Cornel West backs Steven Salaita, cancels prestigious Univ. of Illinois lecture

Cornel West (Bradley Siefert/Flickr)

Celebrated public intellectual Dr. Cornel West has cancelled a lecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to protest the firing of Steven Salaita.

West, a professor at Princeton University, joins a boycott of the University of Illinois by thousands of scholars outraged over the violation of Salaita’s right to free speech.

Salaita is suing university officials, trustees and donors for firing him from a tenured position in the American Indian Studies program. The complaint contends that the dismissal was motivated by university officials’ disagreement with tweets Salaita made criticizing Israel’s assault on Gaza last summer that killed more than 2,200 people.

“My change of mind in regard to my cancellation of my lecture constitutes a line in the sand I could not cross,” West said in a statement released by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

West was scheduled to deliver the prestigious 2015 Marjorie Hall Thulin Lecture next month on “The Profound Desire for Justice.”

“The case of my dear brother Professor Steven Salaita is a moral scandal of great proportion and the suffering of precious Palestinians under a vicious Israeli occupation is a crime against humanity, even in a world in which ugly anti-Jewish hatred escalates,” West added.

Salaita is represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, along with the law firm Loevy & Loevy.

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Kudos to Professor. Being white, Medea Benjamin can be more easily shrugged off by mr unflappable (Obama). West, on the other hand is straight up in that phony's wheelhouse.

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It's a mixed blessing, as yes, it puts pressure on the university to have scores of scholars and others boycott them, but no, it leaves a hole on the campus of outside people able to come in and bluntly confront in their talks what the university has done. West could have done that, just look at the title of what he was going to address. So it is sad for that reason.

The university needs to be put under the spot light both from the outside and the inside, in order to create the cracks and fissures in their apparent systemic bias. Who from the inside of that institution is speaking to the issue? Right now, apparently for them (the university), it's a storm battering them from the outside.

It would be great to hear that they are also feeling the pressure from within.

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I wanted to ring out words of celebration for the fact that so famous, articulate and steadfast an anti-racist had gotten on board but then I read the comment from Chris Bob Reed and it reminded me that West also irrationally, shallowly and naively blames Barack Obama for being President of the United States.
I guess they're still waiting for fiat and marshal law or something. Just goes to show, again, intelligence doesn't guarantee reason. Still, thanks Professor.

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I'm guessing you're white. And your definition of prejudice is being asked to take a dinner order at a black tie affair rather than being asked to identify your son in the morgue after the police forgot to inform you for two days that some nice neighborhood para-cop murdered him outside your home the other day... the White House lawn would be Octoberfest year-round if Obama's reaction were the solution to the problem. Cornell West understands what it is to be Black in America, and he has a gift for words. Obama understands what it is to be white in America and has a gift for doublespeak.

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Karen: I received notice of your reply on my e-mail. Thanks for responding. Unfortunately, sometimes the written word can fail to convey shades of meaning. I think it is patently obvious that I am white, that is one reason why I go by Chris Bob when blogging-sort of a short-hand. Has anyone ever met a black person or Latino with Bob as a middle name? Being white in a white supremist society, I feel it is my duty to take a few more risks as an activist, given the luxury of my white privilege. However, I am from West Virginia, and in my travels I have experienced a series of micro-aggression by higher status whites-shoeless, toothless incest prone hillbilly slights. These experiences help me to understand what people of color must endure, of course multiplied by ten. I grew up in an inter-racial school system, and currently work at Job Corps, and a nonprofit where about half of the staff is black. It is over all a good experience with very little miscommunication.
As for my son, he is one of the few merit finalists to go through the inner city schools of Stonewall Jackson middle and Capital High School. You are correct to presuppose that he is less likely to run into those terrible problems that beset our youth of color, but I would submit to you in the some total of things, my son and I grew up with no more class privilege than Barak-who was thoroughly vetted by the power elite and given the stamp of approval, because he made it crystal clear that he would not rock the boat.

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It looks like you're talking to me Karen. I can't tell by the content of your remarks because they don't seem to correlate to anything I said but your column is just below and shifted a bit. And also because I have to assume great prescience on your part, because you're right - incredibly - I am white.
But even though I don't know what you're talking about and you too don't like my hero, I'd like to express my condolences on the death of your son.

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my comment was that Obama does not know what it's like to be Black in America. Cornell West does. Obama thinks he knows what it is like to be Trayvon Martin because someone once mistook Obama for a waiter. He doesn't get it, and Cornell West is correct in criticizing Obama. that's all.

I should not have said I thought someone was white based upon whether or not they understand something Cornell West says, however...

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I don't know who you were talking to Karen but I'm pretty sure you're full of bull. And to imagine that West is more aware of what it's like to be black in America than this President or that he's somehow more forthright just indicates that you, as well as most of those commenting on West, have little understanding of the immense challenges Obama faces. West on the other hand has always had it cozy and safe and enjoys life as a kind of eccentric, pseudo-intellectual, regular at perfunctory civil rights events, where audiences like to hear him hold forth almost as much as he does.

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Costello says West is pseudo-intellectual. Costello has no idea. West is not pseudo-anything. He has sincerely walked his challenging courageous walk, despite having to go against the grain, his entire life. He's challenged corrupt authority consistently and despite enormous pressure to the contrary everywhere he's been.

And about Costello's dismissive bigot's descriptive quote about West's crucial and risky civil rights activities beginning in the 1960s: "perfunctory civil rights events"?? Alright folks, I think we've found the dead skunk racist commenter in the bunch.

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Hey Larry - perhaps I did take a cheap shot by calling West pseudo-intellectual, he's as intellectual as any of the rest of the moth-eaten professional mouths haunting our auditoriums. But I reserve the right to characterize what amount to lifer, activist feel-good reunions, predicated on days and deeds when real people did real things, as what the are. They are more about well heeled civil rights "characters" keeping an iron in the fire than shifting the paradigm.
I hope to be allowed to do that in the same way I hope to be able to criticize Israel without being labeled anti-Semitic. Perhaps I can't expect that kind of tolerance for my views in the EI forum...

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Karen,
Everybody thinks you were responding to each one of us. It might be a good idea to name the indvidual you ment to address or reply to.

Thanks,

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Kudos for Prof.West. That's a powerful message to the Univ.admnistrators, it's "WEALTHY" donors, who are trying to suppress free speach. This action is a loud form of free speach, that the university cannot block.!

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I think you hit the spot, Costello.
Still, it's good he cancelled.

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Yes, it is good that he cancelled. We all get old and a little set in our ways. And maybe at this point the most important contributions we have to make are about following through with doing the right thing. Professor West is an inspiration.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.