...with donations to support his legal case. I have donated and would urge others to do so. My understanding is that if legal fees are recouped, donated money will go to the Center for Constitutional Rights, a worthy organization that has been helping Salaita since this started.
I've posted a lot recently about how busy I am with the PGR. That's important context to the following.
Recently, one blogger has taken to policing my tweets and comments on blogs, in order to find material she can take out of context to try to embarrass me. (I had previously worked closely with this philosopher in assisting a victim of sexual harassment in transferring to a more civilized program, but apparently trying to help victims of actual misconduct is now less important than finding ways to humiliate someone who had the audacity to express concerns about due process in the Ludlow case, to host a discussion of the Colorado Site Visit report (after the Feminist Philosophers blog shut down all discussion of it), and to disagree on various occasions with FP philosophers on variousissues). This is juvenile, but par for the course in cyberspace.
Now two other philosophers (one of whom is closely allied with the first, and both of whom are opposed to the PGR, about which more in a moment) have posted portions of e-mails I sent to two faculty who had attacked me, but again stripped of all context. They even claim, falsely,that I made a "threat that 'things will get around'". (In fact, it was the person I wrote to who made that threat, not me, but concern for facts and context do not loom large in this pathetic affair.) They did not even have the courtesy to ask about any pertinent context before posting the e-mails.
I will supply the context here.
During the summer, after I criticized some misleading job placement ranking data, Carrie Jenkins (British Columbia) took to the web to make clear that in her view such criticism was not permissible in our profession and that, therefore, she viewed my blog post as "unprofessional and unethical," and that, in consequence, she was no longer going to treat me as a "normal or representative member of" the profession. (I learned about Jenkins's post attacking me from Catarina Dutilh Novaes.) On social media, Jenkins had long impressed me as a bit of a "sanctimonious ass" (as I said in the e-mail), and this was certainly par for that course. I sent her a sharp and derisive e-mail about her blogged threats, to which she never replied. But I did wonder, as one might imagine, in what ways she was not going to "treat me as a normal" member of the profession. But apparently our profession is so degraded that if one philosopher declares in public that she will not treat Brian Leiter "as a normal member of the profession," that's OK, and I'm supposed to say nothing.
Noelle McAfee took her PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, and was on the job market when I was placement director there. Unlike some of those on the current crusade, I am not going to disclose more details, but suffice it to say there is a lot of missing context. I will discuss here only what is already in the public record. Since getting her PhD, McAfee, who teaches now at Emory, has been a member of SPEP, including its "Advocacy Committee" (a Committee created to counteract the PGR), and has for many years made false and misleading claims about me and the PGR. I have corresponded with her off and on for years, asking her to cut it out. The straw that broke the camel's back, however, came earlier this year, when yet again she took to the Internet to lie about me and the PGR; the lies or (more charitably) misrepresentations included claiming that (1) there was a 39% drop in the number of programs that participated in the 2011 PGR compared to 2009 (McAfee can't count); (2) the 2011 PGR failed to disclose the departments that participated in the survey (McAfee apparently could not find her way around the PGR site either in order to locate the lists); (3) Emory and other departments are "refusing" to participate in the PGR (some departments request to be included, but others, including Emory, have been included at various intervals--and Emory did, in fact, once request inclusion, contrary to McAfee's false assertion); (4) the PGR reflects a sexist bias against departments with lots of women (a claim not supported by any careful analysis of the data); and (5) various false statements of fact about my professional situation. Then it turned out that, under a pseudonym, McAfee was vandalizing my Wikipedia page. As I said to her, "I am a philosopher, but I’m also a lawyer, and I’ve grown tired of malevolent misrepresentations about me and the PGR like yours. You are on notice and I hope you get the message." In fact, she got the message, since she revised many of the false statements of fact.
This is how the law works: if you say false things intended to damage someone's reputation, you have acted illegally. U.S. law gives more cover for defamers than elsewhere, but even here there are limits. In the future, I can have my lawyer send these e-mails, but I frankly thought it more gentle to write myself.
