Until a few weeks ago, Steven G. Salaita was on his way to join the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a tenured professor in its American Indian studies program. He had left his position at Virginia Tech and was prepared to move across the country with his family. All that was left was the usually pro-forma step in which the chancellor sends the appointment to the university’s board for approval. In this case, shockingly, Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise decided to block his appointment. The alleged reason was that he was too rude when criticizing Israel on Twitter.
This case has arrived in the wake of numerous others in which online speech has resulted in censure and, in some cases, the enactment of new policies intended to restrict public speech. The decision to void Salaita’s hiring over criticizing Israel, already a polarizing topic in American academic culture, escalates the situation.
I come to this topic not as a partisan in the specifics of Salaita’s situation but as an advocate for faculty engagement with the public. Over the last year, I have written periodic columns for The Chronicle about the ways that academics can and should write for general audiences. Recently, I even suggested that “sustained public engagement” of any sort should count for hiring, tenure, and promotion.