The Chronicle of Higher Education
December 15th, 2014
What are professors allowed to say? Where are we are allowed to say it?
Last week Deborah O’Connor, a senior lecturer at Florida State University, was pushed to resign after making racist and homophobic comments on a public Facebook
page. She said some pretty horrible things, like blaming Europe’s
troubles on “rodent Muslims.” She also told a well-known gay hairstylist
to “Take your Northern fagoot [sic] elitism and shove it up your ass. ”
I am revolted by her remarks. However, I spent quite a lot of the fall arguing that impassioned political speech on a personal social-media account did not justify the “de-hiring” of Steven Salaita.
As has been well reported, Salaita was hired for a tenured position at
the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign when stories about his
angry tweets regarding the war in Gaza reached the trustees and
chancellor of the university. They canceled his appointment. Every time I
encountered someone justifying Salaita’s firing by emphasizing what
they considered the gross anti-Semitism of his tweets, I responded with
the following: If we do not stand on principle for people with whom we
disagree, we have no principles.