From Inside Higher Ed comes “Salaita Speaks Out” and from the CHE comes “Salaita to U. of Illinois: ‘Reinstate Me’ or Brace for Legal Fight.” Both stories are about the first public appearance/public words from Steven Salaita since he was “unhired” by the University of Illinois.
Let me just make two observations.
First, at the risk of electrocuting myself by touching what has become the third rail of academia– that is, discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict– maybe the Cary Nelsons of the world need to at least hear this guy out. Because I have to believe that being critical about Israel and defending the rights of Palestinians doesn’t automatically make you an antisemite. Here’s a quote from The Chronicle:
Mr. Salaita acknowledged that his tweets were “no doubt passionate and unfiltered,” but he challenged the university’s claim that he was uncivil.
“My first thought was that the notion of incivility is really subjective, it’s sprawling, it can mean anything in the context of what the speaker wants it to mean,” he said. “It’s also a fundamental mischaracterization of who I am as a scholar, as a teacher, and as a human being. If you read my Twitter feed in its totality, you’ll see that … I’m deeply opposed to all forms of bigotry and racism, including anti-Semitism, which I have publicly spoken against numerous times.”
Here’s a quote to add to this from IHE:
Salaita added that the 140-character remarks he made on Twitter were those of a private citizen troubled by world events using a specific social medium. He said his classroom “demeanor” was very different.
Asked if he regretted any of what he’d posted on Twitter, Salaita said: “I feel I’m able to discuss the content and the meaning of what I’ve said in these last two or three months on Twitter and I hope to be able to do that in a professional environment, and that I’m given the opportunity to participate in those kinds of conversations.”
And this leads to my second point: I have to say as someone who writes a lot of different things in the blogosphere, on Twitter, and on Facebook that do not represent who I am as a professor, I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for Salaita’s point. Let’s just set aside the political and racial weight of Salaita’s “passion” for a second: should a series of 140 character messages he posted not in his role as a professor but as a human mean the end of his career?
Boy, for my own sake (and probably for yours too), I sure hope not.
EMUTalk.org, this little site I run, is a forum/space that is a) not officially associated with EMU and is my self-declared hobby, and b) a place where we often discuss things that are critical of
the suits the administration, the Board of Regents, the athletic program, and so forth. This has occasionally generated some rather controversial and uncivil conversation. I am proud of the site, but I wouldn’t want it to be used to judge the work as a do as a professor; I certainly would not want this to be a reason for me to be fired.
Then there’s my regular “Steve Krause” social media activities. As I’ve said before, I think my own politics are pretty mainstream/milktoast, but I do express my liberal Democratic views on Twitter and Facebook on a fairly regular basis, views that conservatives often find “uncivil.” And I routinely post about what can only be called “dumb shit” on Twitter and Facebook: celebrity gossip, gross Tosh.0 styled videos, bad jokes, pop-tarts, cat videos, quizzes, photos of myself and friends where we aren’t entirely sober, etc., etc. Perhaps some of you, my fellow academics and/or Facebook friends, have some similar posts.
None of it is what I’d call controversial of course, but “unprofessional?” You bet. If we had a “civility” clause here at EMU and someone wanted me “out” for some reason, I have no doubt that I’d at least have a fight on my hands. And you know what? Most of the academics I know might have a similar problem.