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BDS could ‘destroy academia before Israel’: Reactions to Salaita report at UIUC

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign faculty report that considered the school’s treatment of anti-Israel academic Steven Salaita, reported by The College Fix earlier this week, is getting reaction from other quarters.

Cornell law professor William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection focuses on the committee’s evaluation of the “professional fitness” of Salaita, whose scholarship is “almost indistinguishable” from his politics:

The result is that anti-Israel, pro-BDS faculty who merge their political advocacy and academic work may not be able to hide behind traditional notions of “academic freedom” to excuse their biased, unprofessional, incompetent and politicized scholarship and conduct.

This approach has major implications far beyond the Salaita case.

BDS, which itself is anti-academic freedom, may destroy academia before it destroys Israel.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education praised the committee’s strong affirmation that “civility” cannot be a hiring or firing criterion for a professor, and approved of its call for due process for professors under attack:

Under [the committee’s] analysis, Salaita’s case may hinge on whether his tweets demonstrate that he is so politically inflexible that he is unable to engage in the kind of critical thought that is necessary in his classes. In any case, though, “Salaita should be provided the opportunity to respond to any proposed findings of professional unfitness before the body concludes its proceedings.”

Inside Higher Ed has reactions from Salaita’s lawyers, Chancellor Phyllis Wise, and Salaita’s top antagonist at the school, Cary Nelson, former head of the American Association of University Professors.

The lawyers:

The committee’s report affirms what Professor Salaita has been saying all along. First, that the university had clear contractual obligations to Professor Salaita and that the board’s final sign-off was nothing more than a formality. … Third, that principles of academic freedom and constitutional protection of political speech apply to Professor Salaita’s speech.


Chancellor Wise:

I know that my July massmail has been interpreted by some as creating a speech code policy. That was not my intent at all. To the extent that it can be read as elevating civility above academic freedom, I want to make clear that I understand that my message was incorrect, and I apologize for that.


In ruling that Salaita was “more than an applicant and less than an employee,” the UIUC Campus Academic Freedom Committee has essentially punted, characterizing his employment status as undecidable and thus placing him in employment limbo. …

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.

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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