Column: U of I decision has frightening undertones

Rob Downen, Opinions Editor

There’s something rather unsettling about what’s going on at the University of Illinois-Champaign right now, and unfortunately, we probably won’t even talk about it. 

In today’s staff editorial, we were quick to point out the number of problems that accompany U of I’s dismissal of Steven Salaita from the university’s American Indian Studies Program over tweets he posted regarding the Gaza crisis this summer—the severe and ridiculous violations of First Amendment protections, the robbery of diverse and challenging viewpoints from the university’s corridors, the utter hypocrisy of it all.

But there’s another issue at hand here, one that will likely go largely unexamined by the mainstream, one white-washed in the fight over how far Salaita’s First Amendment protections extend, one that’s far more telling of American culture than any other issue, and one that seems a direct and almost laughable reflection of the disastrous corporatism so ingrained within our national livelihood:

When Chancellor Phyllis Wise made the decision to appease a university donor by reneging Salaita’s appointment, she simultaneously made a conscious decision to appease money over education, the university’s bottom line over the university’s capacity to educate its students. 

And while, to some, such a decision is understandable—“donors are what keep the university open…”—the essence of the decision speaks volumes to the new corporatization of the American university, where the student may have a voice, but the almighty dollar always reigns supreme.

It’s simple enough an idea: a university is not a business—it is a university, and should be rooted in a diligence to their student body, not enslavement to the bottom lines. Period. 

And yet, Salaita’s dismissal is almost laughable. It’s bad satire. 

Because who didn’t see this coming? 

Who didn’t read those tweets, so unapologetic and untamed in their disdain, and not immediately know Salaita’s fate sealed?

It’s an issue that was largely glossed over in the media this summer, but one that need be discussed: in this country, and this country alone, there is an incredibly frightening and obvious media distortion of Middle Eastern affairs—a presumption of “good vs. evil” in which our allies, and they alone, are the unquestionable righteous.

It’s the reason the United States was the only country in the world that voted against a United Nations investigation of war crimes in Gaza—“mums the word on that one, guys!”

It’s the reason network news agencies were pulling veteran reporters for reporting unfavorable accounts of the Israeli Defense Forces this summer—“don’t ask, don’t tell?”

It’s the reason why critics of Israeli policy—the Noam Chomskys, the Arundhati Roys, the Amy Goodmans, the Anthony Arnoves—are the new class of media pariah. 

And it’s the reason that, despite the moral hurdles it entails, Americans remain willfully ignorant of their own fingerprints on Israeli bombs, to the tune of the $8 million in taxpayer money provided to the IDF every day.

Organizations like the Boston-based David Project are allowed to openly lobby for pro-Israeli, anti-Palestinian curriculum on campuses across the nation, and yet, a U of I professor (and Palestinian) isn’t allowed a moment of impassioned anger over the razing of his own home.

Salaita’s case isn’t an isolated one. Every day, the Islamophobia and pro-war brouhaha ingrained in our society robs regular people of their voice, labels them “anti-semites” or “anti-American” rather than “anti-dead-children” or “anti-refugee.”

In their dismissal, U of I is employing the same rhetoric, acting not as a place of learning, but an ideological machine. 

And that’s unsettling.  

Robert Downen is a senior political science and journalism major. He can be reached at 581-7912 or [email protected]