Quoted in an Inside Higher Ed article.

John K. Wilson, author of numerous books and essays about academic freedom, wrote on the AAUP blog that he found [University of Illinois chancellor Phyllis] Wise’s statement troubling. “Respect is not a fundamental value of any university, and being ‘disrespectful’ is not an academic crime. But it’s notable that Salaita really didn’t say anything personal about anyone. So here Wise greatly expands the concept, declaring that not only persons but ‘viewpoints themselves’ must be protected from any disrespectful words,” Wilson writes.

“I am puzzled as to exactly how a free university could possibly operate when no one is allowed to be disrespectful toward any viewpoint. Presumably, Wise will quickly act to fire anyone who has ever disrespected or demeaned Nazism, terrorism, racism, sexism, and homophobia. Since all ‘viewpoints’ are protected, then biology professors must be fired for disrespecting creationism as false, along with any other professor who is found to believe or know anything.”

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2 Responses to “Nice writing on the Steven Salaita controversy.”

  1. Rita Says:

    UD, I’m surprised you approve these weird (and pretzel-phrased) arguments for Salaita. This is hardly good writing; look at all the double negatives the Wilson quote relies on. What does it mean if we work out all these negations? He seems to say that universities should remain neutral about scholars’ “viewpoints,” that demonstrated “respect” for any particular idea beyond the idea of scholarly inquiry itself cannot be a condition of employment. But then he introduces this gloriously ambiguous double negative – disrespect for false beliefs. What’s the status of that?

    Clearly, it’s good to disrespect false beliefs, even if it is not necessary to respect true ones, since we don’t fully know these yet. It would be preposterous to fire anyone for disrespecting self-evidently false beliefs like Nazism, terrorism, racism, etc. But it’s presumably equally preposterous to respect these false beliefs. So what should a university do about people who respect, or fail to sufficiently disrespect, them? Are these “protected viewpoints,” or grounds for dismissal? By the end of the paragraph, it’s clear that Wilson finds the idea of protecting all viewpoints regardless of their substance to be as preposterous as firing professors for disrespecting false viewpoints. So, what the hell is he actually saying? What principle is he defending here? The whole argument rests on distinguishing false from not-false viewpoints. And how do we do that? All I can discern from this is that there are a number of political positions which Wilson and his friends believe are indisputably false beliefs (Nazism, racism, and so on, but maybe not anti-Semitism b/c that’s so much more complex), and others he believes can be subject to legitimate dispute (the very complex relationship b/w anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism), and the university should make its personnel decisions according to his framework of truth and falsehood in belief.

    Why not simply take the straightforwardly proceduralist position? Any opinion anyone posts on social media is not cause for firing him (unless it’s an actionable threat of violence, or child pornography, or something similarly illegal). We should expect “respect” from professors for their actual students rather than hypothetical groups of people who might one day be his students, and evidence of mistreating individual students is grounds for discipline. Tweeting, unless it’s such an attack on an individual student, never reaches this threshold.

  2. Jack/OH Says:

    This is where the non-prof gets the hell out of Dodge:).

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