Jim Dey: Is it really that bad on campus?

Jim Dey: Is it really that bad on campus?

President Franklin Roosevelt told a nation in the depths of the Great Depression that the "only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

As he prepared to implement his New Deal program with a compliant Congress, FDR was trying to buck up the country that needed an emotional lift.

Now his words bear repeating to some segments of the University of Illinois faculty as they try to cope with their great depression over the non-hiring of former Virginia Tech English Professor Steven Salaita.

Their despondence is heart-rending.

"The firing of Salaita has created an atmosphere of fear and retaliation for unpopular academic, political and personal pursuits," members of the UI's Asian-American Studies Department stated in a no-confidence resolution aimed at Chancellor Phyllis Wise.

"We fear that the reputation of the (UI) as a site of scholarly excellence and diverse viewpoints will suffer permanent damage," the UI's English Department stated in its no-confidence vote on Wise.

The philosophers in the UI's Philosophy Department expressed similar concerns because Wise's decision to withdraw a job offer to Salaita "betray(s) a culpable (palpable would be a better adjective) disregard not only for academic freedom and free speech generally ..." but shared governance.

They are, to borrow a word from Huck Finn, pretty much "afeard" of everything.

Is it really that bad on campus? Are members of an oppressed professoriate really about to be ground under by hard-hearted chancellor, president and trustees determined to punish their "academic, political and personal pursuits"? Or are those claims just so much hand-wringing by a bunch of overexcited drama queens who've been consuming too much of their own rhetoric.

Clearly, it's the latter.

Just by virtue of the peculiar circumstances of this controversy, the Salaita non-hiring really has little to do with anything that has occurred or will occur on campus. Between jobs, Salaita failed to take a leave of absence from Virginia Tech, an ill-advised decision that left him in no man's land when his obscenity-laden tweets drew the disapproving attention of Chancellor Wise.

Who on campus is in such a vulnerable position? If there is someone, what are they saying or doing that would draw administrative disapproval? Assuming those unique conditions are met, what authority would anyone up the food chain have to punish them, given the protections that go with their jobs?

"Faculty members have nothing to fear in an institution like this," said Cary Nelson, an emeritus professor of English. "They are free to express their opinions. They have nothing to worry about in that regard."

So what are they afraid of?

"The dominant emotion coming from faculty throughout the country is fear. I think it doesn't matter what the subject matter is — they're always afraid," said Nelson, who said concerns range from big issues to being "afraid they will lose their parking place."

Nelson clearly isn't afraid. He has been the target of critics who object to his support for Wise's decision on Salaita. But he continues to speak out on the controversy, calling the decision by four departments (English, American Indian Studies, Asian-American Studies and philosophy) to call for Wise's firing short-sighted.

Faculty members can get themselves in hot water. There was the case in the 1960s when a faculty member wrote a letter to the Daily Illini expressing support for pre-marital sex, a stance that conflicted with cultural mores and led to his ouster. More recently, a member of the engineering faculty was fired after years of administrative battles with his department leaders.

Other than that, where is this widespread intolerance manifesting itself?

"I see no evidence of people being punished or silenced," said UI faculty member Nick Burbules, who describes the reaction of some faculty members to the Salaita controversy as out of proportion to what occurred.

Burbules said he understands why some faculty members disagree with Wise's decision and that it's appropriate to discuss and debate the issue. But he said the best place for that is in the open before the faculty senate, of which he is a member, not in closed debates with undisclosed votes in individual departments.

"That is a short map to chaos," Burbules said.

He said the senate will set its agenda Sept. 15 and that he expects representatives of the American Indian Studies Program to ask for a Salaita discussion to be held at a Sept. 22 meeting.

Practical questions arise about these no-confidence votes:

Who would fire Chancellor Wise? The trustees who have publicly backed her decision?

Who would oust the trustees? The governor who appointed them?

More important, how far will these no-confidence votes go? Is engineering going to get aboard? Or business? How about the hard sciences?

"I would say it won't spread out of the humanities," Nelson predicted.

With Christopher Kennedy, the chairman of the board of trustees, reaffirming his support for Wise's decision earlier this week, it's unlikely anything except theatrics will come out of the no-confidence crusade.

Salaita's best options lie in a lawsuit or a settlement to avoid a lawsuit that addresses complicated contractual or constitutional issues.

Until that happens, beleaguered faculty members will to have be content by loudly complaining that they fear their free speech rights are in jeopardy.

Don't be fooled by their rambunctious zeal. They're afraid, very afraid.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or at 351-5369.

Sections (2):Columns, Opinion

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bluesky wrote on September 04, 2014 at 8:09 am

If you look up "overexicted drama queen who has consumed too much of their own rhetoric", you will find a picture of Jim Dey.

