You would think in uber-liberal academia, a leftist professor could get away saying anything. But apparently you can go too far. Earlier this month, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign rescinded its offer to Steven Salaita, a Palestinian-American former Virginia Tech professor, for a tenured position in the American Indian Studies department. Why?
Because of dozens of tweets Salaita made from his Twitter account preaching hatred of Israel and bashing America's ties to the Jewish homeland. At the news of his hiring earlier in the Summer, the university started to get backlash from students, parents and donors who did not appreciate Salaita's aggressively unfriendly attitude towards Israel. So the Univ. of Illinois' Chancellor Phyllis Wise wrote to Salaita, stating he was no longer welcome as a professor at the university.
Cue the outraged howls about "academic freedom" from lefty professors and journalists. Terrorist sympathizer Glenn Greenwald led the charge on Twitter
Greenwald is the radically left investigative reporter for The Guardian who published NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's documents and has called the American media "racist," and "anti-Muslim." He flooded his Twitter account over the incident on Aug. 25, even equating Salaita's firing to Palestinian casualties.
Greenwald continued his diatribe against the University.
"Dear U of Ill. students: your school fires professors for criticizing Israel & your Chancellor spews deceitful tripe," was another charming missive.
According to the academic blog Inside Higher Ed, which submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the Univ. of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise, 70 people wrote to Wise "urging her to block Salaita's appointment." The FOIA released Aug. 22, showed that lobbying from students, parents, alumni, and donors led to Wise's decision to cancel Salaita's hiring.
Considering Salaita is the author of no less than 6 anti-Israel books, clearly his anti-Israel views were well-known to the university beforehand and, as the Washington Post noted, the campus newspaper has printed a diverse set of opinions on the Gaza conflict. Yet it seems the numerous tweets advocating violence against Israelis and bashing America clearly became too much for the university to handle.
Note the erudition and scholarly tone of this sampleing of the tweets in question from Salaita's account:
"At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?"
"Zionists, take responsibility: if your dream of an ethnocratic Israel is worth the murder of children, just fucking own it already."
Around the time he received the letter from Chancellor Wise, Salaita tweeted that Israeli violence was 'intolerable" and "American professors have no excuse to remain silent."
National Review also captured some of the more offensive tweets that Salaita has since deleted.
However the media did not highlight the vicious nature of Salaita's tweets.
At the Inside Higher Ed blog, scholar and author John K. Wilson actually equated pro-Israel sentiment with "Nazism, terrorism, racism, sexism and homophobia." Wilson wrote:
"I am puzzled as to exactly how a free university could possibly operate when no one is allowed to be disrespectful toward any viewpoint. Presumably, Wise will quickly act to fire anyone who has ever disrespected or demeaned Nazism, terrorism, racism, sexism, and homophobia. Since all 'viewpoints' are protected, then biology professors must be fired for disrespecting creationism as false, along with any other professor who is found to believe or know anything."
The LA Times' Michael Hiltzik called it a "clear-cut infringement of academic freedom," although it's unclear what exactly is so academic about Salaita's hate and profanity-laden tweets.
Hiltzik added, "The fact that the underlying political issue is the white-hot issue of Israeli-Palestinians makes it all the more troubling." Calling Salaita a "respected scholar," he defended the displaced professor saying the Gaza conflict, "By it's nature, the debate elicits strong views strongly, often intemperately, expressed."
Similarly, Huffington Post education blogger Brian Leiter hyped, "University of Illinois Repeals the First Amendment for Its Faculty." Another Huffington Post article of course omitted all of the most controversial tweets that Salaita posted and instead included his tweets condemning children dying in Gaza.
Alternet's Senior Editor Terrell J. Starr tweeted, "Univ. of Illinois can't tolerate "disrespectful words" (re:Steven Salaita) but they can allow white kids to host pimps and hoes parties? OK"
The Washington Post was fairly balanced on the story, giving quote space to both critics of the board's decision and supporters. The Post cited the blog InsideHigherEd, which claimed that the university changed it's decision because "concern grew over the tone of his comments on Twitter about Israel's policies in Gaza," and the Post deemed Salaita's tweets "anti-Israel."