Gaza, Steven Salaita and the Threat to Academic Freedom at the University of Illinois

by

Dear Chancellor,

I have just heard of the decision you have made to rescind a contract with professor Steven Salaita for the views he has expressed on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am deeply troubled by your decision, which, by all standards, based on the information I have been able to gather so far, is a flagrant violation of academic freedom.

I take the liberty of writing this message even though I am not a US but an Italian academic. As a professor of American literature at the Sapienza University of Rome, who holds a PhD from Rutgers University and who has lived for more than twelve years in the US, enjoying the vibrant atmosphere of its academic life, I am not only worried, but outright shocked by such decision, which is contrary to everything the best American liberal thinkers, from Ralph Waldo Emerson onwards, have always stood for.

I am also compelled to write due to the fact that over the last five years I have visited your university as part of an agreement between our two universities. Professors from UIUC have visited and taught at my University, and I have been a fellow at the International Forum for US Studies on three separate occasions. I have always been proud to be the promoter of a collaboration between our two institutions. Until now your university has stood out as a beacon ofexcellence and free academic debate. Because of your unfortunate decision, your institution is now at risk of becoming a symbol of the ever-growing intolerance of the powers that be against any serious criticism of the status quo.

Criticism may at times be expressed in harsh words, and in the case at hand one does not have to agree with every single word uttered by Prof. Salaita to defend his right to express freely his views. Indeed, one may well disagree with what he says and, as Voltaire famously argued, be a staunch defender of his right to speak his mind.

I live in a country where the freedom of teaching is enshrined in the constitution. The last time Italian authorities directly intervened to curb academic freedom was during the Fascist regime. Since the days of Mussolini, not one single Italian academic has been fired or refused tenure because of his or her political views, no matter how extreme.

What is also in my view disconcerting is that, in the case of professor Salaita, his views have not been expressed ex-cathedra. I read that your decision is motivated by his “uncivil” views. I am afraid, however, that “uncivil” views were likewise expressed at some point or another in their careers, by the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, Upton Sinclair, Denise Levertov and many, many other outstanding Americans. If the standards now applied to professor Salaita were the same for these and other American intellectuals, they would all be prevented from teaching at any university.

I feel obliged to write this message also because I have been serving for the last three years as president of the International American Studies Association. A threat to academic freedom anywhere is a threat to academic freedom everywhere. The termination of Professor Salaita’s contract would not only be a dishonor to your institution but an offense to the liberty your country claims to have at heart.

I sincerely hope you will reconsider your course of action. You would prove yourself wise, magnanimous, and far-sighted.

Sincerely,

Giorgio Mariani is a Professor of American Literature at Sapienza University of Rome.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
July 30, 2015
John Grant
The United States of Absurdity, Circa 2015
Jeff Taylor
Iowa Conference on Presidential Politics
July 29, 2015
Mike Whitney
The Politics of Betrayal: Obama Backstabs Kurds to Appease Turkey
Joshua Frank
The Wheels Fell Off the Bernie Sanders Bandwagon
Conn Hallinan
Ukraine: Close to the Edge
Stephen Lendman
What Happened to Ralkina Jones? Another Jail Cell Death
Rob Wallace
Neoliberal Ebola: the Agroeconomic Origins of the Ebola Outbreak
Dmitry Rodionov
The ‘Ichkerization’ Crime Wave in Ukraine
Joyce Nelson
Scott Walker & Stephen Harper: a New Bromance
Bill Blunden
The Red Herring of Digital Backdoors and Key Escrow Encryption
Thomas Mountain
The Sheepdog Politics of Barack Obama
Farzana Versey
A President and a Yogi: Abdul Kalam’s Symbolism
Norman Pollack
America’s Decline: Internal Structural-Cultural Subversion
Foday Darboe
How Obama Failed Africa
Cesar Chelala
Russia’s Insidious Epidemic
Tom H. Hastings
Defending Democracy
David Macaray
Why Union Contracts are Good for the Country
Virginia Arthur
The High and Dry Sierras
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, the Season Finale, Mekonception in Redhook
July 28, 2015
Mark Schuller
Humanitarian Occupation of Haiti: 100 Years and Counting
Lawrence Ware
Why the “Black Church” Doesn’t Exist–and Never Has
Peter Makhlouf
Israel and Gaza: the BDS Movement One Year After “Protective Edge”
Carl Finamore
Landlords Behaving Badly: San Francisco Too Valuable for Poor People*
Michael P. Bradley
Educating About Islam: Problems of Selectivity and Imbalance
Binoy Kampmark
Ransacking Malaysia: the Najib Corruption Dossier
Michael Avender - Medea Benjamin
El Salvador’s Draconian Abortion Laws: a Miscarriage of Justice
Jesse Jackson
Sandra Bland’s Only Crime Was Driving While Black
Cesar Chelala
Effect of Greece’s Economic Crisis on Public Health
Mel Gurtov
Netanyahu: An Enemy of Peace
Joseph G. Ramsey
The Limits of Optimism: E.L. Doctorow and the American Left
George Wuerthner
Bark Beetles and Forest Fires: Another Myth Goes Up in Smoke
Paul Craig Roberts - Dave Kranzler
Supply and Demand in the Gold and Silver Futures Markets
Eric Draitser
China’s NGO Law: Countering Western Soft Power and Subversion
Harvey Wasserman
Will Ohio Gov. Kasich’s Anti-Green Resume Kill His Presidential Hopes?
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode 4, a Bowery Ballroom Blitz
July 27, 2015
Susan Babbitt
Thawing Relations: Cuba’s Deeper (More Challenging) Significance
Howard Lisnoff
Bernie Sanders: Savior or Seducer of the Anti-War Left?
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma’s Profiteers: You Want Us to Pay What for These Meds?
Joshua Sperber
What is a President? The CEO of Capitalism
John Halle
On Berniebots and Hillary Hacks, Dean Screams, Swiftboating and Smears
Stephen Lendman
Cleveland Police Attack Black Activists
Zoe Konstantopoulou
The Politics of Coercion in Greece
Patrick Cockburn
Only Iraq’s Clerics Can Defeat ISIS
Ralph Nader
Sending a ‘Citizens Summons’ to Members of Congress
Clancy Sigal
Scratch That Itch: Hillary and The Donald