Yesterday, Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed reported that Professor Steven G. Salaita, who was leaving Virginia Tech for a job with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s (UIUC’s) American Indian studies program, was “informed by [UIUC] Chancellor Phyllis Wise that the appointment would not go to the university’s board, and that he did not have a job to come to in Illinois, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation.” The reason for the controversy is one that is quickly becoming all too familiar—controversial remarks made on Twitter.
What makes this case stranger is that the university was apparently aware of the nature of Salaita’s remarks on Twitter, and had defended Salaita’s right to express his personal political views on the popular social media platform just a couple of weeks ago. As Inside Higher Ed reports:
In recent weeks, bloggers and others have started to draw attention to Salaita’s comments on Twitter. But as recently as July 22 (before the job offer was revoked), a university spokeswoman defended Salaita’s comments on Twitter and elsewhere. A spokeswoman told The News-Gazette [a local newspaper] for an article about Salaita that “faculty have a wide range of scholarly and political views, and we recognize the freedom-of-speech rights of all of our employees.”
So what happened between July 22 and yesterday that caused UIUC’s chancellor to determine that she would not even forward Salaita’s appointment to the board for approval? Jaschik asked, but UIUC didn’t respond.
This isn’t the first time a professor has faced trouble for what he said on Twitter. Torch readers will likely remember the recent case of University of Kansas Professor David Guth, who in the wake of the September 16, 2013, Washington Navy Yard shooting tweeted a condemnation of the the National Rifle Association, saying “Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.” In response to Guth’s tweet, the Kansas state university system rushed to pass an unclear and restrictive social media policy that FIRE, other free speech advocates, and many Kansas academics have protested as a violation of professors’ free speech rights.
FIRE is looking into the case.