Freedom of speech is the most cherished right offered in the United States. Because of this, many of us are sensitive when someone is deprived of that right. Recently, the University of Illinois has come under fire for withdrawing a job offer to former professor Steven Salaita, who had just left Virigina Tech for U of I, largely due to his tweets criticizing Israel. Initially, I was angered for Salaita. I myself question many of Israel’s recent actions, and felt instantly sympathetic with his situation.
As I soon found, however, I shared many of the misconceptions that others also have regarding the recent story. A slightly deeper look into Salaita’s ideologies reveals more than just a simple criticism of Israel, but a desire to see the destruction of a nation and its people. Such hate and even racism has no place in a university, and U of I made the right decision when the job offer was retracted.
Perhaps the largest misconception is that Salaita was fired for his extremist viewpoints, which, in fact, is not the case. While U of I offered Salaita a position at the university, the hiring had yet to be made official. Because of this, the university had every right to examine Salaita’s résumé and character right up to when he would be approved as a professor. Thus, the word “fire” is used only in principle, as Salaita was never an employee.
The reasons for which U of I decided to rescind its job offer become quite clear upon discovering the extremism behind Salaita’s tweets. The former Virigina Tech professor did not only criticize Israel, but also demonstrated a deep hatred for the people that live there that extends prior to the conflict in Gaza. Following the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens, whom were eventually murdered, Salaita tweeted: “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the [expletive] west bank settlers would go missing.” Salaita also expressed the desire to see Journalist Jeffry Goldberg receive the “pointy end of a shiv.”
These types of statements by Salaita are not uncommon and reflect beliefs that border on anti-Semitism. Regardless of one’s viewpoint on Israel or support of Salaita, such views are impossible to advocate for.
Academic freedom is a right amongst all professors, and no one should feel as though their job security is rooted in their political beliefs. Having said that, every university also has an obligation to offer inclusive classrooms where all students of different backgrounds will be respected. After reading into Salaita’s beliefs, it’s difficult to believe that a Jewish student, as well as many others, would feel comfortable in one of his classrooms.
Thus, rescinding Salaita’s job offer came down to a personnel decision, one in which it was decided that Salaita was not a fit for the University due to his extremist — often hate fueled — views. Given that the university had yet to hire the potential professor, U of I was wise to reexamine his statements. The only criticism the university perhaps may deserve is that this was not found prior to offering Salaita a job.
With the first amendment, hateful speech must be endured. However, that does not mean that such racist speech belongs in a classroom. It’s why universities seldom hire professors who cite KKK membership experience on their applications. Racism only harms an educational environment, which is why U of I made the decision that was made. Ignorance and hate simply cannot be tolerated in what are supposed to be diverse, intelligent and progressive institutions.
Nick Ulferts is a senior English education major and columnist for The Vidette. Any questions or comments regarding his column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org