The problem with college tenure

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.”

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