by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Carl Cannon of Real Clear Politics uses the case of controversial professor Steven Salaita to probe problems associated with tenure on college campuses. Salaita is the former Virginia Tech English professor who lost a job offer at the University of Illinois once officials at that school perused his offensive ramblings on Twitter.
Singling out his most offensive tweet is not easy. On July 7, he re-tweeted someone calling for the murder of a prominent American journalist; on July 19, he said it wouldn’t be surprising if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on television wearing “a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children.” In June, when three Israeli teenagers kidnapped by Hamas were missing and presumed dead—the crime that sparked the latest Mideast war—Salaita expressed hopes that all Jewish settlers on the West Bank “would go missing.” That’s 350,000 people he wishes would disappear.
Should he be imparting this stuff to impressionable teenagers at a public-funded university? If put to a plebiscite, the answer would likely be no. But professors think the public should have no say. “We stand by Professor Salaita and defend his right to engage in extramural utterances,” the American Association of University Professors said Thursday. “The University of Illinois cannot cancel an appointment based upon Twitter statements that are protected speech in the United States of America.”
So there you have it. Keeping a college teaching job in this country is a constitutional right. Never mind whether it’s in the interests of the students or the university. Under this theory, tenured professorships are lifetime gigs with more job security than federal judgeships. But many people holding them don’t act like impartial judges—they act like unhinged advocates.
Last week, a Latin American studies professor at Kent State posted an essay calling for “jihad” and “revolution,” while characterizing Israel as “the spiritual heir to Nazism.” The professor, a UCLA-trained Muslim convert named Julio Pino, said that any college professor who didn’t join him in shunning all Israeli academics is “directly responsible for the murder of over 1,400 Palestinian children, women, and elderly citizens.”
Officials at Kent State, which is receiving $137.4 million from Ohio taxpayers this year, issued a statement decrying Pino’s comments as “reprehensible and irresponsible.” They shouldn’t have been surprised. In 2011, Pino attended a university-sanctioned speech by an Israeli diplomat and yelled, “Death to Israel!” from the audience. Administrators said that was reprehensible, too, but did nothing about it.
Republicans are also frequent targets of “liberal” college professors, often right in class. In 2013, Michigan State University William S. Penn called Mitt Romney “a greedy bastard,” denigrated Ann Romney for no discernable reason, and attacked the Republican Party as “old … dying white people … who raped the country.” When video surfaced of this rant, Penn was put on paid leave for a semester—at a salary of $145,800—and was back in the classroom by January.
Others don’t even get reprimanded. A University of Iowa Republican student group sent out an email invitation to “Conservative Coming Out Week.” Among the activities it touted was a screening of a movie about George W. Bush, a “Red vs. Blue” kickball game, and a blood drive.
Incensed to hear of such an event on the Iowa City campus, gender studies professor Ellen Lewin fired off a three-word reply: “F___ You, Republicans.” Called out for her intemperance, this devotee of diversity conceded that her language was “inappropriate”—while expounding further on her antipathy for conservatives.
Perhaps Daniel Henninger was not far off the mark in his description of American higher education’s descent “into lunacy.”