Professors’ right to free speech taken

Soon after the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offered Steven Salaita a tenure-track professor position in its American Indian studies program, the college’s Board of Trustees overturned that decision because of a series of tweets Salaita wrote.

This past summer, Israel initiated Operation Protective Edge, a series of airstrikes intended to target members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas. However, the operation also killed more than 1,400 Palestinian civilians. Salaita, a vocal critic of Israel’s tactics, tweeted comments objecting to this show of force.

Citing these tweets, the University of Illinois’ president and board fired Salaita, voicing concern that he would be a biased professor unwilling to let students voice opinions different from his own. Salaita has strongly denied this assumption, stating that he is a “fair and open-minded instructor.”

His case has sparked discussion of the limits of free speech at universities. While Salaita has been subject to heavy criticism, many have supported his right to speak freely, including one University of Minnesota professor. Defending Salaita, the American Association of University Professors called his dismissal “inimical to academic freedom and due process.”

We believe that the University of Illinois’ decision to take back Salaita’s job offer sets a dangerous precedent for colleges nationwide. When professors can lose their positions on the basis of their political views, universities become places of contractually obligated ideological conformity — not centers for open discussion and debate.

We hope that the University of Minnesota will continue to uphold freedom of speech in its classrooms and across its campuses.