A professor who has been at the center of a national controversy over academic freedom told an audience at the University of Rochester Thursday night that his right to free expression has been violated.
Steven Salaita was slated to be appointed a professor in the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His appointment had the dean's approval at that college, but was recently rejected by the college's board of trustees after Salaita made comments in provocative language on Twitter sharply critical of Israel.
"It not only trampled academic freedom but it abdicated the First Amendment," Salaita told an audience of about 175 students, faculty and members of the general community.
He was the featured speaker at the UR event, "Digital Means, Political Ends, and Academic Freedom in the New Gilded Age: A Conversation with Steven Salaita."
The event, sponsored by a dozen UR departments, programs and institutes, began with three professors — two from UR, one from Nazareth — giving presentations about the importance of academic freedom and past First Amendment struggles.
Salaita, whose father is from Jordan and whose mother is Palestinian, told of his strong views on the Middle East.
"Whether or not you agree with my point of view on the Israel-Palestine conflict, whether you feel my language was too vulgar — that's one thing," Salaita said.
But Salaita went to say that nothing warranted losing the job that he had lined up.
"I treat the university's decision not only as punitive toward me but toward the department that wanted to hire me," Salaita added.
During the question-and-answer period, Salaita was asked about one of the Tweets that aroused controversy, in which he said: "I wish all the (expletive) West Bank settlers would go missing."
Salaita said that he was not advocating violence. "I do regret that I worded it in such a way to lead to that interpretation," said Salaita. "That absolutely was not the intent of that Tweet."
Rather, Salaita noted, he doesn't want Jewish settlements on the West Bank. "It would certainly make the life of the Palestinians so much better."
Salaita said that he would advise students to be careful what they post on social media, but that they should not be scared to express their views.
"Whatever mistakes I've made ... pale in comparison to what the university has done," he said.
Salaita, who has published books on the Middle East, has been speaking at college campuses about his case. He previously taught at Virginia Tech and was set to begin teaching at the University of Illinois until the latest turn of events.