If denunciation is good for the soul, University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise received a thorough moral cleansing Monday.
Faculty members and students lined up for two hours at a Faculty Senate meeting to tell Wise that she is a dirty, stinking, rotten, not very good person who inflicted terrible harm on the UI by blocking the planned hiring of a professor whose obscenity-laden, anti-Israel tweets drew wide attention.
"I'm here to express moral indignation and outrage," said Indian Studies professor Vicente Diaz.
And he did, to such an extent that the discussion moderator pointed out that Diaz had exceeded his allotted time. Responding to an audience member who suggested he end his remarks, Diaz asked, "Are you going to stop me?"
Then Diaz concluded with a call to arms.
"If civility is to be the order of the day, let it be civil disobedience," he said.
The analogy did not match the alliteration, but Diaz's point was clear enough. So were the critical words of other speakers.
Sometimes grandiose, sometimes self-pitying, sometimes sharing their sexual preferences, the speakers — a majority of whom opposed Wise's decision to block the hiring of former Virginia Tech English Professor Steven Salaita — went on at length about Wise's transgressions.
She assaulted freedom of speech. She assaulted academic freedom. She assaulted university hiring procedures. She is a toady for rich donors. She is a stooge for powerful forces — that would be sympathizers with Israel — intent on suppressing criticism of Israel.
Perhaps inspired by Professor Diaz's invocation of Henry David Thoreau's principle of civil disobedience, one UI student reprised the words of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, who in 1936 told the nations that made up the League of Nations that they would pay a heavy price for ignoring Italy's invasion of his country, a prelude to World War II.
"It is us today. It will be you tomorrow," Selassie warned.
Indian Studies student Stephanie Skora predicted a similar apocalypse, akin to an unleashed anti-academic-freedom virus laying waste to the UI's scholarly environment.
"Today it is indigenous studies. Tomorrow it may be climate change," Skora said .
As venting exercises go, this one was first-rate. That's no surprise because the UI is, after all, a great university.
Pro-Salaita speakers received warm rounds of applause and shouts of support. They clearly had a good time wringing their hands in public, and Wise didn't seem to mind. She remained stone-faced as she was pilloried, making gracious comments both before and after.
"I think it's critical for us to have this open dialogue," said Wise, doing an excellent job of acting as if her words were sincere.
What was missing from the drama was much discussion about Salaita, the now-unemployed professor who has threatened to sue the UI over the job dispute. Things may, however, be looking up for him.
There's gold in victimhood — just how much is unclear — and Salaita has indicated he'll be hitting the campus lecture circuit to tell his tale of woe, including "giving a series of talks in Chicago in a few weeks."
"Organizing my fall schedule. I'm likely coming to a city near you! Will be wonderful to return to public life, saying 'thank you' in person," he said in a Sept. 20 tweet.
There's no question Salaita has had a rough go of it, giving up one tenured position and sticking his foot in his mouth when he was on the verge of getting another at the UI.
But most speakers seemed to focus as much on their feelings as about Salaita. They paid tribute to freedom of speech, but otherwise expressed personal affronts to the decision by Wise, President Robert Easter and UI trustees not to hire Salaita.
Professor D. Fairchild Ruggles said the real issue was "500 dead children," referring to civilian casualties that occurred when Israeli attacked Hamas in Gaza. Ruggles said that she, like Salaita, is morally outraged by what occurred and felt free, just like he did, to criticize Israel as well as her own country.
"I'm doing my job as a citizen of the world," Ruggles said.
There were some dissenters who spoke in Wise's defense.
A UI business student said the issue surrounding Salaita is not academic freedom or freedom of speech but tweets that demonstrated a lack of professionalism by a job candidate.
"There are consequences for what you say," he said, drawing a chorus of groans from Salaita supporters.
UI Professor Michael Leroy, who worked on a faculty petition in support of Wise, suggested circumstances are not as grim as Wise's critics suggest.
"The First Amendment is alive and well," said Leroy, pointing to pro-Salaita signs and anti-Wise commentary.
Suffice it to say, Salaita backers were not persuaded by Leroy. Neither were they sated by their opportunity to complain. As the faculty senate prepared to move on to another topic, Salaita supporters were assured they would have another opportunity to express themselves at a future meeting.