Those who posted the e-mails, without any of the preceding context, raise this as an objection to me as the "editor of the PGR." Well, I am the editor of the PGR; I am also one of the leading Nietzsche scholars in the world, a law professor, a New Yorker with limited toleration for the fools our profession breeds, a leading figure in legal philosophy, a leading philosophy blogger, a devoted teacher and mentor (defamation of me has grown so common on this score that I've taken to putting my evaluations on-line), a husband, a son, a father of three, a longstanding opponent of cyber-harassment based on gender and race, and a defender of academic freedom and the rights of everyone from Steven Salaita to John Yoo to speak freely about matters of public concern without state sanction. But those out to attack me now, both those who published the e-mails (without context) and Catarina Novaes, have made clear that this is primarily about the PGR.
So let me be clear: the PGR is a service to students, not to me. For me, it's now nothing more than a headache--both because of all the time it takes, but because it opens me up to slimy attacks by unethical and unprofessional people. It would be in my self-interest to stop publishing the PGR, but it would not be in the interests of students or the profession (well, it would be in the interest of the Emorys and other weak departments for me to stop publishing it). But since those who want to attack me are primarily motivated by the PGR, let me put it to a poll. The next two months of my life would be much more peaceful if I do not do the next PGR. What do readers think? (Sorry, had to repost this due to a technical problem--it was about 50-50 last time--here it is again.)
[Poll closed--with about 3000 votes, it was roughly 56% against, 44% in favor--given the social media campaign to mobilize anti-PGR votes, I'm surprised it was not even more lopsided]
UPDATE: A couple dozen philosophers (many friends or colleagues of Prof. Jenkins), and other longtime PGR opponents, have indicated they will not serve as PGR evaluators to protest my criticism of Prof. Jenkins. (Only a handful of them would have been invited as evaluators anyway.) Like the others, they omit all context, including that Prof. Jenkins targetted me in the first place: I did not send her an e-mail out of the blue. As a commenter "Jean" on the Feminist Philosophers blog put it:
In Leiter’s email to Jenkins you can see what got him riled up is this: “I will not accept or treat those whose behaviour regularly fails to meet these standards as normal or representative members of my profession.” This is not just a pledge to be respectful to others, but a pledge to somehow decommission violators of her norms. Since it does seem to me (from context) that she was primarily thinking of Leiter as a violator, it’s understandable that he takes this personally.
They also repeat the misrepresentation of a Twitter comment, which another philosopher put into circulation. I sent Prof. Jenkins the following letter about that:
Dear Carrie: Laurie Paul and Heidi Lockwood tell me you were upset by the Twitter exchange from the other day. I am genuinely sorry for upsetting you, it was, truly, the opposite of my intention. May I please try to explain what I thought was going on?
Tim Crane and I had a series of back-and-forths on Twitter about the contested Nietzsche review, which he had commissioned for TLS. He needled me, and I needled back. I posted his comment in defense of the review on my Nietzsche blog, and he quipped that I would now call him a charlatan (I told him he was only a charlatan when it came to wine expertise in a separate tweet). You weighed in with a tweet that I took to mean, "Don't worry, Brian calls lots of people charlatans, including me." I thought that was funny and a friendly gesture, so I replied to say, "Well, I did once call you a sanctimonious arse, but never a charlatan, and in any case, I don't dislike you and know there are lots of good things about you." Unfortunately, that's more than 140 characters.
Now as you know several months ago I did send you an intemperate e-mail, which I regret sending, but it was in response to something you had done which really upset me. I read your "pledge" back then (as did Catarina at NewApps, from whom I learned about it) as directed at me and as saying: "I am not going to treat Brian Leiter as a normal member of the profession." I found that very offensive at the time. I should have cooled off for 24 hours, but instead I sent you an intemperate e-mail. I learned you then put it into public circulation, so I took that to be the context of the tweet exchange. Part of what I wanted to convey with the tweet exchange was only that I wasn't annoyed about that earlier incident, and I took the fact that you tweeted what you did to mean you weren’t either.
