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Strategic (Mis)Uses of Academic Freedom

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Liel Leibovitz has an extended defense of UIUC’s firing of Steven Salaita. Let’s start with this:

Another tweet applied just as much nuance in declaring, “Zionists: transforming ‘anti-semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.” Subject that last utterance to a close reading—an exercise that passes for rigid and original thinking in most American universities these days—and you learn that the author approaches anti-Semitism with the one-two punch of unreality: It doesn’t exist—hence the quotation marks—and if it does exist then it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Given the unoriginality of Leibovitz’s misreading, I would have let it slide had he not patted himself on the back for his “close reading” (while, paging SEK, criticizing people who think this is a real skill.) Even looked at in isolation, the “close reading” is somewhere between “uncharitable” and “inept.” The designation of anti-Semitism as “horrible” makes it pretty clear that Leibovitz is wrong to say that the quotation marks around “anti-Semitism” are an argument that anti-Semitism doesn’t exist. Rather, the most natural reading of the tweet is that conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism is cheapening the latter term, which describes a very real and very serious problem. I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say that this is the only possible reading of the words in isolation — we’re talking about a medium that limits communications to 140 characters, after all. But I would say that Leibovitz is not very well-positioned to be accusing others of lacking “nuance.” (As I’ve said before, I do agree that Salaita’s tweet wishing that the settlers would vanish is entirely indefensible, although to imply that it’s a literal incitement to violence is silly.)

And, of course, it’s worse than that. Since we’re not fanatical opponents of the ACA trying out any legal argument that might convince the right majority of hacks, we should not read the tweet in isolation but in the context of his other writings. Doing so makes it abundantly clear that while Salaita is a strong (and at times uncivil and even crackpottish) critic of Israel on his Twitter feed, he believes that anti-Semitism is both very real and very deplorable. And since Leibovitz has no actual evidence that Salaita is an anti-Semite, his “replacing references to Jews and Israelis with blacks, gays, or women” analogy is specious.

Let’s move on to the other bad argument at the core of the op-ed:

And it’s tempting, in analyzing this situation, to focus on its minor irritants and point out, for example, how deliciously ironic it is that the champions of academic freedom riding to Salaita’s defense did it by boycotting his university, a blunt tactic that, in this case, causes much more harm to the principle of academic freedom than the incident it wishes to protest.

I’m mystified by how scholars declining to make appearances at UIUC as a protest — the very minimalist boycott most of the disciplines are engaged in — damages academic freedom at all. Leibovitz doesn’t explain, and I’ve never heard of the idea that academic freedom requires accepting all speaking opportunities. (It seems obvious to me that cancelling appearances is itself a form of speech, not a suppression of speech.) There are certainly forms of boycott that could be inconsistent with academic freedom — blackballing UIUC scholars from conferences or publication, for example — but as far as I can tell nobody is advocating this.

Even if we were to assume that there’s an academic freedom problem with refusing to take UIUC’s speaking space and/or money, I’m really baffled how this could be more damaging to academic freedom than firing a tenured faculty member for expressing political views. (McCarthyism: no real threat to academic freedom, so long as the faculty willing to take loyalty oaths never turn down a speaking gig!) I think I can understand why there’s nothing but bare assertion on offer for this proposition.

Actually, there’s another reason why Leibovitz hasn’t thought very clearly about what the principles of academic freedom mean. Namely, he’s against them:

Some, of course, may argue that the answer is still yes, and that subject-matter expertise ought to be the single and sacred standard by which we hire, reward, and promote our professors. But many more believe, like Chancellor Wise, that while we ought to fiercely insist on protecting our scholars’ freedom to say whatever they please, we should also insist that speech, like action, have consequences. In some cases, we may listen to scholars speak out on unpopular subjects and reward them for their insight and their courage; in others, we may hear things so vile that we decide the speaker, no matter how well-versed in his or her discipline, has no place in an institution that depends on the unfettered exchange of ideas, and that scholars who cannot translate their passions into well-reasoned arguments are better off opining on Twitter rather than in the classroom.

Until academics live up to this obvious condition, until they realize that, like the rest of us, they operate in a community and enjoy no special license to speak and act with utter impunity, until they understand that public engagement is not a privilege but a responsibility, they will continue to find themselves marginalized. It’s a price that neither they nor we can afford to pay.

