“Incivility” is necessary for some voices to be heard, for the stakes of any particular debate to be apparent, for conversations to result in meaningful change. A colleague supportive of Salaita, who has served in administrative positions for several years now, posted this morning on Facebook, “People in upper admin with whom I’ve worked closely for years are now unwilling even to make eye contact with me. Inclusive Illinois.” That right there is the problem with making “civility” the boundary of conversation. “Civility” only works if both parties are already operating from a position of equality and already in mutual agreement on the need for the conversation. It doesn’t work if a powerful participant refuses to acknowledge that…the less powerful participant has an issue that needs to be discussed. It also doesn’t work when only the powerful participant gets to define where the outer bounds of civility lie. Civility commits us to a university where existing injustices remain entrenched and silenced voices stay that way.
“There is a subtext to this whole business. The firestorm of reactions to Salaita…is indicative of a continuing determination to police and regulate the nature of the resistance offered by those who speak up on behalf of the traditionally subjugated.”
In response to my post yesterday, which I crossposted over at the NewAPPS blog, a couple of readers there wondered about the analogy I had drawn between Professor F and Steven Salaita‘s cases. Reader Meir Alon suggested my comparison was ‘very wrong’, Darius Jedburgh said my comparison of Salaita was, indeed, ‘slanderous’, and yet another worthy wondered what the point of it all was.
In constructing the analogy I noted Professor F, like Salaita, had a distinguished academic record, that she worked in a field which often featured polemically charged debates, many of which for her, because of her personal standing and situation–Professor F has very likely experienced considerable sexism in her time–were likely to be charged emotionally, and that a few hyperbolic, intemperate responses, made in a medium not eminently suited to reasonable discourse, and featuring many crucial limitations in its…
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I have always been a nervous, anxious sort of person. When I was an undergrad, I helped myself and mitigated my inclination by reciting the Bene Gesserit litany from Frank Herbert’s Dune. It helped tremendously with exams and deadlines. The image above states the litany in its entirety. Here it is again:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
Lately, I have much to be fearful and anxious about. I imagine things will be all right. Eventually. At this moment, I’ve also come to fear taking a stand, claiming an opinion, having feelings. Speaking is definitely risky. But, as the Bene Gesserit order wisely described, silence motivated by fear brings total obliteration. Speaking, choosing a side, having feelings. These are all costly. So is remaining silent. Choosing not to choose, while it can be defended, also exacts a price. And allows others to choose sides on our behalf. The Bene Gesserit litany reminds us to face our fears. Great sentiments, but still, they are easier said than done. Ultimately, the choice comes down to this: of all the consequences before me, which ones can I live with? And which ones will annihilate the best parts of me? The answers to these questions are often the ones that lead me to what I do. Friends and family who know me best understand and witness first-hand the agony I go through.
In the spirit of courageous action despite fearfulness, I have some questions about the Salaita affair that I’ve been thinking about these last few days. From my vantage point as a distance education graduate student, and one who very much cares about equity and inclusion, I am wondering about the politics that must be going on at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s upper administration. The identity of Chancellor Wise as an Asian American woman in a position of great power at an R1 academic institution in the United States has not slipped my notice. In fact, it has given me pause when expressing my dismay and any criticism of the damaging decision to un-hire Dr. Salaita. Is there a particular reason why Chancellor Wise is carrying the burden of this unpopular decision? Why isn’t UIUC President Dr. Bob Easter, who is a step higher in the UIUC organization chart, the bearer of this news? Is this a simple matter of the decision and burden belonging solely to the Chancellor’s Office? Even so, does the UIUC President’s Office have a say? Or is something else going on? If the Office of the UIUC President does hold an official opinion, what could that be? Is it something we could expect to be revealed soon?
In thinking through how one could use a critical race theory lens on these events at UIUC, the identity politics of the actors involved are crucial for greater understanding and illumination. And it seems that there are more actors at play in the Salaita affair than we first realize.
I do think that the events surrounding Salaita and UIUC’s upper administration are inciting fear and anxiety among academics, students, and higher education staff. Those feelings are making many of us do things that are not in keeping with our better selves. I do hope we find a way beyond the fear and silence. No matter what you may think of the politics surrounding the events at UIUC, I urge you, dear friends, to be brave. Find and use your voice. Remember: Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
“As Library and Information Science (LIS) practitioners, students and scholars, we are committed to the principles of our field: to the free access to and flow of information and to the intellectual freedom of all. We are shocked and dismayed by the unilateral decision on the part of Chancellor Phyllis Wise and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Board of Trustees to rescind the employment of Dr. Steven Salaita based on his speech in social media.”
Salaita now has no job nor does his wife who quit her job in Virginia to support the family’s move, no personal home to live in, and no health insurance for their family, including their two year-old son.
Find out more here.
Given our own precarious situation, and after consulting with my spouse Peter, I’m giving what I can. Every month. Are there other causes that can use my resources more than this? Sure. But this is the one that I choose to lend my meager support.
Too many see the idea of a radical librarianship as a sort of extreme political partisanship. That is wrong. Radical librarians see librarianship as a chance to make a positive difference in their community. They see their mission to not simply promote reading, or to inform a community. Instead radical librarians, the kind we need, see their mission as the improvement of society. They see their role and the instruments of their institutions as engaging a community and addressing the issues that have exploded in Ferguson. Addressing these issues not with tear gas and rubber bullets, but through pizza, magic shows, and learning.
1. As of 5 pm, 1518 academics have declared that they will not engage with the University of Illinois until it reinstates Steven Salaita. I have the specific details below. But first I wanted to highlight a report that came out yesterday.
2. The indefatigable Phan Nguyen has posted a monumental analysis of Salaita’s tweets and Cary Nelson’s treatment of those tweets. If I didn’t hate the phrase “game-changer” so much, I’d say this is a game-changer.
Nguyen shows that Salaita actually has a long history of not only denouncing anti-Semitism in general but also confronting specific instances of it on Twitter. Such as when the rapper Macklemore wore a disguise that was anti-Semitic. Among other statements, Salaita tweeted these four in response to Macklemore’s costume:
Macklemore wasn’t mocking Jewish stereotypes. He was performing them.
His costume, even if random (yeah right), IS a stereotype; stupidity doesn’t mitigate ignorance.
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