She did not reply. I do regret my earlier intemperate e-mail, though the context noted above may at least make it explicable.
UPDATE: We presently have over 550 nominated evaluators, and now about two dozen have signed the boycott letter. I would be sorry to lose their input, but given the way the boycott letter sent out by Richard Heeck presented what transpired, I understand and respect their decision, even as I regret it. The actual sequence of events, as I laid it out for a reporter this evening, was clear:
July 1: I posted a sharp critique of some utterly misleading rankings produced by Carolyn Jennings, a tenure-stream faculty member at UC Merced. She quickly started revising it after I called her out.
Later on July 2, Catarina Novaes also joined the criticism, pointing me to the response by Carrie Jenkins, which she characterized, obviously correctly, as “reacting to what many perceived as Brian Leiter’s excessively personalized attack of Carolyn Dicey Jennings’s analysis.”
Earlier today (Monday, September 22), the executive officers representing fourteen UIUC departments having previously voted no confidence in members of the university's administration issued the following joint statement:
In the wake of the Board of Trustees' failure to reinstate Steven Salaita on September 11, 2014, we reaffirm our votes of no confidence in the Chancellor, the President, and the Board of Trustees. We remain ever more committed to academic freedom, to due process, and to recognition of the expertise of faculty as the foundation of the university. We call on the Senate to allow a full and fair investigation of the case.
A copy of the statement signed by all fourteen executive officers was delivered to the chair of the Senate Executive Committee at today's meeting of the Senate.
The signatories were:
Ronald Bailey, Head, Department of African American Studies Antoinette Burton, Interim Head, Department of Sociology Stephanie Foote, Chair, Department of Gender and Women's Studies Jonathan Xavier Inda, Chair, Department of Latina/Latino Studies Lilya Kaganovsky, Director, Program in Comparative and World Literature Marcus Keller, Head, Department of French and Italian Diane Koenker, Chair, Department of History Andrew Orta, Head, Department of Anthropology David Price, Head, Department of Religion Junaid Rana, Acting Head, Asian American Studies Michael Rothberg, Head, Department of English Kirk Sanders, Chair, Department of Philosophy Robert Warrior, Director, American Indian Studies Gary Xu, Head, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures
Joseph Heath (Toronto) comments. Unlike Templeton, Koch money often seems to come with way too many ideological strings attached.
UPDATE: A senior philosopher elsewhere writes: "Thanks for the link to Joseph Heath's short piece on Koch money in academics. I remember you opened comments on a piece a few years ago on IHS funding of graduate students. I for one would be keenly interested to see what experiences others have had, with Koch and conferences. An option for anonymous posting would encourage openness."
I've opened comments, and will permit anonymous comments, but include a valid e-mail (I never disclose those to anyone and it will not appear).
The letter is here. I note that, finally, some faculty from engineering, physics, and math (among other STEM fields) are finally showing signs of life on this issue, and are among the signatories to the letter. Some of them presumably realize that if the Board of Trustees believe they can get away with summary dismissal of tenured faculty for offensive tweets about Israel, faculty in every field are at risk.
David Velleman (NYU) last week called my attention to this item about the vicious racist and sexist abuse to which the Illinois Chancellor, Phyllis Wise, was subjected on social media last Winter after deciding not to cancel classes on a particularly bitter winter day. No disciplinary measures were taken against any of the students; as reported in Slate: "A spokeswoman said that the campus judicial officer looked at the tweets and determined they were protected free expression, and so no attempt is planned to punish those who tweeted." Of course, the students could have been subject to discipline had they disrupted classes with such racist and sexist abuse. But they didn't: they used Twitter. And the university spokeswoman got it exactly right as a matter of the law.
