FAU claims to be firing Tracy not for his views on Sandy Hook, but because he failed to file certain disclosures regarding out-of-classroom activities. Like Paul Campos and Ken White, I smell a pretextual rat. It is almost impossible to imagine this misbehavior, if it would be punished at all, would be grounds for dismissal were it not for Tracy's public airing of his repulsive views.
In the Steven Salaita case, I took the firm position that
Yes, I think Salaita made anti-Semitic tweets, yes, I think his academic freedom was violated, no, clause "a" and clause "b" should not have anything to do with one another. Academic freedom includes the right to make anti-Semitic (or racist, or sexist, or whatever) statements; Salaita should not have been effectively stripped of his position for doing so; and he was entitled to (and I'm glad he received) a significant cash payout given that he detrimentally relied on Illinois' failure to adhere to basic academic freedom standards.One could say similar things about Tracy. His outlook regarding Sandy Hook is truly appalling, but he nonetheless retains the academic freedom to promote said views, and clause one and two of this sentence should bear no relationship with one another. Nonetheless, it is obvious that the response to this case will not parallel the Salaita case, because it was evident that the passion with which Salaita was defended was entirely unrelated to the academic freedom issues in play, and instead stemmed from the belief that Salaita's beliefs were not just "protected by academic freedom" but actually salutary on their merits (lest one think that Tracy is the exception and Salaita is the rule in terms of the ferocity of the academic response, witness the comparatively muted response to LSU's firing of Teresa Buchanan, a case where the challenged conduct seems almost ludicrously trivial).
Even though academic freedom by its nature should not depend on whether one agrees with the behavior of Tracy, Salaita, or Buchanan, it is evident that the manner in which these debates play is inextricably linked to such substantive appraisals. This is not to say that people don't "really" believe in academic freedom and were simply cynically deploying it in the Salaita case. It is not agreement with the principle, but the ferocity with which it is dependent, that varies based on how one feels about the substance. Nobody will call for boycotts of FAU or LSU, and so it is fair to say that the boycott effort against UIUC was not motivated by "academic freedom" but by a desire to defend Salaita on the substance.