This argument is at least more honest than those of Wise, since she claims to support academic freedom in principle. The argument that firing faculty members solely for expressing disagreeable political views is perfectly OK is at least a real argument. (And remember that it’s wealthy and/or politically connected donors and trustees ultimately policing the bounds of acceptable discourse once the principles of academic freedom are abandoned.) If you think that Coke Stevenson’s Texas is as good a way of organizing a university as any other, that’s your privilege. I strongly disagree, but it’s good to have the stakes made clear.

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  • brugroffil

    Shorter:
    “Some, of course, may argue that the answer is still yes, and that subject-matter expertise ought to be the single and sacred standard by which we hire, reward, and promote our professors. But many more believe, like Chancellor Wise, that while we ought to fiercely insist on protecting our scholars’ freedom to say whatever they please, we should also do whatever it is our wealthy masters tell us”

    • ChrisTS

      Kudos.

  • tonycpsu

    Relevant: ‘A Growing Hunt for Heretics’? Cary Nelson and Feisal Mohamed, two professors of English at UIUC, debate what’s at stake in the Salaita affair in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

    • liberalrob

      This Prof. Nelson is a hoot:

      And in Churchill’s and Finkelstein’s cases, since, like Salaita, they aim to be public intellectuals, I would also feel bound to ask what public identity they are crafting for themselves, what their impact as public intellectuals is, and whether it is beneficial to the university and to society. I am justified in doing so, however, only because their public presence and commentary fall in the same areas as their academic work. If Churchill or Salaita had created a public identity as climate-change deniers, it would be irrelevant.

      Isn’t that awesome? It’s OK to hire a public loon as long as it’s outside of their “area of academic work” because somehow that doesn’t reflect poorly on the university or harm society.

      Then there’s this:

      In terms of what happened at Illinois, I doubt if donor threats played a role in the university’s decision. A large institution like this is not vulnerable to financial losses of that scale, and it would be abandoning its principles to make them a consideration. Just because people threatened to stop giving money to the university does not prove that those threats played any role in the chancellor’s decision. You talk with donors, trying to explain the university’s values, but you do not honor their demands.

      Heavens no! Why would anyone ever think that?

      Of course, I may be naïve in thinking the university’s decision was based on academic, not political, grounds.

      Uh, yeah, maybe just a little there Sherlock.

      • Wow, Nelson’s even more bonkers than I’d seen.

        We’ve had people said that Salaita should only have freedom to tweet such if it’s in his area and Nelson now saying that it’s only because they’re in his area that he can get the boot. WTF.

        (Neither of these things are true.)

        Churchill got nailed for academic malpractice, not for his public comments, even though the motivation for the investigation was his public comments. I think they crossed the line with him, though they were way more careful than the folks screwing Finkelstein or Salaita. Finkelstein’s was a transparent farce, and well understood to be by everyone. He was booted out because of his substantive academic views by the administration against the will of his department.

        Nelson should be ashamed.

        • ChrisTS

          Is CN bonkers, or is he a desperate hypocrite?

          • Snarki, child of Loki

            Oh, let’s be generous and go with “early stage Alzheimer’s”

          • IM

            The later. He wants to fire Salaita for his views on BDS. And he wants to retain his old principles on academic freedom. Both isn’t possible and so he twists himself into a pretzl.

            • J. Otto Pohl

              Of course academic freedom doesn’t mean much if it is only academic freedom for those holding certain orthodox political viewpoints.

            • I still don’t get why he would die on this hill in this matter. He’s trashing his reputation for basically nothing. Maybe there’s a think tank payoff?

              • The Dark Avenger

                He’s obviously an ideologue, who treasure his ideology above such mundane things as academic freedom. Such self-sacrifice must be its own reward.

                • Yeah, I’m forced to believe that. But, he wrote “University Is an Island: Saving Academic Freedom”. In there he speaks very differently of Finklestien and Churchill and indeed quite differently about shared governance.

                  I know, I know, he’s a train wreck. Fascinating yet sad.

              • ChrisTS

                I think others have captured the likely ‘reasons’ for this self-immolation tour.

          • CD

            This is not a difficult question.

            http://israelcc.org/icc-academic-network-faculty-fellows/

            Middle column, next to last.

      • MAJeff

        Management needs its lackeys, even in academia.

  • Robert M.

    Most of the early defenses I saw of UIUC’s conduct in the matter hinged on the fact that Salaita wasn’t really fired–he was merely not hired. (Despite, of course, the fact that in the normal course of events he’d be at the start of his third or fourth week of teaching by the time the Board of Trustees met to rubber-stamp his addition to the faculty.)