[A]ny lawsuit by Mr. Salaita probably would hinge on the question of whether he was entitled to the academic-freedom and free-speech protections of the university’s faculty members. The answer to that probably will come down to contract law and whether he had gained any employee protections by virtue of being offered a job.
This simply isn't correct: Mr. Salaita's free speech claims do not depend on whether there was a contract making him a faculty member, as I wrote previously. The absence of a contract will also not block his recovery on promissory estoppel grounds.
Now, as we noted previously, there are good reasons to think Salaita was, in fact, a tenured member of the faculty when summarily terminated in August, and that will certainlty guarantee his victory in court. It's also worth calling attention to the fact that Robin Kar, a law professor at the University of Illinois (and a teacher and scholar of contracts, as well as legal philosophy), has come to a similar conclusion.
The University's legal position is wholly untenable; more to the point, as a retired Illinois judge observed, Salaita's lawsuit will survive a motion to dismiss. Let me make clear why this is a significant fact about the legal posture of the cse. If Salaita files a lawsuit, the University will move to dismiss it essentially on the grounds that it states no colorable legal claims, even accepting the facts as alleged by Salaita. For a defendant in a lawsuit, that is always the happiest outcome, but Illinois will not be so lucky, since Salaita has multiple colorable claims, constitutional and contractual. Once a lawsuit survives the motion to dismiss, things change: now the plaintiff is entitled to "discovery" (to collect facts pertinent to his or her case). As I wrote to one of the lawyer/Trustees last week:
[A]s a practical matter of litigation strategy, some or all of Salaita’s contractual and constitutional claims are going to survive a motion to dismiss, at which point his lawyers are going to have a field day in discovery, going through e-mail accounts, minutes of meetings, telephone records etc. All the names of alumni and donors who may have written to the Chancellor will become matters of public record as well. Besides being costly, this whole affair is going to be potentially very embarrassing for a distinguished university.
The University will never let this happen: it will be humiliating, and cost a lot of people their jobs, including Chancellor Wise and Chairman Kennedy of the Board of Trustees. All the behind-the-scenes shenanigans will be aired for public consumption, and the main actors here will be revealed, as I said early on, unfit to run a serious research university. So once Salaita survives the motion of dismiss, he will have considerable power to dictate the terms of a settlement.
Here. It's notable, among other things, for airing doubts about the "civility" nonsense, and for actually putting some of the now notorious "tweets" in a pertinent context--Twitter, for the obvious reasons, lends itself to cherry-picking for malevolent purposes. It is also quite candid about the lobbying the University was subjected to by pro-Israel students and alumni.
Thanks to Jerry Dworkin for pointing me to this fine piece by Rebecca West from The New Republic in 1914; an excerpt:
A little grave reflection shows us that our first duty is to establish a new and abusive school of criticism. There is now no criticism in England. There is merely a chorus of weak cheers, a piping note of appreciation that is not stilled unless a book is suppressed by the police, a mild kindliness that neither heats to enthusiasm nor reverses to anger. We reviewers combine the gentleness of early Christians with a promiscuous polytheism; we reject not even the most barbarous or most fatuous gods. So great is our amiability that it might proceed from the weakness of malnutrition, were it not that it is almost impossible not to make a living as a journalist. Nor is it due to compulsion from above, for it is not worth an editor's while to veil the bright rage of an entertaining writer for the sake of publishers' advertisements. No economic force compels this vice of amiability. It springs from a faintness of the spirit, from a convention of pleasantness, which, when attacked for the monstrous things it permits to enter the mind of the world, excuses itself by protesting that it is a pity to waste fierceness on things that do not matter.
But they do matter. The mind can think of a hundred twisted traditions and ignorances that lie across the path of letters like a barbed wire entanglement and bar the mind from an important advance....We must dispel this unlawful assembly of peers and privy councillors round the wellhead of scholarship with kindly but abusive, and, in cases of extreme academic refinement, coarse criticism.
...meaning a lawsuit is now inevitable. Kudos to one of the two lawyers on the Board, James Montgomery, for voting in favor of the appointment. No public statements yet, but I'll add links when they appear.
