In a new post at See Thru Edu, George Leef reminds us that free speech applies to all.

Should We Fear Academic Blacklisting?

One of the hottest academic controversies of the year involves the decision by the University of Illinois to “unhire” Professor Steven Salaita. He had been tentatively awarded a position in the university’s American Indian Studies department and, upon the supposition that the job offer would be finalized by the UI Board of Trustees, he resigned his previous post at Virginia Tech.

At that point, a lot of his astoundingly nasty tweets regarding Israel and the battle in the Gaza strip came to light. In one, he wrote, “At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?”

After reviewing Salaita’s penchant for vituperative language, Illinois decided against approving the job offer. Immediately, those who share Salaita’s vehement opposition to Israel announced that this was a horrible injustice that undermined academic freedom.

Far more measured, however, was Adam Kissel’s Minding the Campus post on the case. He argues that if you don’t protest the treatment of Salaita, you can’t logically protest against the many instances where the left has tried to (and often succeeded in) keeping academics who take non-leftist positions from getting hired or receiving tenure.

Kissel gives a number of cases that are on point, such as the recent decision by the Fourth Circuit in the suit by UNC-Wilmington professor Mike Adams against his university. Adams was denied tenure mainly if not entirely because university bigwigs disliked his conservative writings for TownHall. As Kissel states the court’s holding, “Public colleges and universities may not fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote professors who have expressed controversial opinions, even if the opinions are expressed in strong language.”

I am a fervent defender of the First Amendment, but I think that extending the prohibition against governmental infringement of freedom of speech to the point where it interferes with the contractual decisions of public colleges and universities is unsupportable. Why shouldn’t educational institutions be allowed to consider the speech and written expressions of prospective employees or current employees under consideration for promotion?