Steven Salaita, the scholar of indigenous peoples who lately relocated to Illinois from Virginia only to have the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana rescind his appointment to teach because of his tweets against Zionism, has gotten strong support from Robert Farley and now Scott Lemieux, at Lawyers, Guns and Money.
Lemieux, a professor himself, is offended by this assertion by Cary Nelson, the Israel lobbyist and professor at U of Illinois who has supported his school’s president’s decision re Salaita:
a campus and its faculty members have the right to consider whether, for example, a job candidate’s publications, statements to the press, social media presence, public lectures, teaching profile, and so forth suggest he or she will make a positive contribution to the department, student life, and the community as a whole.
Lemieux says that’s a clubby criterion, making an academic appointment on the basis of who you’d like to share a drink with at your country club:
People don’t have due process protections when they’re turned down for a job, but this still doesn’t mean that “does the candidate disagree with Cary Nelson about Israeli policy too stridently?” is a criterion that any responsible hiring committee should be taking into account. The “I would choose to have him as a colleague” line gives away the show here — this is supposed to be a professional process, not a consideration of who you’d like to be sharing cognac with at the 19th hole of the country club.
Most of Nelson’s bill of particulars consist of tweets, that while they sometimes express ideas I don’t agree with in language I would be disinclined to use, can’t possibly be firing offenses. To add to this, he asks whether “Jewish students in his classes [will] feel comfortable” with his Tweets. At least here we’re talking about something (teaching) that is relevant to whether someone should be fired, as opposed to something that isn’t (whether someone disagrees with Cary Nelson’s political views too vehemently.) But leaving aside his obviously erroneous assumption that no Jewish student could agree with the substance of Salaita’s views, this is again a remarkably poor argument. First of all, as many people have pointed out, this proves too much; it’s just an argument that no faculty member should ever express a view on a controversial topic. And, second, it’s not as if this was Salaita’s first job out of a British PhD program; if he had any record of treating students who disagree with him about Israeli policy this would, presumably, come out in the evaluation of his teaching. If it didn’t, it’s not relevant.
Sensible arguments. We can only hope that this disastrous decision, such blatant evidence of the Israel lobby’s corrupting touch, is soon reversed.
Iymen Chehade, a victim of this blacklisting himself, makes a similar point in supporting Salaita:
“Academic freedom entails that professors have the right to express their knowledge about the plight of the Palestinians both inside and outside of the classroom despite the fact that it currently deviates from the dominant narrative in the United States.”