UPDATE: This is also apt, re: civility: "it’s perfectly clear to me, as these various links, particularly Ali’s, demonstrate, that the call for civility is little more than an effort to muzzle critics, to turn vibrant campuses into intellectual morgues." Some benighted philosophy bloggers would like to achieve the same it seems; perhaps they can join the University of Illinois Board of Trustees?
Paul Boghossian (NYU) kindly gave me permission to share his:
Dear Chairman Kennedy,
I join many others in urging you to reinstate Professor Steven Salaita’s appointment as Associate Professor with tenure at UIUC. The manner in which he was ‘unhired,’ just weeks before he was to start teaching, and nearly a year after he had formally accepted the offer of a tenured post, was procedurally and morally irregular in several major respects. Failure to reinstate him will, without a doubt, result in irreparable damage to the well-being and reputation of one of our nation’s premier research universities.
It is an established norm within higher education in the United States that, after all the relevant academic controls have been cleared, the approval of an appointment by the Board of Trustees is pro forma. This is why professors trustingly resign their posts at one institution, move their families and homes, and begin working at another institution, before they receive formal Board approval. It is foul play to violate that norm without warning.
Furthermore, it seems both unjust and unwise to take a decision of this magnitude without any sort of due process, without providing any sort of clear explanation as to its basis, and without consulting with the relevant academic units and deans.
Such a way of proceeding is especially disturbing in light of the revelation that the Chancellor and Board members were lobbied heavily by donors representing a particular political viewpoint, and who threatened to withhold financial support from the University.
If you believe that Professor Salaita crossed a line that he ought not to cross, there is an easy, honest and honorable remedy, suggested to you by the AAUP: consider Professor Salaita to be a tenured member of the UIUC faculty, suspended (with pay) pending a hearing on his fitness to continue.
Otherwise, you risk doing permanent damage to your fine institution.
This is just astonishing in its ignorance and irrationality; regarding Salaita's constitutional rights, the editors opine:
He was and remains free to speak as he chooses. But there is no right to speak with impunity. Free speech comes with consequences — from reasoned debate to a punch in the nose. Journalists lose jobs for exercising free speech. Authors lose publishers. Entertainers lose audiences. All risk civil litigation. Salaita spoke, and others spoke back, persuasively, to express both fear and disdain.
But there is a right to speak with impunity from being denied state employment because of your constitutionally protected speech, with some narrow exceptions that do not apply here. Surely the editors of a newspaper ought to have a clue about the Constitution and the First Amendment? Surely they should know that a state employer is different than a publishing house. That an audience is not the same as the state university?
Michael Otsuka (LSE) invited me to share his letter to the Trustees, which appeals, suitably, to institutional self-interest and proposes an alternative strategy that (though one that might still leave Prof. Salaita in danger, but at least would mitigate the harm and gives the Board a way out of the current mess they've made short of wholesale retreat):
Dear Trustees of the University of Illinois,
I am a Professor at the London School of Economics. I am also a faculty-elected member of the LSE's Court of Governors. I write, however, in an individual capacity.
If you withhold pro forma approval of Professor Steven Salaita's appointment alongside the others when you meet on September 11, you will make clear that associate and full professors at your university do not have tenure at the outset of their appointments. Rather, even after the starting dates listed on the letters of offer they have signed, their jobs may vanish without any demonstration of cause by normal procedures that apply to tenured professors.
You will also make clear that the assurances, norms, and practices on which academics rely when they resign their posts, in order to take up jobs elsewhere, do not apply when it comes to offers from the University of Illinois.
You will thereby undermine your ability to recruit the best scholars and teachers.
I therefore urge you to follow the recommendation of the AAUP to treat "Professor Salaita’s situation as that of a faculty member suspended [with pay] from his academic responsibilities pending a hearing on his fitness to continue."
Otherwise, you will provide overwhelming grounds for AAUP censure, of which academics around the world will take note.