    Now that UIUC itself has made that defense untenable, I’m not sure what grounds there are to defend his firing other than opposition to academic freedom.

  • Peterr

    Back in the day, up on the northern border of Chicago, an associate professor of engineering at Northwestern University named Arthur Butz wrote a book entitled “The Hoax of the Twentieth Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry”.

    Shorter Butz: The holocaust never happened.

    This did not go down well with the other members of his department, his school, the student body, or the university administration. Even so, he remained a member of the faculty. From time to time over the years, as he published additional holocaust-denial pieces or made public appearances before denialist groups, there would be a push to remove him, but each time it was slapped down by the university administration on the grounds of academic freedom.

    From a 2006 press release, when one of these moves was under way:

    Statement Regarding Associate Professor Arthur Butz
    February 6, 2006

    Northwestern University Associate Professor Arthur Butz recently issued a statement commending Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s assertion that the Holocaust never happened. Butz is a Holocaust denier who has made similar assertions previously. His latest statement, like his earlier writings and pronouncements, is a contemptible insult to all decent and feeling people. While I hope everyone understands that Butz’s opinions are his own and in no way represent the views of the University or me personally, his reprehensible opinions on this issue are an embarrassment to Northwestern.

    There is no question that the Holocaust is a well-documented historical fact. The University has a professorship in Holocaust Studies endowed by the Holocaust Educational Foundation. Northwestern offers courses in Holocaust Studies and organizes conferences of academic scholars who teach in areas relating to the Holocaust. In addition, Northwestern hosts a summer Institute for Holocaust and Jewish Civilization. And most recently, a fellowship in the political science department has been established in my name by the Holocaust Educational Foundation. In short, Northwestern University has contributed significantly to the scholarly research of the Holocaust and remains committed to doing so.

    Butz is a tenured associate professor in electrical engineering. Like all faculty members, he is entitled to express his personal views, including on his personal web pages, as long as he does not represent such opinions as the views of the University. Butz has made clear that his opinions are his own and at no time has he discussed those views in class or made them part of his class curriculum. Therefore, we cannot take action based on the content of what Butz says regarding the Holocaust – however odious it may be – without undermining the vital principle of intellectual freedom that all academic institutions serve to protect.

    Henry S. Bienen
    President

    As one of my old NU professors might have put it, “the comparison between Bienen and Wise/Leibovitz is left as an exercise for the student.”

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      And, of course, as a private institution, NU is actually under less legal obligation to recognize its faculties’ free speech rights than UIUC is as a state institution.

      • Peterr

        True.

        But a much more immediate concern for both NU and UIUC is (or ought to be) their accreditation. Accreditation teams tend to look askance at institutions that even appear to undermine the idea of academic freedom.

        UIUC’s next accreditation visit should be quite interesting.

        • postmodulator

          I really just assumed that was a total rubber stamp. No?

          • Peterr

            No.

            See, for instance, this rundown of “problem institutions” from Inside Higher Education.

          • ChrisTS

            Oh, no. It does vary across the several accreditation entities, of course, but academic freedom is one of the ‘biggies.’

  • Hogan

    Anyone still wondering whether Salaita ought to have a teaching job should play the parlor game of reading his tweets and replacing references to Jews and Israelis with blacks, gays, or women.

    OK, let’s see: I’m outraged at the indiscriminate killing of civilians in Gaza by blacks, gays and women!

    Hmm. Even for a parlor game, it lacks a certain something.

    • rmgosselin

      I actually played this game! I asked myself if Rush Limbaugh’s tweets about Sandra Fluke would make me deny him a place on a college campus, and had to answer “no.”

    • hylen

      +1

    • NattyB

      This is fun:

      #ISupportGaza because I believe that Gay and Arab children are equal in the eyes of God.

      @johnellsmar Equal rights for everybody, Women, Muslim, Christian, etc. — Steven Salaita

      #ISIS and #Gaza make me pessimistic. Seeing so many Blacks, Muslims, Christians, and Hindus join to oppose sectarianism gives me great hope.

      And I’d pay to see this one:
      What’s with this headline? #Macklemore wasn’t mocking Black, Gay and Women stereotypes. He was performing them. http://t.co/Z0l2CNFG9M

    • ChrisTS

      Hah. This is the kind of thinking that moved me from having worries about SS’s *possible* troubles with pro-Israel students to certainty that the admin screwed the pooch, here.

