The Illinois conference of the American Association of University Professors issued a statement Wednesday about the way the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign backed away from hiring Steven Salaita, who had been expected to take up a position in the American Indian studies program this month. Salaita had been offered the position, pending board approval, typically a formality, and the university told him recently that his appointment would not go forward, reportedly because of concerns about his comments on Twitter and elsewhere about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Critics have said that the comments suggest a lack of civility, while his defenders say he is being punished for outspoken support of Palestinians.
"Professor Salaita’s words while strident and vulgar were an impassioned plea to end the violence currently taking place in the Middle East," the Illinois AAUP statement says. "Issues of life and death during bombardment educes significant emotions and expressions of concern that reflect the tragedy that armed conflict confers on its victims. Speech that is deemed controversial should be challenged with further speech that may abhor and challenge a statement. Yet the University of Illinois cannot cancel an appointment based upon Twitter statements that are protected speech in the United States of America."
The statement adds: "What one says out of class rarely, in the absence of peer review of teaching, confirms how one teaches. Passion about a topic even if emotionally expressed through social network does not allow one to draw inferences about teaching that could possibly rise to the voiding or reversal of a job appointment."
The university has said it will not comment on the situation.