CULater wrote on September 04, 2014 at 9:09 am

Agreed ^^^^ This article is gossip for drama queens. Take an insignificant subject, write a shocking article about how students are over reacting, blow story out of proportion, PROFIT.

Illiniwek222 wrote on September 04, 2014 at 9:09 am

Congrats to Mr. Dey for hitting the nail precisely on the head. Finally some common sense.

Lostinspace wrote on September 04, 2014 at 5:09 pm

So we want a phony Indian dancing around the football field, but not a recognized scholar in Native American Studies?


rsp wrote on September 04, 2014 at 8:09 pm

Like the Jewish student who didn't want the "hate preaching professor" on campus but signed their email Oskee Wow Wow? But they had no plans to take any of his classes, same with all of the writers.

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 04, 2014 at 10:09 am

Notice the comments from the two kiss-ups.  Nelson was instrumental in spreading the twitter comments by Salaita, and denouncing them as anti-semitic.  Burbules led the attack in the News Gazette with his "opinions".

What if wealthy donors object to the hiring of a professor of the opposite political party?  What if they object to a communist being hired?  A university is not a place of comfort.  It is to expose students to differing points of view.  Some may feel uncomfortable with diversity classes.  Others may feel uncomfortable with gender studies classes.  Salaita was not being hired to teach required classes.  If some students felt uncomfortable with his classes, they were not required to take them.  This is nothing more than wealthy, pro-Israel donors flexing their monetary muscle in firing academics who criticize Israel.  Wise, and the BOT caved into political correctness, and money.  Yes, academics need to be afraid; esspecially those without tenure.

Illiniwek222 wrote on September 04, 2014 at 11:09 am

OK, Sid. Would you support nazi or KKK members teaching at the U of I in the name of academic freedom?

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 04, 2014 at 12:09 pm

Your question is based on racism, not criticism of countries.  There was no criticism by the professor of Jews; only Israel, and it's citizens.

No, I would not support National Socialist, or KKK members teaching at the university.  However, I would not meet secretly with the Chancellor to financially blackmail the U of I administration with the ceasing of donations either.

spangwurfelt wrote on September 04, 2014 at 12:09 pm

"There was no criticism by the professor of Jews; only Israel, and it's citizens."

So it's okay to hate Israeli citizens, Sid? Civilians too, like the "f--ing" ones Salaita wants to "go missing"?

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 04, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Israel is a country.  It's citizens are Israelis.  Not all of them support Israel's war crimes.  However, a majority do support the slaughter of Gaza civilians including children.  The distinction needs to be made between a country, and a faith.  Your making a criticism of a country, and it's citizens as a criticism of a faith.  Iran is a Muslim country.  I can criticize Iran, and the citizens that support it; but that does not mean that I criticize Muslims.  Capeche?

football jingoists wrote on September 04, 2014 at 2:09 pm


Thank you Sid, we see eye-to-eye on some things!

dlgreen50 wrote on September 04, 2014 at 5:09 pm

It's important to note that ironically Israel does not define its citizens as "Israeli." There is no such thing, legally, as being an Israeli citizen of Israel. There are only Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. The Arabs, as you may have heard from Max Blumenthal and others, are not treated too well.--David Green

A Studentin wrote on September 05, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Is there really a poll that asks:  "do you support the slaughter of children?"

And did a majority of Israel's citizens really respond to such a poll question in the affirmative?

After an admittedly brief search I have not found such poll results.

If I HAD found such a poll, reporting such results as you suggest, would I believe it?  Let's just say that I would check the source of the information carefully. 

Sid, your hyperbole is noteworthy, but not for its logic or its cogency.


Sid Saltfork wrote on September 05, 2014 at 7:09 pm

No poll was mentioned as you are aware.  The news interviews of Israeli citizens, and it's leader were aired for all to see.  Your making another obvious attempt to distort criticism of Israel's war crimes.


Rocky7 wrote on September 04, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Mr. Dey,


When this blows over in one or two months, which it will, once again the humanities and social science departments will be left huffed-and-puffed with no place to vent their frustrations. Likely, they will find something else to get huffed-up about.

The only real issue, which is being addressed, is how to speed up the appointment process so that decision like the Slaita decision aren't left beyond the last minute. That issue will get solved so there is no repeat of this incident.

