Wednesday, April 29, 2015

AAUP: Illinois Board's Rejection of Salaita Violates Academic Freedom

Their media release is here, the full report can be read here. The gist of their position is that, once Salaita had been offered and accepted a tenured position at Illinois, he was effectively a tenured member of the faculty and entitled to due process from "summary dismissal." The board approval was widely known to be pro forma, particularly in circumstances where their approval would come after Salaita would have already begun teaching. Chancellor Wise's invocation of "civility" as a reasonable standard for dismissing a tenured faculty member is vague and unworkable; who decides what is and isn't "civil"? Finally, in the press release, the AAUP Committee Chair emphasized something absolutely correct and worth reiterated:
e. "The issue in the case has never been the content of Salaita’s message. One may consider the contents of his tweets to be juvenile, irresponsible, and even repulsive and still defend Salaita’s right to produce them.”
Having read the release and skimmed the report, I have no objections to anything of substance. The AAUP is right on this issue. One can find Salaita's tweets to be hateful, repugnant, and anti-Semitic, and nonetheless think it has no bearing on the academic freedom issue his case presents. Salaita had for all intents and purposes already been hired by the University of Illinois. It made its bed and it should of had to lie in it, even if we think the appointment itself was a mistake or the result of poor judgment. We can criticize his scholarship, and we can even criticize the decision to hire him in the first place, but academic freedom is a constraint on remedies, and here it means that the remedy of dismissing (or "unhiring") Dr. Salaita in such a belated manner should have been off the table.


miacane said...

Could we also argue that the concept of tenure itself should be in question? I'm not in favor of an adjunct-only system, but a full professorship without near-complete immunity from being fired doesn't seem to me to be ideal either.

David Schraub said...

I mean, we could (although I'd disagree) but (a) it couldn't be implemented in an ad hoc manner like this and (b) abolishing tenure because we find certain professors' opinions to bad (even justifiably so) strikes me as a terrible reason for abolishing tenure.