Several friends and readers have sent along this news, namely, that the Chancellor has forwarded Salaita's appointment to the Board of Trustees. The happy scenario is that the University is going to relent and the appointment will actually be approved, in the wake of the bad publicity and especially the AAUP letter. The less happy scenario is that since the original offer letter never made the offer contingent on the Chancellor forwarding the offer to the Board (as I and others noted), they are now doing that formally in anticipation of litigation. I certainly hope it is the former, but not being by nature optimistic about bureaucrats and political hacks...
There is a letter from Alan Sokal (Physics, NYU) explaining the reasons for the boycott; you should post your name in the comments there to indicate that you are joining the boycott. I know some physicists, biologists, mathematicians, medical researchers, and others read this blog; please also share this information with colleagues in your fields as appropriate. You might also direct interested colleagues to the AAUP letter.
The AAUP has sent a very strong letter that will force the Chancellor to sit up and take notice; on the facts as presently known (and as well-stated in the letter), the AAUP views this as a case of "[a]borting an appointment...without having demonstrated cause" and thus "as tantamount to summary dismissal, an action categorically inimical to academic freedom and due process and one aggravated in his case by the apparent failure to provide him with any written or even oral explanation." In other words, the AAUP views Salaita as having had a valid employment contract with the University at the time of the August 1 letter, meaning he had a contractual entitlement to academic freedom and a contractual right to be terminated only for cause.
Is that view credible? I had expressed skepticism earlier that a court would find he had a valid contract, but an informative discussion today with colleagues at the Law School makes me think otherwise (and I imagine the reasoning I'm about to describe underlies the AAUP's position in the letter). We have a tradition here in the Law School called "roundtable": lunch three times per week to discuss substantive issues (someone's current work, a recent court decision, current legal issues in the news, sometimes even jurisprudence!). At today's roundtable, several colleagues who (unlike me) both teach contracts and do work in the area were there. Here's what I learned from them, whose opinions on this subject are far more reliable than mine:
If Salaita didn't have a valid contract at the time of the August 1 letter, he will have a solid promissory estoppel claim, as I had mentioned previously, but his damages under a promissory estoppel theory are quite uncertain (as I also noted). He is in a much better position as a matter of contract law if he had a valid employment contract, and it turns out there are very strong arguments that he did.
First, the mere fact that there was a condition in the initial offer letter--"subject to approval by the Board of Trustees"--doesn't mean the Board can terminate Salaita for any reason at all. All contractual conditions have to be discharged "in good faith" (a standard famously codified by the namesake of the Chair I hold, Karl Llewellyn, who finished his career at Chicago and was a major figure in the jurisprudential movement known as "American Legal Realism"). Imagine the University of Illinois had offered Salaita a job "subject to the condition that the University can secure a bank loan to pay for your moving expenses." That imposes a duty on the University to at least try to secure a bank loan, among other things; the University can't just do nothing. That the offer was conditional on Board approval, doesn't mean the Board can decide on a "whim" not to approve it! The Board has to act in "good faith," which in ordinary commercial contexts means something like "normal standards of fair dealing in the trade." "Normal standards of fair dealing" in the academic context mean, among other things, that the Board approves faculty appointments that have gone through regular channels, that the Board not withold approval for unconstitutional or otherwise illegal reasons, that the Boad respect academic freedom and the like. Arguably the Board acted in bad faith in this instance. Moreover, given all the facts detailed in the AAUP letter--the initial offer and acceptance; the extensive exchanges between Salaita and university officials about his new job, his teaching, his housing; his move to Illinois; his invitation to the reception for new faculty; etc.--a court is likely to hold that the university is "estopped" from invoking the condition of Board approval at all: there was a valid and completed contract, given all the promises and subsequent actions by the university, and the university can not now pretend there wasn't. (This is "estoppel," much closer to the equitable doctrine discussed by the Australian lawyer in the earlier thread, and is a different doctrine than "promissory estoppel".)
