IFA Response: Freedom of Speech vs. Professionalism
Two weeks ago, the New University featured an essay by some group called the Irvine Faculty Association. I don’t know who they are or if they represent every teacher at UC Irvine, but I would like to respond to their statements about Professor Steven Salaita, who was offered a post at the University of Illinois, which was later rescinded over some comments he had made relative to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
First of all, the authors conveniently left out the most egregious statement Salaita reportedly made (in a tweet), which came in the wake of the kidnapping of three Israeli teens who were later found murdered. This is the statement attributed to Salaita:
“You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not. I wish all the (expletive) West Bank settlers would go missing.”
Salaita’s explanation was that he just meant that he wanted all the Israeli settlements to close. That hardly holds water. Those three boys didn’t disappear because they had moved out of their home and moved to Tel Aviv. If that was all he meant, why say anything about who is “too refined to say it”?
Since Salaita had left his previous hire and sold his home, I expect he will eventually receive some compensation for his expenses. Having said that, I hope the university sticks to its guns. Nobody has a constitutional right to any job, and an employer can decide whom they hire — and yes, change their minds. As things stand now, the Students for Justice in Palestine, predictably, have rushed to his aid trying to arrange speaking appearances in universities around Chicago with appeals for stipends, contributions, etc. I expect we will soon see him speaking here at UCI claiming victimhood.
Salaita has his free speech rights, and nobody is calling for his arrest. Even the above statement is protected. However, when it comes to a position at a university, there should be some limit when it comes to advocating violence, kidnapping and death to certain individuals or groups of individuals. UI has apparently decided that Salaita went over the line and that some of his statements were, indeed, anti-Semitic. As for those “wealthy donors” mentioned (what university donors aren’t wealthy?), just who are they referring to?
This article is also highly overblown with cries of impingement of faculty free speech rights. Leaving aside the question of whether it is professional for teachers to use their classroom as a soapbox to indoctrinate students to their view of the world, what is there to cry about? The leftists and the pro-Palestinian crowd dominate the discourse in universities all the US. It is the other side, the conservative side, and the pro-Israel side which hardly has a voice on university campuses. The authors even have the nerve to refer to the so-called Irvine 11, who denied the Israeli ambassador to the US his right to speak without loud disruptions.
As for the statement made by UCB Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, it came in the wake of constant complaints over the past years of anti-Semitic speech and intimidation on UC campuses including UCB. The original statement itself, in my view, was weak and pusillanimous, but my impression reading between the lines was that it was a thinly-disguised plea for the pro-Palestinian lobby on campus to clean up its tactics. He should have demanded it. Then he wrote a second letter apparently because he was afraid he might have offended someone.
As for ex-Professor Salaita, if he needs a job, I suggest he team up with ex-Professor Norman Finkelstein, who is now reduced to the lecture circuit. They can do a traveling road show together.
Gary Fouse is an adjunct teacher at UCI Extension. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.