Thursday, August 14, 2014
ConLaw Profs Pen Letter Criticizing University of Illinois Rescission of Offer to Academic for Tweets
When University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign officials decided to rescind the offer of a tenured faculty appointment to Steven G. Salaita shortly before he was to begin, they must have known there would be controversy. Salaita himself has been no stranger to controversy while at Virginia Tech, but UI officials have focused on his recent tweets on the subject of Gaza.
While Salaita's area is not law, it's difficult not to be reminded of a similar situation involving Erwin Chemerinsky seven years ago. The new law school at UC-Irvine offered him a position as Dean but then rescinded it after reading his newest op-ed, this one criticising a plan by then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales regarding death row appeals.
There was much "outcry" over the Chemerinsky "rescission" (and of course Chemerinsky became Dean, a position he retains).
There is also a good deal of "outcry" over Salaita. Peter Schmidt has a good discussion of the Salaita controversy for The Chronicle of Higher Education, with a follow up article noting that 300 scholars have vowed to boycott events at the university unless it rescinds its rescission.
Michael Dorf has a good discussion of the legal parameters of academic freedom raised by the incident over at Justia.
Dorf and Katherine Franke have penned a five page Letter to the Chancellor of U of I from "scholars of free speech and constitutional law" discussing the First Amendment and urging the appointment be honored.
Faculty members who would like to be signatories should contact Katherine Franke by email: kfranke (AT) law.columbia.edu.
I am a defender of 1st Amendment rights and have a broad appreciation for “academic freedom,” but there should be similar insular defense in non-academic – or commercial - pursuit. I take the position that “I may not agree with what someone may say, but I will fight for their right to say it” unless “yelling fire in a crowded theatre.” Conversely, by protecting speech with which I do not agree I expect that my speech will not be similarly constrained.
Too often, the “politically incorrect” thing is said (and, whether perception or reality the academic community – or “university” - has become the poster child for censorship of what it determines to be politically incorrect speech) resulting in “real world” (not academic) consequences (ex., Max Kellerman and Steven A. Smith comments regarding the Ray Rice incident, Rush Limbaugh’s immediate termination from the commentating team when Monday Night Football was on ABC, etc.) for students and administrators alike. It is reflected in May almost every year for university commencements when some speaker is disinvited (ex., Michelle Obama, Condoleeza Rice, etc.) and has become so commonplace as to receive media acknowledgement becoming known as the “Dis-invitation Season (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-h-schuck/the-commencement-disinvit_b_5417184.html).
I disdain political correctness. I think it is repressive on a university campus and society in general.
Taking no position on this academic or his “tweets,” it may most certainly be argued from the perspective of the University of Illinois– just as in a commercial endeavor - that the “tweets” of this academic could affect students and parents decision-making process to attend the university or from the “ill advised” comments (including profanity) of this academic they can anticipate future negative comments or behavior reflecting on the goodwill of university “x.”
Fight for the “academic rights” of this gentleman; but, make sure what is “good for the goose is good for the gander.”
Posted by: Tom N | Aug 14, 2014 10:01:40 PM