Letter to the Editor: Using Salaita to foster conversation

By Hayley Nagelberg

More than one year ago, the University’s then-Chancellor Wise notified Steven Salaita that his offer of employment was not being forwarded to the Board of Trustees. 

Debates regarding this matter include the line between free speech and hate speech, the limits of academic freedom, flaws in the university’s hiring process, Salaita’s scholastic record and the misuse of a personal email address. 

There have since been petitions against the University, boycotts, cancelled speakers, withdrawn donations and lawsuits. Several dozen faculty have defended Salaita on grounds of academic freedom, supported by thousands of others claiming that Salaita is “brilliant, ethical and prolific.”

The legal controversies are for the courts to decide, and the University’s procedures are for the University’s consideration. While I offer no judgment about these matters, I wholeheartedly support an open discussion about the ideas at the heart of Salaita’s controversial tweets about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Zionism and human rights.

Holding Israel to a standard required of no other nation is prejudice. Comparing Israelis to villains, without context, is bias. Omitting relevant facts about the Palestinian leadership’s treatment of their people is erroneous. Neglecting to mention that there are Israelis and Palestinians living together successfully is a grave failing. 

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While this matter is resolved, we students have an opportunity to start a meaningful conversation; not an angry conversation about fights among professors, or how to define academic freedom, but about peace and coexistence, and about struggles faced by people on all sides of these issues in the Middle East.

This “Salaita scandal” does not have to bring shame to our campus as many have suggested. We should take this occasion to have a true dialogue that can be replicated on other campuses.

Hayley Nagelberg is a freshman in ACES.

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