  • Vance Maverick

    I like “rigid” for “rigorous”, especially in the context of a fake, tendentious misreading.

    I also like the implied logic that (1) speech must have consequences; (2) firing is a consequence; therefore (3) he must be fired.

  • Richard

    I dont agree with either your reading of the Zionist tweet or the Liebowitz reading. It seems to me that Salaita was saying that the actions of the Zionists in claiming and taking a part of the Middle East for themselves is so horrible an act that hating Jews is now honorable. While I consider that statement and his statement about the death of the settlers to be abhorrent, I have to conclude that academic freedom prevents the college from firing him/withdrawing his offer of employment.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      The problem with your reading, Richard, is that if that’s what Salaita meant, why would he have put “anti-semitism” in quotation marks?

      And indeed, read in the context of other tweets by Salaita, it’s quite clear that he means something rather like Scott’s interpretation above.

      I am no fan of Twitter (it’s foolish to expect to clearly say something more complicated than a one-liner in 140 characters) and am also no particular fan of Salaita’s tweets (especially the one about wishing the deaths of settlers). But Twitter is a conversational medium and the now infamous tweet about “‘anti-semitism'” was part of a conversation in which Salaita makes clear that he is committed to “acknowledging and countering the horror of antisemitism” and that he wants to attack “the discourses of Zionism that cheapen anti-Semitism by likening it to principled stands against state violence.” Since within the very same twitter stream Salaita at least twice explicitly states his opposition to anti-semitism, it is clearly a misreading of the tweet in question to see it as Salaita’s arguing in favor of anti-semitism.

      • Richard

        Had to say since he says he opposes anti-Semitism in other tweets but the only thing that saves him in this tweet is putting the word in “quotation marks” as if that somehow is self-explanatory. He certainly didn’t express himself very well. If he meant to say that being anti=Zionist is not the same thing as being anti-Semitic, a clearly defensible position, or that the Zionists have appropriated the term “anti-Semitic” for their own purposes,why didn’t he just say that. At the very least, he deliberately sought to fan the flames by talking about anti=Semitism becoming honorable. The Liebowitz interpretation is certainly wrong – there’s nothing there to indicate that he is denying the existence of anti-semitism.
        And even if his statement deserves the interpretation I gave it, he shouldn’t have been fired.

        • wjts

          …the only thing that saves him in this tweet is putting the word in “quotation marks” as if that somehow is self-explanatory.

          It is absolutely self-explanatory to anyone who knows how to write, but perhaps you missed the day in 7th Grade English when the teacher explained that when you want to talk about a word as a word in a piece of writing, you put that word in quotation marks. As in, “The word ‘cool’ was originally used only to refer to temperatures, but in certain speech communities it is now commonly used as a synonym for ‘good’ or ‘interesting’.”

          • Vance Maverick

            So, you deny the reality not only of cool, but of that which is good or interesting!

            Better trolls, please.

        • NattyB

          He certainly didn’t express himself very well.

          For fucks sake, it’s 140 characters. You have to read in context.

          So, if you go like (I’m at my work computer so I cannot access twitter) a tweet or two earlier, he tweets “If it’s “anti-semitism” to oppose land theft, child murder and state violence, what else is a person of conscience to do. #Gaza”

          Then a few tweets later, he clarifies further that he abhors anti-semitism and is opposed to it and its all its horrors. He’s criticizing those who conflate Israel = Jews and Anti-Zionism = Anti-Semitism.

    • NattyB

      Reminder to all Readers:

      You do not have to take the bait.

    • Murc

      It seems to me that Salaita was saying that the actions of the Zionists in claiming and taking a part of the Middle East for themselves is so horrible an act that hating Jews is now honorable.

      You are wrong.

      Full stop.

    • Scott Lemieux

      It seems to me that Salaita was saying that the actions of the Zionists in claiming and taking a part of the Middle East for themselves is so horrible an act that hating Jews is now honorable.

      For the reasons stated by myself and IB, I think this is a terrible reading even on a Halbig-style analysis, and transparently wrong when put into the context of his other tweets.

  • rmgosselin

    The comments at Tabletmag are replete with a variant on the phrase, “I believe in freedom of speech, but…”

    • Scott Lemieux

      “…this is null and void if someone disagrees with my views about Israeli politics. Also, our Board of Directors has been indicted, myself included, and we’re prohibited from doing business until the investigation is completed. So obviously, we would have no use for you.”

