The American Association of University Professors Foundation is granting $5,000 in temporary financial aid to Steven Salaita, via its Academic Freedom Fund. The controversial scholar, who is currently jobless, is contesting the revocation of his tenured faculty appointment to the American Indian studies program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The institution pulled Salaita's offer this summer due to his anti-Israel remarks on Twitter, which many have called uncivil and unbecoming of an academic. Still, many of those who object to Salaita's tweets say they are protected speech and should not have cost him his appointment.
Both the foundation's governing board and the greater AAUP say that Salaita wasn't fired or "unhired," but rather "barred from teaching" the classes he already had been assigned to teach this semester. AAUP maintains this kind of "suspension" should be paid. The University of Illinois Board of Trustees formally rejected Salaita's professor candidacy last month, indicating he does not have a job there.
A faculty committee at the university is looking into the circumstances surrounding Salaita's retracted offer. A spokeswoman for Salaita's legal team at the Center for Constitutional Rights said he is preparing to file a lawsuit.
In his "Civility Manifesto" published here last week Cary Nelson cites my blog post, "Is Incivility the New Communism?," as "particularly hyperbolic" in its critique of efforts by some university administrators to demand that free speech be limited to expression they deem "civil." In his own expression Nelson himself has been known to employ hyperbole -- as well as sarcasm -- even to the point that some might call uncivil, so it's surprising he does not recognize that my exaggeration was intentional. Of course, we are not living through a new Red Scare on campus. But the point is that we could be if the incivility monitors have their way.
Nelson asks, "does unrestrained antagonism make for the best learning environment?" It surely does not. But that isn't the issue. No reasonable person welcomes hatred, harassment, or violence. According to Nelson, "Eloquence in the service of conviction does not require abusive rhetoric or personal accusation." But, like it or not, free speech does not require eloquence. It's one thing to encourage civil conduct and reasoned discourse, quite another to regulate expression in the name of such encouragement. But that is precisely what too many college and university administrators and trustees are threatening to do. The threat to free speech rights is real.
But we needn't go further than Nelson's own campus for the most chilling example of an effort to invoke civility as a criterion of free expression. According to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Phyllis Wise, “What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.” This extraordinary dictate goes well beyond encouraging civil communication. Under Wise's disturbing standard a biologist who "demeans" creationism could be out of a job; indeed, the evolutionary viewpoint itself, which creationists claim demeans humanity, could be banned.
While Dirks later clarified his ill-considered statement, Wise has not. Indeed, the Illinois Board of Trustees quickly declared its "collective and unwavering support of Chancellor Wise and her philosophy of academic freedom and free speech tempered in respect for human rights.” According to the board, UI must be a “university community that values civility as much as scholarship.” We know who should assess scholarship: the scholars. But who will judge what is civil? That is precisely the issue.
Nelson is correct that much of the uproar over civility stems from the Palestinian/Israeli dispute and I share his concern about the corrosive effect of that seemingly intractable conflict on both the campus climate and academic freedom. We differ sharply, however, about who is responsible. According to Nelson, only one side is to blame: "verbal excess, aggression, and ad hominem attacks are part of the standard repertoire of the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment movement. That typically stimulates raised tempers and sometimes similar behavior on the pro-Israeli side."
But the situation is more complicated. Elements on both sides invoke the protections of academic freedom and the First Amendment when it benefits them and violate these when it doesn't. What about efforts by some supporters of Israel to effectively blacklist faculty members whose views on Middle East studies do not comport with theirs? This move is truly evocative of the Red Scare and more threatening to academic freedom and the independence of the universities than a few "uncivil" words from pro-Palestinian students.
More important, the two sides are not in equivalent positions. Although support for the Palestinian cause is greater on American campuses than in society in general, those who control the universities -- administrators and trustees as well as powerful donors -- are most likely to support the Israeli cause. The expressive weapons of those in power and those without power almost always differ. It is usually the powerless whose voices must be shrill, who may break rules to be heard, who, in short, may be uncivil. Civility, however, can be a privilege of the powerful, whose control over institutions often leads them to silence opponents instead of engaging them. As Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education noted, in his experience "campus administrators are most likely to deem as 'uncivil' speech that criticizes them or the university’s sacred cows."
This imbalance is illustrated by events at Ohio University, which Nelson cites as an example of "uncivil" expression escalating to arrests. Nelson ignores, however, what preceded these arrests. A student government leader filmed a video in which she poured fake blood over herself to protest Israeli actions in Gaza. The video was bold and even graphic, but under the law it is protected speech and as a video abused or threatened no one. The student, however, received numerous death threats. How did the university president respond? In a mealy-mouthed statement he disassociated the university from the video and called vaguely for civility, but remained silent about the death threats, effectively coming down on one side of the controversy. Only later were four pro-Israeli students arrested for disrupting a meeting, which suggests that lame public calls for civility are also largely ineffective.
"When administrators urge us to be models of civility they are doing exactly what their job requires," Nelson declares. I agree, but the danger to which I and so many others have been responding is that such urgings show undeniable and dangerous signs of becoming requirements. And such requirements may threaten academic freedom and free speech as much as any loyalty oath.
Henry Reichman is first vice-president of the American Association of University Professors and chair of AAUP's Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure. He teaches history at California State University at East Bay.
The University of Chicago's Brian Leiter has announced that, after 2014-15, he is giving up the editorship of The Philosophical Gourmet Report, a rankings system he created for philosophy departments. Leiter has come under fire for his exchanges with some philosophers (which he has defended as frank, but which critics say have crossed a line to rude and demeaning). Many philosophers have pledged not to participate in the ratings if Leiter continues to run them. Leiter announced his move away from the editorship, based on the recommendation of the project's advisory board, and while a statement from Leiter said that he agreed with the shift, he also indicated frustration with his critics.
Jean Tirole was this morning named winner of the 2014 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. Tirole, of Capitole University, in France, was honored “for his analysis of market power and regulation." More information about Tirole and his research may be found here.