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Academic Freedom For Me…


You will be unsurprised that Glenn Reynolds has no problem with academics being fired for the political content of their Twitter feeds:

A FACULTY CANDIDATE WHO TALKED ABOUT BLACK PEOPLE THIS WAY WOULD BE UNEMPLOYABLE ANYWHERE. SAY IT ABOUT JEWS, THOUGH, AND IT’S CONTROVERSIAL. “Yet ad hominem attacks are also a BDS strategy that serves to silence opponents. Many faculty who believe the university made the right decision about Salaita are now unwilling to say so publicly.” BDS people have made clear by their actions that they are nasty antisemites who deserve no respect.

First of all, let us once again dispense with the silly idea that Salaitia was a mere “candidate,” despite having agreed to an offer and been scheduled to teach classes.  By this logic, he could have been teaching for a month and not been hired.  The trustee approval is pro forma; he was treated by the university as an employee, which he was.  The idea that he wasn’t fired is such vacuous formalism it would embarrass proponents of the Hilbig litigation.  He was fired.

So let’s consider another hypothetical.  What if someone said “something like that” about, say, Palestinians?  I happen to have a test case handy:

Note here that Reynolds isn’t talking about Hamas, or Palestinian terrorists; he’s talking about Palestinans as a group. The evidence alleging anti-Semitism in Salaita’s tweets is far more ambiguous. (Indeed, I don’t think they constitute evidence that Salaita is anti-Semitic at all, although some of the tweets are hateful and indefensible even if they are not anti-Semitic.) It is being asserted that Salaita retweeting a tweet saying that a reporter’s story — not the reporter, the story — should have ended at the “point of a shiv” is a firable offense. Reynolds has called for the literal, not metaphorical, murder of Iranian nuclear scientists.

My position at the time of the latter incident is that Reynolds could not be fired for his statements based on the principles of academic freedom, and that applies to his new disgusting tweets as well. Reynolds himself, however, is happy to benefit from these protections but does not want them extended to people he disagrees with, which is a disgrace.

…in comments, IB refers us to this excellent post from Michael Dorf:

Some​ supporters of the university’s decision point to the often-important distinction between firing and not hiring. Academic freedom, they point out, is mostly a matter of contract law, and because Salaita had not yet been formally hired by the University of Illinois, he was not entitled to the same protection as someone who was already a member of the faculty.

But that view appears to be false as a matter of contract law. Like many other states, Illinois law offers protection to people who, in reasonable reliance on an offer that falls short of a fully enforceable contract, take actions to their detriment. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed this principle of “promissory estoppel” as recently as 2009, in the case of Newton Tractor Sales v. Kubota Tractor Corp.

Salaita has an almost-classic case of promissory estoppel. He was told by Illinois that trustee approval was essentially a rubber stamp, and in reliance on that representation he resigned from his prior position on the faculty of Virginia Tech.

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