    • brad

      Actual comment

      I’m all for freedom of expression, but the anti-Israel viewpoint overwhelmingly saturates Western academia. It’s time to face the fact that terrorism is a very real threat, rooted in ideology.

      Most people that criticize Israel’s policies: a) have never lived there; b) have never lived through a war, or lost relatives who were defending their country; or c) never had to hide in bomb shelters or send their children to school wearing gas masks. ‘Nuff said.

      Saliata, as I only learned in comments here but most probably know by now is, himself, Palestinian.

  • Murc

    I have to confess, I could give a fuck about the academic freedom aspect of this case.

    I’m pissed off from a perspective of labor rights. Salaita, despite being in a high-status profession, preforms work, for wages; he’s not part of the managerial class and as such is subject to their whims and desires. He uprooted his life after he was offered employment on terms he accepted in good faith, only to be dicked around at the tail end of it.

    That’s what has me angered.

    I am, at best, lukewarm on the idea of academic freedom, supporting it only inasmuch as I don’t see a way to bar guys like John Yoo from academia without establishing procedures that will invariably be used against the marginalized rather than the privileged. But make no mistake; if it were possible to do so without knock-on effects, I would be bang in favor of the academy being utterly and relentlessly purged of guys like Glenn Reynolds, Ann Althouse, John Yoo, and all their fellow travelers, who taint the very universities whose campuses they walk on merely with their presence. I wouldn’t hesitate.

    • Peterr

      John Yoo deserves to be removed from his post at Boalt Hall, and cries of academic freedom would not be sufficient to protect him. Instead, it is the pattern of misrepresentations and selective citations in his professional writings that place him in danger.

      These are two of the mortal sins of academia (right up there with plagiarism) that warrant removal of even the most senior faculty, and Yoo committed both of them with great regularity. See here for more.

      • Interesting, but I’m not immediately convinced that a legal memo prepared on the job, for a client, is subject to being criticized under standards applied to academic work.

        For instance, there is no such thing as “plagiarizing” someone else’s brief, that I’m aware of. (Efforts to sue Westlaw & Lexis for posting briefs have failed.)

        The notorious omission of Youngstown from the torture memo might have merited a bar complaint (tho for what I recall as bogus reasons, the one that got filed was dismissed). It’s certainly unethical lawyering. But it’s not comparable to doing something like that in a journal article.

        • Lee Rudolph

          So what you’re saying is, the reason that so few law professors have a rigid robust rigorous background in actual lawyering is that it would have tended to disqualify them from academia?

        • matt w

          For instance, there is no such thing as “plagiarizing” someone else’s brief, that I’m aware of. (Efforts to sue Westlaw & Lexis for posting briefs have failed.)

          Not that I’m disagreeing with either of these assertions, but I don’t see what one has to do with the other. Wouldn’t the contention against Westlaw & Lexis be that they’re violating copyright, not that they’re improperly claiming authorship, as the plagiarist does?

          …I would, in any case, question whether any academic has ever been fired for selective citation.

        • rea

          I do not see why academic freedom implies that a law professor ought not to be sanctioned by the university for unethical lawyering.

        • matt w

          As I recall what happened was that OPR wanted to file a complaint with the bar and a career DOJ employee unilaterally forbade them from doing so. I don’t know if there was another complaint that was dismissed for bogus reasons.

    • MAJeff

      I’m pissed off from a perspective of labor rights. Salaita, despite being in a high-status profession, preforms work, for wages; he’s not part of the managerial class and as such is subject to their whims and desires.

      Exactly. And academic freedom is generally one of the conditions of academic wage/salary labor. The he was coming in as a tenured faculty member, as someone with heightened due process rights, this is even more troubling.

      The academic freedom issue is a labor rights issue.

      • postmodulator

        This was my chief concern about it too. I mean, is Salaita going to be okay? Seriously. Suddenly not getting paychecks can constitute something of a hardship for most Americans.

        • There is a fundraiser. And yes, his straits are dire:

          Salaita now has no job nor does his wife who quit her job in Virginia to support the family’s move, no personal home to live in, and no health insurance for their family, including their two year-old son.

          Not to mention lawyer fees.

  • liberalrob

    I must be getting old, because this whole situation of getting fired/unhired/whatever FOR SAYING SOMETHING ON TWITTER just blows my mind. Come on, really? Is that who we are now?

