As an academic who deals with controversial subject matter myself, the recent “firing” of Dr. Steen Salaita from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign strikes a particularly sensitive chord for me. There are many reasons UIUC’s rescinded offer (as I understand it based on articles like this one published on Inside Higher Ed) seems wrong to me, most of which have been voiced eloquently and passionately by other supporters. Their points about the violation of free speech, academic freedom, and the politics of the academy more broadly are all very powerful.
I think it’s interesting that Cary Nelson is quoted as saying, “If Salaita had limited himself to expressing his hostility to Israel in academic publications subjected to peer review, I believe the appointment would have gone through without difficulty.” Perhaps “interesting” isn’t the right word for it. Problematic, perhaps. Or silly. Maybe even ludicrous. I don’t believe that academics should have to filter all of their opinions through peer-reviewed publications. While those are undeniably important for one kind of scholarship, if we ever hope to break away from the “ivory tower” model of education, then an informed presence on social media sites such as Twitter is especially important, is it not? To punish a professor for engaging with a wider public audience seems absurd in a profession where faculty are increasingly asked to interact with a variety of communities outside of the university in addition to their on-campus responsibilities. On top of that, the kind of “peer review” Nelson advocates is a long process; that kind of publishing takes months (if not years). If one wishes to have a timely conversation about current events, the peer review process hardly seems like an ideal way to do that.
I guess I just felt compelled to pontificate on this particularly problematic and disappointing instance of what I presently understand as academic and social censorship. Thanks for reading, and feel free to weigh in if you have further thoughts about this.