The upshot of the preceding considerations is that Salaita was at the time of the purported revocation on August 1 a tenured member of the University of Illinois faculty. As a result, he had a contractual entitlement to academic freedom (in addition to his other constitutional rights that I've discussed previously). But more importantly, he had a legal entitlement to be dismissed only for cause, which imposes procedural and evidential burdens on the university which it has not discharged, or even pretended to discharge. And if all that's right--and that's the current posture of the AAUP in the letter above--the University is in massive breach of contract, and Salaita will get substsantial damages, and probably be entitled to reinstatement as well.
So, in the end, it may be that his contractual claims are Salaita's strongest ones and, if my colleagues are correct, there is a good likelihood a court will view him as having a valid employment contract given the facts as set out in the AAUP letter.
I'm writing a bit on the run here, but given that the AAUP lawyers seem to view this in similar terms, I thought it was worth getting this legal angle out there. Comments are open for comments and questions; full name, please, and valid e-mail address.
Prof. Kirk Sanders, the Chair of the Department, writes, "The Department of Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign today (August 28) approved the following resolution:
Whereas the recent words and actions of Chancellor Phyllis Wise, President Robert Easter, and the Board of Trustees in connection with the revocation of an offer of employment to Dr. Steven Salaita betray a culpable disregard not only for academic freedom and free speech generally but also for the principles of shared governance and established protocols for hiring, tenure, and promotion, the faculty of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign declares its lack of confidence in the leadership of the current Chancellor, President, and Board of Trustees.
Needless to say, they are right to lack confidence, and I join, I am sure, many other philosophers in commending them for taking this public stand.
A humanities faculty member at Illinois writes with some reasonable questions:
First: Under what conditions would the academic boycott of UIUC be ended?
I support the boycott -- or probably more accurately, I support the goals of those who are boycotting. I was worried before now because I thought and continue to think that there is zero chance the boycott will actually work. Now that it appears that the boycott has not worked -- at least, not to restore Salaita's job or to protect academic freedom -- what is the current endgame? Will the boycott be lifted if and when Salaita settles with the university? Or if and when Wise is removed from her position? Or if and when the Trustees are replaced? Or what?
Second: Does the academic boycott extend to job talks?
I suspect (hope?) that the university's actions have seriously hurt its chances of making senior hires in the foreseeable future. But would anyone coming to Illinois to give a job talk be seen as crossing the boycott lines? Will the boycott be seen as applying differently to junior and senior people? In not too long, I expect our department to post new job advertisements. How will the wider community view them?
Historian David Prochaska at UIUC invited me, with Professor Davis's permission, to share her letter to the Chancellor. Prof. Prochaska noted that, "Natalie Zemon Davis is one of the most distinguished historians at work today. Past president of the American Historical Association, she is the author of 10 books, including The Return of Martin Guerre (translated into 22 languages). She is the recipient of the Holberg International Memorial Prize (2010), National Humanities Medal (2012), and has been named Companion of the Order of Canada (2012)." Her letter follows:
26 August 2014
Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise
University of Illinois
Dear Chancellor Wise,
As a long-time participant in the university world, I implore you to reverse your decision in regard to Professor Steven Salaita and now to recommend the approval of his appointment to the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
I write you as an admirer of the remarkable achievements of the historians, literary scholars, and anthropologists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I have seen the lively and creative exchange among professors and graduate students close up as an invited guest of the History Department, and cannot believe that you would want to jeopardize this learning experience by the inappropriate and misguided criterion of civility.
I write further as a Jew, growing up in Detroit during the rise of Nazism and the anti-Semitic sermons of Father Coughlin; a Jew committed to that strand in the Jewish sensibility that still places justice and universal values at its heart; committed to the uses of rabbinical and Talmudic debate, which sought truth by language not always decorous; and to the old tradition of Jewish humor, which put laughter and mockery to the service of helping the oppressed.
