equates to dissent.”

    To those of us who have worked and collaborated closely with Native Americans, or lived in villages or larger communities with large or predominantly Native American populations, this rings with deep resonance. He is absolutely right.

    UIUC may have done Prof. Salaita irreparable harm, but I have a hunch his best scholarly work lies ahead of him.

  5. JLewisDickerson
    October 5, 2014, 5:17 pm

    RE: “Salaita says UI appeased ‘a few wealthy donors’ and destroyed his career”

    Support Steven Salaita via Fundly

    MAKE A DONATION
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    $17,489 RAISED (USD)
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    Internationally respected scholar and teacher Steven Salaita needs your help in the aftermath of his firing by UIUC.
    LINK – https://fundly.com/support-steven-salaita

  6. Keith
    October 5, 2014, 6:09 pm

    “…University of Illinois leadership adopted a false narrative in order to appease a few wealthy donors….”

    I seriously doubt that Salaita’s termination was done to appease “a few wealthy donors.” These few wealthy donors may have instigated the action, and be the public face of this effort, however, I suspect that his termination had the overwhelming support of the prevailing power structure which is apparently sending a message concerning the limits that academic dissent will be tolerated. Is it a coinicidence that Obama has prosecuted more whistle blowers than all previous Presidents combined? Surveilance, prisons, militarized police, our society is rapidly becoming more authoritarian, more coercive. All of this in anticipation of civil disobedience as society collapses under the weight of neoliberal globalization. Salaita is but a small part of a big picture. Stick your neck out and get your head chopped off.

  7. DaBakr
    October 5, 2014, 10:43 pm

    the i/p conflict has now become a full blown proxy war fought amongst leftist pro-=palestinian/anti-zionist blogger activist and pro-zionist pro-israel , conservative activists. so Saleida shouldntbe any more surprising then was the shut-down and cancellation of A.A.Hirsi. Yes, there are differences that can be argued about each case but the sides fighting for/against can’t be denied.

    • Shingo
      October 9, 2014, 12:03 am

      I guess apartheid was another proxy war too – fought between racist supremacists and human rights advocates.

      Just like the IP conflict.

  8. Dan Crowther
    October 6, 2014, 10:19 am

    I love Phils continuing insistence on counter balancing the “few wealthy donors” with a “few wealthy non zionists”. I think Phil should be trying to empower non jews to have some backbone and tell the campus watch crowd to sit down and shut the F up. Empower the rest of us, Phil. Let us be rude and intimidating as well.

  9. jayn0t
    October 19, 2014, 10:15 pm

    “We want to exercise power with our brains, with our young social justice activists, with our fresh brave universalists.”

    I’ll say this for Philip Weiss – he doesn’t give up easily. Does he really believe it’s possible to convince the organizations of Jewish power in the USA to stop exercising power in the way that works, in favor of some other way? There was over-representation of Jews among “social justice activists” in American history – but that was when it was in their interests!

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