I rarely post on hot political topics (unless quantitative analysis of philosophers' lack of diversity counts), but one hot political topic has been very much in my mind this week: the boycott of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I've been forced to consider the issue especially carefully because I was scheduled to give a talk to the Philosophy Department there in December, and UIUC was starting to invite speakers for a proposed mini-conference on experimental philosophy the next day, where I would give the keynote address.
The boycott arose after Steven Salaita, who had been scheduled to start teaching at UIUC this term, was summarily dismissed by the chancellor of UIUC in the wake of some controversial tweets about Israel and Zionism. (His contract had not been completely finalized yet; sometimes they aren't until after one has already started teaching.) His old tweets can be found here.
Much has been said on both sides (e.g., against Salaita 1, 2, 3; in defense of Salaita 1, 2, 3). My opinion is that the pro-boycott case is stronger than the anti-boycott case: Salaita's tweets were not sufficient grounds for the chancellor's extreme and unusual action; and even if they were sufficient to justify revoking his position, Salaita did not receive due process. A strong response is warranted.
However, I do feel compelled to add two points that haven't been as clearly acknowledged by the pro-boycott side as I would have liked to see:
(1.) Given the recent and not-so-recent history of extreme violence against Jews and journalists, reasonable people reading Salaita's tweets might understandably be upset to see these public statements coming from a senior scholar in a position of trust and authority -- even if carefully reading the tweets in context might show them to be less hateful than they at first seem.
(2.) The argument that the UIUC chancellor behaved wrongly in canceling Salaita's appointment is not identical to the argument that a boycott is the best response. A boycott sends a strong statement; but it also harms many people who have done no wrong. I believe that graduate students are especially harmed, since interacting with visiting scholars and speakers is central to their education, exposing them to views other than their professors' own and putting them in contact with the larger scholarly community.
With heavy heart, I am honoring the boycott. I have canceled my talk and abandoned my conference plans.