    • Murc

      I am unsure why statements on twitter should be taken less seriously than those uttered aloud, or committed to paper.

      The medium is not the message. The message is the message.

      • liberalrob

        As far as I’m concerned, Twitter is the online equivalent of a cork board at a corner bar. Anyone can just pop off there whenever they feel like. The whole point of Twitter is to be unfiltered and spontaneous, I thought.

        I’d also be concerned about dismissing someone for something they “uttered aloud” at the corner bar. It’d have to be something a lot more heinous than an F-bomb dropped on Israel, for damn sure.

        “Committed to paper” is a different story. There, it’s expected that there’s a filter and that you’re carefully considering what you’re saying. Even so, what you commit to paper outside of your connection to your employer is your own damn business; and if that’s going to be used as a hire/don’t hire red flag by a university, that should be expressly stated up front and agreed to. Twitter, with its emphasis on spontaneity, is most definitely not “committing to paper.”

        • Murc

          The whole point of Twitter is to be unfiltered and spontaneous, I thought.

          First of all, you don’t get to decide what the “point” of twitter is. Erik and Farley used it to have a lively intellectual debate just a few days ago; is the content of that debate cheapened because they decided to have it on twitter?

          Second of all, I am curious as to why you think people should get some sort of pass for things they say when they’re being unfiltered and spontaneous. If anything, I take things people say in those moments more seriously rather than less, because they show insight into a persons true self. Someone who starts dropping n-bombs when they’re drunk and think they’re among like-minded company but would never, ever do it when sober and with people they don’t know is still a giant racist.

          There, it’s expected that there’s a filter and that you’re carefully considering what you’re saying.

          How is there more of a filter on twitter than on paper? Indeed, it would take somewhat more effort to log into twitter, type something, and post it than it would to scrawl something on a piece of paper and stick it on the cork board at your hypothetical bar.

          And someone speaking from behind a filter is to regarded with less seriousness than someone speaking unfiltered, rather than more, for reasons previously stated.

          • sparks

            You’ve never been on IRC? Twitter is a gussied-up IRC for the new generation of suckers and the last thing I expect is filtered thought. Haven’t found much there either.

            • postmodulator

              I haven’t been on IRC in ten years or so, but the last time I was on it, people were fucking horrible. At the time the most popular Unix client was named BitchX. Seriously.

              • Origami Isopod

                I chat there regularly with about half a dozen people about hobby-related stuff. Nobody’s come into our chatrooms to troll us, but maybe that’s because there are richer fields to harvest these days.

          • liberalrob

            First of all, you don’t get to decide what the “point” of twitter is.

            I’m sorry, was that your department?

            Erik and Farley used it to have a lively intellectual debate just a few days ago; is the content of that debate cheapened because they decided to have it on twitter?

            Depends what it’s used for. I can’t see a Doctoral Dissertation Committee accepting “this lively discussion I had on Twitter” as a valid part of a Physics thesis defense. Maybe I lack imagination.

            Second of all, I am curious as to why you think people should get some sort of pass for things they say when they’re being unfiltered and spontaneous. If anything, I take things people say in those moments more seriously rather than less, because they show insight into a persons true self. Someone who starts dropping n-bombs when they’re drunk and think they’re among like-minded company but would never, ever do it when sober and with people they don’t know is still a giant racist.

            Or it may just reveal that they’re a mean/stupid drunk. It’s not a good idea to judge people by what they say or do when not in full control of their faculties or given enough time to carefully consider the consequences of what they are doing. People do and say stupid things, things they don’t mean, things that come out wrong, things that they’d never act on. It’s an unreliable data point taken in isolation.

            How is there more of a filter on twitter than on paper? Indeed, it would take somewhat more effort to log into twitter, type something, and post it than it would to scrawl something on a piece of paper and stick it on the cork board at your hypothetical bar.

            Not much more effort. And I said there’s more of a filter on things written on paper, not the reverse.

            • Origami Isopod

              Or it may just reveal that they’re a mean/stupid drunk. It’s not a good idea to judge people by what they say or do when not in full control of their faculties or given enough time to carefully consider the consequences of what they are doing. People do and say stupid things, things they don’t mean, things that come out wrong, things that they’d never act on. It’s an unreliable data point taken in isolation.

