FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

April 27, 2017
Darlene Dubuisson – Mark Schuller
“You Live Under Fear”: 50,000 Haitian People at Risk of Deportation
Karl Grossman
The Crash of Cassini and the Nuclearization of Space
Robert Hunziker
Venezuela Ablaze
John W. Whitehead
Trump’s America is a Constitution-Free Zone
Ron Jacobs
One Hundred Years That Shook the World
Judith Deutsch
Convenient Untruths About “Human Nature:” Can People Deal with Climate Change and Nuclear Weapons?
Don Fitz
Is Pope Francis the World’s Most Powerful Advocate for Climate Stability?
Thomas Mountain
Africa’s War Lord Queen: The Bloodstained Career of Liberia’s Eleanor Sirleaf Johnson
Binoy Kampmark
Short Choices: the French Presidential Elections
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Monetizing My Mouth
Michael Barker
Of Union Dreams and Nightmares: Cesar Chavez and Why Funding Matters
Elier Ramirez Cañedo
“Let Venezuela give me a way of serving her, she has in me a son.”
Paul Mobbs
Cellphones, WIFI and Cancer: Will Trump’s Budget Cuts Kill ‘Electrosmog’ Research?
Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee
The Closing of Rikers: a Survival Strategy of the Carceral State
April 26, 2017
Richard Moser
Empire Abroad, Empire At Home
Stan Cox
For Climate Justice, It’s the 33 Percent Who’ll Have to Pick Up the Tab
Paul Craig Roberts
The Looting Machine Called Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
The Dilemma for Intelligence Agencies
Christy Rodgers
Remaining Animal
Joseph Natoli
Facts, Opinions, Tweets, Words
Mel Gurtov
No Exit? The NY Times and North Korea
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Women on the Move: Can Three Women and a Truck Quell the Tide of Sexual Violence and Domestic Abuse?
Michael J. Sainato
Trump’s Wikileaks Flip-Flop
Manuel E. Yepe
North Korea’s Antidote to the US
Kim C. Domenico
‘Courting Failure:’ the Key to Resistance is Ending Animacide
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Legacy of Lynne Stewart, the People’s Lawyer
Andrew Stewart
The People vs. Bernie Sanders
Daniel Warner
“Vive La France, Vive La République” vs. “God Bless America”
April 25, 2017
Russell Mokhiber
It’s Impossible to Support Single-Payer and Defend Obamacare
Nozomi Hayase
Prosecution of Assange is Persecution of Free Speech
Robert Fisk
The Madder Trump Gets, the More Seriously the World Takes Him
Giles Longley-Cook
Trump the Gardener
Bill Quigley
Major Challenges of New Orleans Charter Schools Exposed at NAACP Hearing
Jack Random
Little Fingers and Big Egos
Stanley L. Cohen
Dissent on the Lower East Side: the Post-Political Condition
Stephen Cooper
Conscientious Justice-Loving Alabamians, Speak Up!
Michael J. Sainato
Did the NRA Play a Role in the Forcing the Resignation of Surgeon General?
David Swanson
The F-35 and the Incinerating Ski Slope
Binoy Kampmark
Mike Pence in Oz
Peter Paul Catterall
Green Nationalism? How the Far Right Could Learn to Love the Environment
George Wuerthner
Range Riders: Making Tom Sawyer Proud
Clancy Sigal
It’s the Pits: the Miner’s Blues
Robert K. Tan
Abe is Taking Japan Back to the Bad Old Fascism
April 24, 2017
Mike Whitney
Is Mad Dog Planning to Invade East Syria?    
John Steppling
Puritan Jackals
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail