The current teapot tempest in academia these days is the unhiring of Steven Salaita, who accepted a job offer in American Indian Studies at the U of Illinois’s flagship campus in Urbana-Champaign, only to have the rug yanked out from under him when people noticed a series of anti-Israel tweets during the recent unpleasantness in Gaza. Given that Salaita had already resigned his position at Virginia Tech, this left him in an awkward spot.
Now, the whole business of whether Salaita’s comments rise to the level of so-called “hate speech” (and whether such a concept should matter at all) can and will be handled elsewhere. What interests me today is a look at Salaita’s c.v.
For a would-be professor of American Indian Studies* at a major (Big 10) university, it seems curious that he would only have three published articles that explicitly deal with Amerind issues. The vast majority of his work has concerned the Middle East, and particularly issues regarding Israel and Palestine. His vita seems to suggest that his principal interest in American Indian stuff is analogical, along the lines of Israel:Gaza::White Settlers:19th-C. Indians. The Indian stuff seems really to be more of a stalking horse.
And I would suggest that this illustrates an underlying flaw in the notion of some Identity Group studies programs. Ultimately, it seems, the Identity Group may even be fungible (How delightfully PoMo!). What matters is the claim of oppression and the will to/assertion of political power. But of course, if the Identity Group doesn’t really matter, then a question arises: Why have the alleged “academic discipline” to begin with?
* I find it an interesting coincidence that UIUC’s American Indian Studies program came to light in 2004-05, about the same time that the controversy over the University’s Native mascot hit one of its boiling points. Not that I’d suspect that someone was being thrown tenure-track bones here, but again, I think it’s a remarkable coincidence.