writes a great letter to the chancellor of the university that withdrew its offer to Steven Salaita.

It’s important for faculty to be conversant with the entirety of our public culture and to be able to travel across different media and platforms. Not just for the cultivation of their scholarship but also for their ability to teach the current and future generations.

thanks Wendy.

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8 Responses to “UD’s blogpal, Timothy Burke…”

  1. John Says:

    another takedown:


    wrong cut and paste above. please delete.

  2. Rita Says:

    So are you going to join Twitter and Instagram, UD? B/c otherwise you’re not fully capable of teaching current and future generations?

  3. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Rita: I did join Twitter, but I disliked it and dropped it. Too easy to get hacked if you ignore it for more than a few days. Don’t yet know enough about Instagram.

  4. Rita Says:

    I don’t think I can support this ambivalence. Until I see some rose-filtered photos of your lunch on Instagram, I may have to doubt your efficacy as a teacher of the young and hip.

  5. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Rita: My deep skepticism about the tech-ifying of the classroom is everywhere on this blog, so ambivalence I ain’t got. I think Tim is making a more restricted point. The word he uses is “conversant,” not addicted to, flaunting, in love with, whatever. I think he’s right that especially for teachers in the humanities – but essentially for any professor attracted to the idea of being a public intellectual with something to say about her own time – a knowledge of the dominant expressive modes of our time, which importantly include social media, is important.

  6. Rita Says:

    Sure, it’s fine to know that people post photos of their lunch on Instagram and express 140-character outrage on Twitter, but is it necessary to “develop” a personal “facility” with these “dominant expressive modes” in order to be a good teacher? Would you be unable to teach poetry or fiction if you didn’t engage with these expressive modes, or even know much about them? Maybe, as a public intellectual, you couldn’t be as effective in self-promotion without these tools, but I don’t see why you couldn’t be a perfectly effective college professor.

    And isn’t Burke’s phrasing a kind of bureaucratic doublespeak about the case at hand? Salaita wasn’t “developing greater facility” with “the dominant expressive modes of our time” by posting offensive crap on social media. His tweets weren’t part of a noble pedagogical or research exercise. He was just venting outrage like every other schmuck on Twitter. It’s fine to say that he shouldn’t have his job revoked for that, but it’s nonsense to try to spin what he did into something commendable and even integral to education.

  7. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Rita: I don’t think anyone’s arguing that Salaita’s particular idiotic and offensive use of the medium has any intrinsic educational value; rather, I think the claim is that precisely because – as you say – what he did was just outrage-venting having nothing to do with his scholarship (on the basis of which he’d been offered a job at the Univ. of Illinois) it should not have been able to make or break his academic appointment. The more important point being made about the world of online writing is that if, like me, you’re teaching the contemporary American novel or contemporary poetry, it is indeed valuable to think about, read about, and even take part in, that important aspect of the culture. The best novelists – people like Don DeLillo – worry a lot about about the withdrawal from social life into online life, and about the degradation of personal expression in the digital age… I share DeLillo’s largely negative appraisal of the effects of the technology on the culture… But I’m pretty embedded in some aspects of online life and expression myself, and though, yes, they can function as self-promotion, they can also (as in, I would say, my poetry MOOC) represent a form of education with an authentically global reach. They can also (as in, I hope, my blog) allow for a lively, immediately responsive, critique of various aspects of one’s culture – a critique which also allows for comments, and for polemic among comments.

    So there is a complexity here, a techno-world featuring obvious negatives and some positives… And I do think it’s part of being a public intellectual to take part in that world to some extent, to critique it to some extent, etc. Being a good teacher in a postmodern world also in many cases (certainly, again, in my own) does involve at the very least some understanding of the expressive world from which many of your students come – and that world for many is largely a digital one.

  8. Timothy Burke Says:


    Some great intellectuals, writers and professors said some pretty appalling things in correspondence back when letters were a semi-public medium, often intended to be shared and even eventually to appear in some form of print. I’ve heard some astonishing things said by discussants at conferences or panels, many of which get repeated or passed around in somewhat garbled form among disciplinary scholars later on. Certainly many scholars in the past fifty years who have been politically active (across the ideological spectrum) have communicated in different ways to different audiences, sometimes polemically or crudely, without fear of being drummed out of the academy simply because they exhorted a crowd in emotional terms. The academy would be even more dreary than it already is if it was mandatory to express always as if one were sitting at a tea party asking for the crumpets to be passed down the table.

    I don’t think everybody or even many academics need to use Twitter as an expressive platform. But I do think that those who do should not be punished for it, or exposed to a special form of jeopardy. I also think that most humanists should at least take the trouble to know about social media, to understand how human beings in this moment in time speak to one another. It seems to me to be a fatal temptation (often flirted with by humanists) to throw oneself upon the sickbed of a withering mode of expression and declare a pure love for the invalid, with no sideways glances at healthier rivals with their scandalous attractions. That’s the way the novel was treated by some; free verse by others; newspaper writing once; radio; television. And so it goes. It would be nice to be curious for once, and to see what is interesting as well as appalling in every situation where people are talking and writing to one another.

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