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Academic freedom for me, but not for thee

The case of Steven Salaita has been covered rather extensively here at The College Fix. The professor was nixed from a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign gig after his vile anti-Israel/anti-Jewish rants on Twitter went viral.

Numerous individuals and groups have taken up Salaita’s case, mainly in the name of academic freedom. Included are Students for Justice in Palestine and the Gay Liberation Network, the American Association of University Professors, and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Interestingly, the Chicago division of CAIR — the Council on American-Islamic Relations — also expressed support for Professor Salaita, having submitted a letter to U.I. Chancellor Phyllis Wise back in August. The letter says Wise’s decision not to hire Salaita was “in direct violation of Salaita’s free speech and academic freedom rights”:

UIUC’s dismissal of Salaita because his private tweets support Palestinian rights constitutes impermissible “viewpoint discrimination” – a violation of his First Amendment rights. As a public university, UIUC is required to adhere to First Amendment and academic freedom principles that protect the rights of faculty members to “speak or write as citizens,” and to be free from “institutional censorship or discipline.” It is also obligated to protect faculty’s academic freedom to decide collectively, as a department, under a university’s bylaws, to invite a respected colleague to join the department, as we understand to have happened in this case.

Naturally, CAIR and other pro-Salaita folk characterize the professor’s tweets as benign. For example, CAIR-Chicago and Palestine Solidarity Legal Support state “The University reneged on its appointment of Salaita after pro-Israel groups complained about his social media posts critical of Israel’s human rights abuses.”

Here, again, is a sample of Salaita’s “critical social media posts”:

As I’ve already opined, a fairly objective observer would have to admit the above go beyond mere “social media posts critical of Israel’s human rights abuses.” And Salaita is still making the rounds complaining about Illinois, most recently saying “unremarkable tweets” helped cost him his job.

Now, let’s travel south to the University of Central Florida where a professor’s course on terrorism has drawn the ire of … CAIR:

The class aims to explain, “How terrorism is a communication process. How mass media, symbols, linguistic devices, e-terrorism and theoretical dimensions play a role in terrorism. How communities respond to terrorist attacks,” according to the UCF 2013-14 Undergraduate Course Catalog.

[Jonathan] Matusitz said he hopes that students leave his class with a better understanding and an increased awareness of the role of terrorism.

However, the tenured professor has received several accusations of spewing anti-Muslim hate and bigotry, many of which are linked to his public presentation, “How Culture Shapes Terrorism,” which was delivered on Jan. 31 in the Business Administration Building, according to the Nicholson School of Communication website.

In a letter to the dean of the College of Sciences, CAIR-FL wrote: “His presentations on these subjects are full of anti-Muslim bigotry in the form of hate speech, inaccuracies, sweeping generalizations and stereotypes that would mislead students to believe that all Islamic societies are nothing more than violent, hate-filled terrorist factories …”

The communication director of UCF’s Muslim Student Association, Hammad Usmani, adds that when Matusitz claims to “have nothing against Muslims” and only uses “facts and statistics” in his presentations, he “is simply backtracking on the hatred he unfairly preaches against Muslims.”

Both CAIR and Usmani called for (university) “reviews” of Matusitz’s classes. In addition, although Usmani claimed to be a “strong advocate of freedom of speech,” he said that “Matusitz should follow a higher standard of logic and evidence.”

Now, you be the judge: CAIR refers to Professor Matusitz’s lectures as “anti-Muslim bigotry,” “hate speech” and replete with “stereotypes;” however, Professor Salaita’s social media communications were merely “critical of Israel’s human rights abuses” and in support of “Palestinian rights.”

I wonder if Matusitz hadn’t yet been officially brought on board at UCF, and the school’s chancellor rejected his appointment because he/she thought his past lectures were inappropriate … would CAIR then be trumpeting academic freedom and the First Amendment?

Dave Huber is an assistant editor at  The College Fix. (@ColossusRhodey)

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.