Willjay wrote on September 04, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Tenure is described as a protection for "academic freedom" but in reality, it's simply a glorified union contract that protects faculty jobs. Faculty are super-defensive about this golden parachute because they know it's self-serving and they also know they're expendable: for every tenured professor there are dozens of unemployed PhDs who could easily take their place if tenure wasn't a factor. In general, most university administrators would rather have root canal than try resoning with hysterical faculty members, but when would-be faculty are out of control, somebody has to be the grown-up. Salaita's comments were offensive, inflammatory, and utterly inappropriate--especially from somebody who's making a first impression on the campus community--and university administration did exactly what they are permitted to do by releasing him from his employment offer. If I were a donor, I'd double my gift.



yates wrote on September 05, 2014 at 9:09 am

It seems Sid only has a bone to pick with lefties that want to endanger his hard earned goodies. He's right there with all the rest. Free speech, hate speech, what ever.

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 05, 2014 at 11:09 am

yates; your "leftie" label attack on me has nothing to do with the article.  I would be wasting time debating the issue with you since you are only concerned with me personally, and not the issue.  You have the right to "free speech" even if it is uncivil. 

Manscape wrote on September 05, 2014 at 11:09 am

"You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the (expletive) West Bank settlers would go missing." - Mr. Salaita

Do you still have the syllabus for "Mind-Reading 101"? I'd love to take a look through it.

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 05, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Are you referring to the citizens of Israel who keep stealing Palestinian land with the consent of their government?

Manscape wrote on September 05, 2014 at 5:09 pm

So I've been trying to understand your position (aside from the evil Rothschild Banking Cabal controlling everyone's actions across the globe).

There are two possibilities that any reasonable person would conclude:

1. You won't defend Mr. Salaita's conduct on the social media platform twitter because you can't, for you know how egregious these comments are.


2.You agree with them completely and are using Mr. Salaita as your own proxy for your own views

Still chewing this over...I'm leaning towards 2. Should we vote?

"You may be too refined to say it, but I'm not: I wish all the (expletive) West Bank settlers would go missing." - Mr. Salaita

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 05, 2014 at 8:09 pm

No one has mentioned the fictious "evil Rothschild Banking Cabal" except you.  You again attempt to pervert others' comments.

My concerns are donors attempting to influence a public university's administration with threats of ceasing donations, and an organized campaign to pick who a public university hires.  I, also, criticize Israel for it's war crimes which are under investigation by the United Nations. 

My intial concern was the donor issue; but as I made comments, I realized what extremes supporters of Israel would go to in their accusations of anti-semitism.  The professor's statements were uncivil in the least.  However, the organized campaign to have him fired was deceptive.  An open discussion of the Israel-Palestine issue needs to be made on campuses across the country without hate, and the old accusations of anti-semitism.

Based on your above comments, I do not find you to be a reasonable person.  You, and yourself (we) have already voted by yourself.  Continue on with your distortions, and demeaning comments to opposing commentors.


A Studentin wrote on September 05, 2014 at 3:09 pm

On a bright note for Mr. Salaita, one result of this unfortunate situation may be that his name attains such notoriety as to be made a verb in our cultural lexicon, which is a rare feat indeed:


verb (used with object)

to attack (a candidate or public figure) systematically, especially in the media.

Slang definitions & phrases for bork


:  close ranks to coordinate a huge preemptive bork


To mount an intense campaign against a political appointee; bushwhack:  "We're going to Bork him," proclaimed a feminist advocate

[late 1980s+; from the experience of Judge Robert Bork, whose 1987 nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected after strong concerted opposition]

(paraphrased from a collection of definitions found on dictionary.com)



To mount an intense campaign against one's own prospects for future or continued employment in a professional position, by (first) spewing hate speech in a public forum, and (second) mobilizing a group of followers to draw attention to the situation by crying "foul!" on ones' behalf instead of facing the consequences of one's own actions like an adult; shoot oneself in the foot:  "He really Salaited himself by his overt lack of self-control and his incivility," proclaimed a person familiar with the situation.

[mid-2010s+; from the experience of an academic named Steven Salaita, whose contingent offer of a tenured faculty position at a large public university was rescinded after strong concerted reaction to his public demonstration of immaturity, self-righteous hatefulness, and unbecoming lack of civility]



Manscape wrote on September 05, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Bravo, A Studentin.

Sid, we can officially end posts in this thread - A Studentin just won the internets for today. Read above post again. Brilliant.

A Studentin, you must have went to the University of Illinois and graduated from the Engineering Dept.

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 05, 2014 at 8:09 pm

What an elitist, and sophmoric response.  Was the Engineering Dept. worried about wealthy donors ceasing donations?  Was that why the sarcastic comments were made toward the humanities departments that voiced no confidence in the Chancellor?  Money does seem to talk, and bull---- walk inspite of all of the lofty talk of ideals in some of academia.

Oh... it cannot be proved.  Therefore, it never happened. : ( the new U of I motto )