Still Correct to Not Hire Anti-Israel Prof

Last week, I wrote a column supporting the University of Illinois’s decision not to offer a job to Steven Salaita, an academic whose criticism of Israel crossed into anti-Semitism.

Yesterday, Stanford comparative literature professor David Palumbo-Liu wrote a response to my piece, in which he claims that I am either willfully ignorant or distort facts.

Readers can sort much of this controversy for themselves. However, I would like to briefly address several of Palumbo-Liu’s assertions. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

1) It is not clear Salaita signed a contract with the University of Illinois — and it does not matter.

Palumbo-Liu claims “Salaita signed the contract offered to him” by the University of Illinois. But he cites no independent source. The Inside Higher Education article, to which Palumbo-Liu links, does not state that Salaita signed a contract. Similarly, Palumbo-Liu reproduces an excerpt from a statement by the American Association of University Professors. A different segment of that statement reads:

In particular, it is not certain whether the job offer had already been made in writing when Professor Salaita was informed that he would not be hired and hence whether or not Salaita could be considered to have already acquired the rights accruing to a faculty member at Illinois.

Even if Salaita had signed a contract, it appears that his appointment required the approval of the board of trustees and the chancellor, which he did not receive. As the Inside Higher Education article writes:

Many faculty job offers (which are well-vetted by college officials before they go out) contain language stating that the offer is pending approval by the institution’s board of trustees.

If the existence of a contract is such a crucial factor — and I do not think it is — Salaita could simply post a photograph of it on his Twitter. That he has not produced it is telling.

2) Steven Salaita was not fired.

Salaita was not “fired”; he wasn’t hired — and there is a not unsubtle difference.

As I wrote in my first piece, Salaita’s tweets are anti-Semitic. Would Palumbo-Liu want Stanford, where he teaches, to hire an unrepentant KKK member? If the answer is “no,” then the University of Illinois was right to not hire Salaita for the same reasons.

* * *

Palumbo-Liu suggests I do not understand academic freedom and the in-and-outs of free speech on university campuses.

I invite him to read my writings on the subject, one of which defends the free speech rights of the NYU chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. He can find examples here, here, here, and here.

I also invite him to read my own academic work on the subject of free speech, available here.


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Nathaniel ZelinskyStill Correct to Not Hire Anti-Israel Prof

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