              Alcohol is an inhibition remover. It is not a demon that, partaken of, forces you to blurt out bigoted utterances you would never in a million years think.

              There are “stupid things,” and then there are bigoted things. I am very, very much less likely to cut someone slack on the latter than the former.

      • Peterr

        So the job offer by UIUC should not be taken less seriously because it was uttered aloud, and not put down on paper?

        Good to know.

        • Murc

          Um. As far as I know, Salaita’s job offer was, in fact, put down on paper. So that looks like a bit of a non-sequiter.

          But even given that, yes, I agree with you. Had Salaita’s understanding with UIUC been entirely in the nature of oral agreements, I would say that, in fact, the job offer should not be taken less seriously because it was uttered aloud and not put down on paper.

        • rea

          No applicable statutes of frauds that I know of.
          Contracts not only don’t have to be in writing, they don’t have to be verbal. Thus if you offer a man a job, and allow him to start working without objection, you’ve hired him.

          • matt w

            Does this bear on the question of what happens if you offer a man a job pending approval at a meeting that won’t happen until after he starts working?

            • Murc

              That’s more nebulous, but as I understand it, norms and precedent come into play, as does how you present it.

              (I am NOT a lawyer.)

              “You’re a contingent employee until we decide to sign your post-evaluation contract; until then, you operate under this contract instead” is a perfectly legal way of doing things. So is “this contract has a phase-in, these clauses right here; until these latter conditions are met, you’re contingent.”

              However, if you present as “you’re hired; it’s a done deal. I mean, there’s some paperwork the committee has to rubber-stamp, but that’s pro forma, like when we filed your I-9. We’ll see you in class in September” you have actually opened yourself up to legal liability, especially if literally everyone else you hire in similar roles was rubber-stamped and started teaching before their pro forma approval took place. If you suddenly make the approval not so pro forma at all, you are potentially exposed to liability because of the reasonable expectations you established in the person you extended the offer to. Also, depending on local laws, you might have been asking them to work without a contract, which is often illegal.

        • liberalrob

          Of course, I wasn’t talking about the job offer, I was talking about his tweets; so the analogy is inapt.

  • matt w

    So Liebovitz is the troll (Anon1, I think?) from the other thread, right? Right down to the claim that freedom isn’t the same thing as license, and the refusal to explain the distinction?

    Also, the attack on close reading as trendy, what the fuck. Wasn’t that what the New Critics were big on, so called because they were new in the 1940s?

    • gmack

      Right down to the claim that freedom isn’t the same thing as license, and the refusal to explain the distinction

      I guess John Locke is still with us! (Though, of course, Locke does explain the distinction: freedom occurs within the bounds established by the laws of nature, but I’m guessing that’s not a terribly convincing position in the 21st century).

      And yeah, what sort of academic in the humanities mocks the practice of closely reading texts? Granted, some readings aren’t good ones (his for instance!). But what this has to do with the trendiness of reading carefully, I don’t know.

      Oh, and by the way: Are you (matt w) the Matt Weiner who used to comment here some years ago? If so, it’s great to see you around again!

      • matt w

        Yup, that’s me! Good to see you too!

    • Scott Lemieux

      So Liebovitz is the troll (Anon1, I think?) from the other thread, right? Right down to the claim that freedom isn’t the same thing as license, and the refusal to explain the distinction?

      Has anyone ever seen Liebovitz, Anon1, and Robby George in the same room together?

    • sharculese

      I got the impression I/P made anon1 feel funny, so he just didn’t want anyone to talk about it and didn’t know how to not be a dick when he thought someone got punished for doing so.

      In other words, more completely pigfucking crazy than anything else.

      • Scott Lemieux

        Gregory Bateson smoked a Marlboro Red, and mused, “wait, what the fuck was I talking about?” In conclusion, Steven Salaita therefore should have been fired.

  • matt w

    Respect where due: Jonathan Adler and FIRE are not cool with firing professors who’ve gone through the whole hiring process because of pressure from wealthy donors who don’t like their opinions.

  • Manny Kant

    Apparently Leibovitz thinks the New Critics are called that because they are currently new?

    • Baby Needs-A-Nym

      Weren’t they mostly Southerners, many of a fairly conservative stripe?

  • Those of Salaita’s defenders going for extra credit also hinted at the involvement of a cabal of unknown but deep-pocketed donors thwarting the hiring process with threats of defunding the school.

    Oops. Events have verified this “hint”, but I see no correction. Oh well!

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