We, the undersigned, wish to express our concern regarding Virginia Tech’s recent handling of the controversy involving associate professor of English Steven Salaita.  The university’s response has been wholly unsatisfactory, placing in doubt its commitment to academic freedom, its mission of “learning, discovery, and engagement,” and the Virginia Tech Principles of Community. 

On Aug. 25, Dr. Salaita published an essay at Salon.com in which he argued that the phrase “support the troops” is often used to stifle debate over U.S. foreign and military policy, while doing little to support actual military personnel and veterans. That article was immediately met with death threats and racist, homophobic, and sexist messages (some of them forwarded directly to Dr. Salaita from the President of Virginia Tech’s email account).  Such response was part of a concerted effort to have Dr. Salaita censured or terminated.    

Though we expected a robust defense of Dr. Salaita and the principle of academic freedom, we were disappointed with the university’s official response, through the words of associate vice president for University Relations Larry Hincker.  In his statements, Mr. Hincker did acknowledge the university’s commitment to academic freedom, but he also took the opportunity to join Dr. Salaita’s critics and, worse, to distance Dr. Salaita from what Mr. Hincker claimed was the collective psyche and collective opinion of the Virginia Tech community.  (In his statements, Mr. Hincker repeatedly identified Dr. Salaita incorrectly as an “assistant professor.") 

For instance, in a Collegiate Times article published August 29, 2013, Mr. Hincker stated that the article does not “reflect the collective psyche of the Virginia Tech community.”  And in a written response on letterhead of the Office of University Relations, Mr. Hincker elaborated, “While our assistant [sic] professor may have a megaphone on salon.com, his opinions not only do not reflect institutional position, we are confident they do not remotely reflect the collective opinion of the greater university community.” 

Thus while Dr. Salaita was facing angry attacks by those who we believe had misread his thoughtful article, the university administration sided against that article in the name of “collective opinion.”  Rather than defending our colleague, Mr. Hincker took pains to reassure Dr. Salaita’s antagonists that his views stand outside of the collective psyche, or collective opinion, of the greater university community.

A chilling precedent is set when upper administrators speak in the name of the “greater university community” in order to exclude certain views of their faculty from that community, as they officially define it.  Those of us who agree with Dr. Salaita’s reasoned article, in total or in part, likewise feel that Mr. Hincker’s official statements question our relation to the university community.  If our exercises of critical and conscientious scholarship expose us to similar public attack, will the university administration side with those denouncing us, and pay lip service to academic freedom only as an apology for its inability to discipline us?  Or, will it support a robust understanding of academic freedom and defend our actions as the embodiment of the university’s purpose? 

Virginia Tech’s Statement of Principles of Ethical Behavior states, “As citizens engaged in a profession that depends upon freedom for its welfare and integrity, we have a particular obligation to promote conditions of free inquiry and of further public understanding of academic freedom.” 

We call on Mr. Hincker and President Steger to reaffirm Virginia Tech’s principles of free inquiry as articulated in its mission statement and governing documents.  We further believe it would be appropriate for Mr. Hincker to clarify that his words and actions did not represent the psyches or opinions of the diverse population at Virginia Tech, but his opinion alone.  We eagerly await a public statement acknowledging this fact and urge the president’s office to fund a symposium open to all students, faculty, and staff where, in the spirit of Virginia Tech’s educational mission, participants can critically explore what it means to create and disseminate knowledge in the modern university. 

Signed, 

Ananda Abeysekara, Associate Professor, Religion and Culture

Biko Agozino, Professor, Africana Studies

Daniel Breslau, Associate Professor, Science and Technology

Brian Britt, Professor, Religion and Culture

David Brunsma, Professor, Sociology

Toni Calasanti, Professor, Sociology

Sam Cook, Associate Professor, Sociology; Director, American Indian Studies Program

Fred D’Aguiar, Professor of English; Gloria D. Smith Professor of Africana Studies

Jim Dubinsky, Associate Professor, English; Director, Undergraduate Studies

David Embrick, Visiting Assistant Professor, Sociology

Carlos Evia, Associate Professor, English; Director, Professional Writing Program

Edward Falco, Professor of English

Theodore Fuller, Professor, Sociology

Matthew Gabriele, Associate Professor, Religion and Culture

Jim Garrison, Professor, School of Education

Kwame Harrison, Associate Professor, Africana Studies

Diana Housein-Salaita, Assistant Director, English Language Institute

David Johnson, Associate Professor, School of Performing Arts

Jill Kiecolt, Associate Professor, Sociology

Ann Kilkelly, Professor, School of Performing Arts

Ann-Marie Knoblauch, Associate Professor, Art History; Associate Director of Academics

            School of Visual Arts

Purdom Lindblad, College Librarian for Humanities and Digital Humanities

Marian Mollin, Associate Professor, History

Scott Nelson, Associate Professor, Political Science

Kelly Pender, Associate Professor, English

Paolo Polanah, Associate Professor, Africana Studies

Anita Puckett, Associate Professor, Religion and Culture

Wornie Reed, Professor, Africana Studies

Steven Salaita, Associate Professor, English

Emily Satterwhite, Associate Professor, Religion and Culture

Jennifer Quijano Sax, Director, Education Abroad, OIRED

Benjamin Sax, Assistant Professor, Religion and Culture; Faculty Principal, Residential College

            at West Ambler-Johnson

Peter Schmitthenner, Associate Professor, Department of Religion and Culture

Rachel Scott, Associate Professor, Religion and Culture

Brett Shadle, Associate Professor, History

Richard Shryock, Professor, Foreign Languages and Literatures

Barbara Ellen Smith, Professor, Women and Gender Studies

Matthew Vollmer, Associate Professor of English; Director of Creative Writing-Undergraduate

            Program

Peter Wallenstein, Professor of History

Dale Wimberley, Associate Professor, Sociology 

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