The American Association of University Professors has made no secret of its unhappiness with University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise's decision last summer to withdraw a job offer to controversial Professor Steven Salaita.
So it was no great surprise when the Washington-base organization recently issued a formal report that accused the university of violating Salaita's academic freedom. The lengthy report states formally the concerns that the AAUP has expressed informally for months now.
Suffice it to say the UI and the AAUP do not see eye to eye on this controversy, and there's no papering over the dispute.
That's why the courts will decide if Salaita had a contractual right to employment at the university that was improperly breached or if Salaita's status as a nonemployee left him vulnerable to revocation of an offer to join the faculty for the fall 2014 semester.
Nonetheless, a couple of comments from the chairman of the AAUP's committee on the Salaita affair invite comment.
But some background information is required.
Salaita's contract was awaiting formal approval by UI trustees when he initiated controversy through a series of ill-advised Twitter posts condemning Israel, among others, for taking military action in the Gaza strip.
A Palestian-American, Salaita made no secret of his contempt for Israel or anyone who supports Israel in a series of obscenity-laden messages that reflected his rage.
Persuaded that the nature of Salaita's expressions was unworthy of a prospective faculty member, Chancellor Wise oversaw efforts to rescind Salaita's job offer.
Salaita's tweets clearly are protected speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The legal question is whether Salaita had a right to be free from the consequences of his incendiary speech.
His lawyers contend that Salaita was, in effect, a UI faculty member because of his impending employment and therefore immune from sanction. The UI couldn't disagree more.
Henry Reichman, a retired California State professor, however, suggested in public comments that it was the form of Salaita's speech, not the content, that drew the UI's ire. He's quoted as saying that "140 characters on Twitter or a Facebook post should be no less protected than an op-ed in the New York Times."
He's right. All forms of speech are equally valid under the First Amendment.
But Salaita's comments would have been no less offensive if he had written them in a newspaper commentary. Indeed, the reaction probably would have been more explosive given the influence of the Times' audience.
Despite that, Reichman appears to recognize the problematic nature of Salaita's comments.
"It may not be particularly wise to make these kind of comments, but you have a right to do so," he said.
Unfortunately for Salaita, wisdom is a desireable commodity for prospective professors.
Salaita's tweets revealed him to be both intemperate and intolerant, essentially an unguided missile whose stream of demonizing pronouncements are in irreconcilable conflict with the kind of thoughtful and reasoning professors the UI wants in its classrooms.
In other words, Reichman concedes, that kind of rhetoric makes a poor public impression, particularly on a prospective employer.
It's good — if surprising — that some of those on Salaita's side of the fence recognize that undeniable reality.