“A Mixed Report on Salaita Controversy”

From Inside Higher Ed comes “A Mixed Report on Salaita Controversy.” Here’s a quote from the first few paragraphs:

The University of Illinois violated key principles of shared governance and academic freedom in its review — and rejection — of the hiring of Steven G. Salaita, a faculty panel has found. The faculty panel’s report, released in December was particularly critical of the use of civility as a standard in making hiring decisions. But the panel also found that there may have been legitimate reasons to reject Salaita’s appointment with tenure to the faculty of the American Indian studies department at the Urbana-Champaign campus.

The university’s August decision not to hire Salaita — just weeks before he and his would-be faculty colleagues thought he would start teaching in the fall semester — set off a huge national debate over academic freedom, civility and the role of trustees and administrators in reviewing hiring and tenure decisions.

The university acted in response to a series of comments on Twitter that Salaita made about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — tweets that were harshly critical of Israel’s government and supporters. Salaita’s defenders have said he was punished for political speech — and that denying him a job was a violation of academic freedom. His critics have said that the tone of his comments suggested a lack of civility and tolerance for other ideas that raised real questions about whether he would be a good colleague.

Based on this summary, it seems like this is a report I would probably mostly agree with. Interestingly enough (or maybe not surprising, really), Cary Nelson is again quoted. He thinks that the faculty report gets it wrong, and he also seems to go a step further in saying that Salaita should have never been offered a job specifically because of his scholarship. Here’s the last paragraph from the article, which is a quote from Cary:

“I also believe a standard of professional care applied to his comments on social media because they were in the exact area of his research. In the course of his six books, one paired subject — the plight of Palestinians and the actions of a Jewish state Salaita regards as an example of European settler colonialism — is at the center of everything he writes. The tweets merely condense and dramatize the views expressed in his books. My own reading of those books persuades me Salaita did not exercise appropriate professional care in them either. His standards for evaluating evidence and accounting for the work of other scholars are unsatisfactory.”

I haven’t read Salaita’s work, and even though I have a little more free time right now, I’m unlikely to read it anytime soon. But this seems to be a pretty bold claim to me, one that seems at odds with someone who has so vocally defended academic free speech in his previous life and someone who I saw spoke on campus recently and who I wanted to ask some questions.