Kirstein and Burbules e-mail Exchange: Salaita Op-Eds

Nicholas Burbules

Nick Burbules, co-author of op-ed supporting the firing of Steven Salaita

Professor Nick Burbules of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign e-mailed me this morning. He co-authored an op-ed with Professor Joyce Tolliver in the News-Gazette that supported the firing of tenured Associate Professor Steven G. Salaita. I wrote an op-ed that challenged many of their assumptions and reiterated the position of the Illinois AAUP Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure. I posted both of our op-eds for comparative purposes here:

In my preambular introduction to the op-eds, I wrote this sentence:

Joyce Tolliver and Nick Burbules, support the non-appointment of Steven Salaita and even asserted “there is…no evidence” that he was fired for his tweets on the Israel/Palestinian conflict.

Professor Burbules asked me to delete this sentence because he claimed it misrepresented the professors’ position. While he did not respond to two specific offers to post his entire e-mail complaint, Professor Burbules asserts their op-ed does not claim that tweets were unrelated to his contract not being forwarded for Board of Trustees’ approval.

In his e-mail, Professor Burbules claimed Salaita was not “fired” for his “controversial” positions on the Middle East conflict in Gaza. He stated many people share Salaita’s views but the University of Illinois was merely responding to the “tone and expression” that characterised his tweets. It was not his views on Israel and Palestine but the mode of expression.

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Joyce Tolliver: op-ed co-author that supports firing of Salaita

In their op-ed they wrote:

The first is the frequent assertion that Salaita’s position offer was terminated because of his stance on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There is, at this point, no evidence that this is the case: Many faculty hold similar views on the Middle East, and no one has suggested that they are not entitled to engage in open debate over this controversy. The real issue is with the form and substance of Salaita’s comments.

In my op-ed I responded:

They claim it is speculative to assert that Professor Steven Salaita was fired due to his comments on the Israel/Palestinian conflict: “There is, at this point, no evidence that this is the case.”

Then they undermine their stunning claim by asserting that “the real issue is with the form and substance of Salaita’s comments.”

Academic freedom requires that both substance and form are protected speech when engaging in extramural utterances. It does not differentiate between the two. It is, in fact, impossible to separate the rhetoric style from the topic. The former gives vitality and expressive force to the latter.

Well, I reiterate my op-ed claim that Salaita was fired for his tweets. They state there is no evidence he was fired for his tweets that contain his “stance on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

I believe I have fairly presented his concern and my response. The reader is invited to scrutinise both op-eds and determine the validity of our approaches on this epic academic freedom and free-speech case.


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