To the Editors:
In their letter in last week’s Review, Andrew and Fisher Katlin distorted both my views and the issues at stake in Steven Salaita’s treatment by UIUC.
The Katlins are correct that mine was not a balanced argument. I believe UIUC’s handling of the case was unambiguously wrong. Salaita has plenty of critics, and they are free to make their case, as the Katlins have attempted to do. However, I made no implicit or explicit reference to Salaita’s First Amendment rights, as they claim that I did. I don’t see these rights as the source of the controversy at all. No one, to my knowledge, has claimed that Salaita did not have the right to say what he said, however offensive it might be. He was not fired on that basis. Second, I never claimed that Salaita’s appointment was quashed by those who feared “‘anti-Israel’ opinions,” whatever that means. Along with many others, I do think that the tweets led donors to pressure Chancellor Wise. I have no idea how the Board would have responded to more measured criticism, but here is no reason to think that the fear was of “anti-Israel opinion” as such.
The Katlins make one other important mistake when they conclude that “Clearly, the University of Illinois didn’t want this man to represent them as a professor.” That is far from clear. The hiring department voted unanimously in favor of Salaita. It was members of the Board of Trustees who did not want him. I am grateful to the Katlins for the opportunity to clarify this point: It is precisely the confusion of the university as an academic institution with the Board as the holder of the purse strings that threatens public higher education.
One of the wonderful things about Oberlin is that we have multiple fora for these kinds of conversations. If Mr. Katlin chooses to attend Oberlin, I hope that he will enjoy them as well.