As a distinguished physiologist, you have surely heard “disrespectful words” among scientists as they argued the pros and cons of research. I certainly have, as I listened to scientists go at it on grant committees, including when the important subject of gender-based biology was on the table. If words thought “demeaning” were uttered, the speaker was not excluded, he or she was answered.
The role of vigorous expression is even more central in the humanities and social sciences, where we are examining thought systems and actions that range from the violently cruel to the heroically generous. What, following your Principles of August 22, would we make of the writings of the great François Rabelais, who used every comic metaphor available, especially the bodily ones, to plead the cause of those who had been silenced by the Inquisition or harmed by unjust war?
You speak of your responsibility “ to ensure that. . . differing points of view be discussed in and outside the classroom in a scholarly, civil and productive manner.” In the classroom: one of the exemplars of master teaching was the late George Mosse of the University of Wisconsin, refugee from Nazi Germany and historian of the rise of Nazism. His lectures were celebrated for his sharp affirmations and his simultaneous invitation to the students to respond in kind—which they did – and for what one observer has called the “cross-fire” between him and a Marxist colleague. Not surprisingly, he had good friends among both Israelis and Palestinians.
Outside the classroom? But surely one knows that “differing points of view” are being discussed by members of your large faculty all the time, using every kind of speech, some of it uncivil and disrespectful. How would one enforce your criteria at the University? By “speech-police” in every classroom, college restaurant, sports arena, and living room?
Since this cannot be your intention, I come to the case of Stephen Salaita, whose scholarship, publications, and teaching were reviewed and warmly approved by colleagues, specialists, and university executive committees. You say in your statement of Principles that the “the decision regarding Prof. Salaita was not influenced in any way by his positions on the conflict in the Middle East nor his criticism of Israel.” If this be truly the case, then what could lead you to overturn the well-established evaluation and appointment procedures of your university and (according to the commentary by legal specialists) even hazard a possible lawsuit?
Professor Salaita’s tweets in regard to the Israeli bombing of Gaza in the last months seem to have been the trigger: as reported in information obtained by Inside Ed, they prompted some seventy emails to you, including from students who, as Jews, said they feared he would be hostile to them if they happened to take his course. (What their majors were was not specified in the report.)
Indeed, some of Professor Salaita’s tweets were vehement and intentionally provocative: he used strong language both to criticize the deaths from Israeli bombing and to attack anti-Semitism. The lack of “civility” in some of his tweets is linked to the genre itself: a tweet is often an answer to a tweet, and a tweet always anticipates a response. It is a form of concise communication based on give and take, on the anticipation that the respondent may respond sharply or critically to what you have said, and that the exchange will continue. Thus, in his public political life, Professor Salaita participates in a mode that always leaves space for an answer, thus, extending the respect to the individual respondent for which you call in your Principles.
The classroom is, of course, the critical space for assessing a professor’s educational performance, and from all reports, Professor Salaita has been a very successful teacher and much appreciated by his students. Why not accept the careful and extended scholarly inquiry of your University of Illinois colleagues over the hasty and seemingly politicized judgment and fears of the emailers? Further, Professor Salaita would be joining the Department of American Indian and Indigenous Studies, which on its web site commits itself to “free academic inquiry” and “the best ideals of academic freedom.” Why not leave it to the professors in this fine department to insure that a new colleague fulfills the highest goals of teaching? Indeed, the practices of careful listening and full speaking are very much part of the American indigenous tradition. Professor Salaita would thus be in a setting where he could expect to do his best teaching and make the significant contribution to scholarly inquiry hoped for by the University of Illinois professors who have been seeking his presence.
I urge you, Chancellor Wise, to rethink your position and to recommend that the Board of Trustees give its approval to the appointment of Professor Salaita. This would be an honorable course, and one that would restore the academic values which should and can prevail at a great university.
Natalie Zemon Davis,
Henry Charles Lea Professor of History emeritus, Princeton University
Adjunct Professor of History, University of Toronto
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)