Free Speech Advocates Urge Consistency in Protecting Speech

August 14, 2014

Adam Kissel, formerly of FIRE, took to Minding the Campus on Tuesday to remind readers of why advocates for free speech should be concerned that Professor Steven Salaita had his employment offer rescinded by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) following controversy over his tweets about Israel. Those who refuse to defend Salaita’s right to share these tweets, Kissel argues, will have a hard time defending the public speech of any other faculty member who voices opinions that others find offensive.

Kissel reminds readers of what the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently wrote in finding that the University of North Carolina–Wilmington violated Professor Mike Adams’ right to free expression: “No individual loses his ability to speak as a private citizen by virtue of public employment.”

While many found Salaita’s tweets offensive, it is difficult to legally distinguish them from all the other potentially offensive but constitutionally protected opinions that professors across the country express outside of the classroom. Kissel reminds readers of the danger of treating Salaita like a special case:

Salaita’s commentary was too extreme, you say? You know the line when you see it, and Salaita crossed it? That’s exactly what censors think they know, and it is just what they’ve thought when going after … a long list of right-of-center professors and, not so long ago, a long list of left-of-center professors.

This is why even-handedness is so important in the fight for freedom of speech. Denver Post editorial page editor Vincent Carroll emphasized this, too, in a column published Tuesday. Praising FIRE for our consistency in defending a range of speech on campus, Carroll sympathizes with those who are bothered by Salaita’s tweets, but writes:

Ever consistent, FIRE is concerned about Salaita’s treatment. And maybe FIRE is right: that as bad as the state of tolerance is on college campuses, without protection for the likes of Salaita it would be worse.

Check out Kissel’s article in full at Minding the Campus and click over to The Denver Post to read what else Carroll had to say about the case.

Schools:  University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign University of North Carolina – Wilmington

Cases:  University of North Carolina – Wilmington: Professor Files Lawsuit Alleging Retaliation for Political Columns