How a Professor Got Fired Over His Twitter

by / 5 Comments / 299 View / August 20, 2014

In our contemporary society dominated by social media, websites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have become the new norm to expressing impassioned opinions about everything, ranging from the hottest new gadgets to views on politics. However, the recent firing of Professor Steven Salaita over “controversial” statements on Twitter reveals a new dark side of these media.

An associate professor in the English Department at Virginia Tech, Salaita was initially offered a position with the American Indian Studies program at University of Illinois. However, Chancellor Phyllis Wise of UIUC has since blocked his appointment. He was due to start teaching at the end of August in this tenured position.

Salaita is noted to be a ‘brilliant, ethical, and prolific’ professor by his former students and widespread outrage has spread among the academic community over his dismissal. In open letters to Wise, twenty prominent professors greatly encouraged “UIUC in the strongest terms to reverse its decision immediately and reinstate Professor Salaita.”

These professors include: As’ad Abukhail, California State University-Stanislaus; Judith Butler, University of California, Berkeley; Natalie Zemon Davis, Princeton University; Joseph Massad, Columbia University; Joan Scott, Institute for Advanced Study; and Antoinette Burton and Zohreh T. Sullivan, both of the University of Illinois.

These scholars are joined in their bitter criticism of Wise by organizations including:

American Association of University Professors (AAUP) which issued a strong statement condemning the University of Illinois’ move, noting “there is good reason to fear that Professor Salaita’s academic freedom and possibly that of the Illinois faculty members who recommended hiring him have been violated.”

Center for Constitutional Rights which wrote Chancellor Wise advising her that “any attempt by university officials to repress or penalize speech on a matter of public concern such as Israel/Palestine because of disagreement with its message is impermissible ‘viewpoint discrimination,’ a serious First Amendment violation.”

David Palumbo-Liu, Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor and Professor of Comparative Literature at Stanford University who wrote to emphasize “the irreparable damage your action has done to the trust we place in our academic institutions.”

The Committee for the Open Discussion of Zionism (CODZ) which stated “Your action in Professor Salaita’s case smacks of the McCarthyism that nearly destroyed political freedom in this country.”

According to The Huffington Post, English professor Cary Nelson at the University of Illinois and the former president of the AAUP, stated that Salaita had “stepped over a line with not only the tone but also the content of his comments on the Gaza conflict”.

The “offensiveness” of his comments is for the audience themselves to judge:

While Wise personally has written that “Individual faculty are free to express their personal opinions on the proposed resolution, however, they are not acting on behalf of the university”  in a document dated December 27, 2013, opposing the boycott of Israeli academic institutions,  the Chancellor has yet to respond to these recent calls.

A Change.org petition calling for “corrective action on the scandalous firing of Palestinian-American professor, Dr. Steven Salaita” has already reached over 12,000 supporters. The link can be found here:

https://www.change.org/petitions/phyllis-m-wise-we-demand-corrective-action-on-the-scandalous-firing-of-palestinian-american-professor-dr-steven-salaita

 

References:

Abunimah, A. (2014, August 8). Academic heavyweights slam Univ. of Illinois firing of Steven Salaita for Palestine views. Retrieved August 11, 2014.

Erbentraut, J. (2014, August 7). University Of Illinois Professor Apparently Loses Job Over Anti-Israel Tweets. Retrieved August 11, 2014.

Phyllis M. Wise: We demand corrective action on the scandalous firing of Palestinian-American professor, Dr. Steven Salaita. (n.d.). Retrieved August 11, 2014.

Robinson, J. (2014, August 8). ‘Brilliant and ethical’ English professor ‘loses his job’ at top U.S. university after posting a series of anti-Israel Tweets. Retrieved August 11, 2014.

Image Credit: Simon, Pete. “Twitter.” Flickr: Creative Commons. Flickr, n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2014. <https://flic.kr/p/68mZvD>.

  • Wut

    this is absurd …

    Even for the most ardent proIsraeli supporters, this still should be absurd.

    • ZPT205

      Yeah, which is why it’s a shame that organizations like the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel have taken the lead in organizing opposition to it. It should be a free speech/academic freedom issue, not a political issue.

  • Guest

    You chose two of the more innocuous ones. One of those that caused the greatest uproar was this one, following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers.

  • woshiwaiguoren

    You chose two of the more innocuous ones. One of those that caused the greatest uproar was this one, following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers:

    “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.”

  • Warren Lauzon

    I don’t agree with the professors views, but this is blatant abuse of the First Amendment unless there is more that we don’t know (and there often is more). I can see this one going to court, but the professor runs the danger of much more ugly stuff being dug up…