Professor Fired For Freedom of Speech: Steven Salaita Discusses Academic Freedom at Rutgers University-Newark

Professor Salaita speaks in the Paul Robeson Campus Center at Rutgers University-Newark

Professor Salaita speaks in the Paul Robeson Campus Center at Rutgers University-Newark

By: Nancy Elias

Professor Steven Salaita, invited by Students for Justice in Palestine, visited Rutgers University-Newark on Tuesday, November 17, the first stop of his four day tour, to discuss his case against the University of Illinois. Salaita, a tenured professor of American Indian Studies at Virginia Tech, accepted a tenured job position at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana and signed his contract in October of 2013. In early August 2014, Salaita learned that his contract had been terminated after he tweeted from his private Twitter account criticizing Israel for its attack on Gaza last summer, raising questions in his university and beyond about academic freedom and the position of the United States regarding the violence that is taking place in Gaza.

The university’s decision to terminate the tenured professor’s contract is, according to Salaita, a move that is symbolic for much deeper issues regarding the university, liberal arts, freedom of speech, and university politics and spending. “We’re entering an era where oppression is formalized,” Salaita said. In his case, this oppression was characterized by the university firing Salaita on the grounds of “civility.”

The liberal arts, which get their name from their act of “liberating” minds from institutional oppression, are, according to Salaita, at stake in his case against the University of Illinois.  On top of the growing controversy of the case, Salatia has filed a lawsuit against the university on Monday, alleging that the university has violated its open records law. He argues, “Critical thinking is incompatible with conformity.  The university’s actions are an attack on Indian Studies and liberal arts.” Salatia states that serious scholars think critically and must, for the sake of progress, challenge the world in which they live in. “UIC is happy to display its Indian Studies program in a pamphlet, but gets angry when the department does what it is supposed to do: think critically,” said Salaita.

The University of Illinois chided Salaita for making Jewish students uncomfortable with his beliefs and to this, Salaita responds, “a good education is supposed to make you uncomfortable.  It’s supposed to make you think.”  Salaita also asks,“which students are administrators helping? The perfect student, the student administration fights for, is their invention, and consists of the most privileged students.  Management doesn’t include other students, who seem to only function in the university pamphlet for their multiculturalism.”

“Nobody asks about the comfort of Muslim students here, and this points out a problem.  Those who disparage Palestinians don’t have to defend their beliefs.  Israelis are assumed humans, but Palestinians must denounce aggression to be considered human in the first place,” added Salaita.

Salaita was accused of criticizing Jewish culture by the university, and to this he responds, “I’m no anti-Semite. I’m a man who condemned Israel’s actions.  I oppose the state of Israel.  That’s the extent of my opinion on Jewish culture,”

The controversy which arose as a result of firing Salaita because of his stand with Palestine is part of an ongoing movement to unionize faculty. Barbara Foley, Distinguished Professor of English, asked Salaita about those professors with no protection, namely non-tenured faculty, who according to Foley, “make up 75% of the faculty here at Rutgers University.”

“Non-tenure track faculty, which include adjunct professors, are not only under compensated for their labor, but can be fired on a whim, especially for expressing their political beliefs,” said Salaita.

Although these scholars, most with a PhD from a top university, are barely compensated for teaching their semester-long courses, administrators receive a much more generous salary for their non-academic positions. Sherry Wolfe, Contract Campaign Coordinator of the faculty union Rutgers AAUP-AFT added some statistics to the conversation, namely that, “79 faculty at Rutgers University make $200,000 and upwards, the most being the athletic coach who makes about $1.5 million dollars a year.”

Badr Rasi, senior at Rutgers University-Newark is a member of Students for Justice in Palestine and helped with the logistics of the event.  “This even was every important to me, because in an age with increased corporate encroachment on the university and on learning space, both students and professors suffer the consequences.  Today’s event demonstrates the impact of corporatization of universities and its effects on academic freedom,” Rasi said.

Rutgers University-Newark was also discussed during Salaita’s talk, whose comments about “for show” diversity struck a chord with students and staff members. “The marketing spin of Rutgers University-Newark is ‘the most diverse student body in the nation,’ but sadly this is not reflected in the diversity of courses and academic departments and opportunities that ensure an equally enlightening and safe campus climate to those coming from underprivileged backgrounds,” Rasi said.

Although upset by the firing which cost Salaita his job, health insurance, and financial stability, he states that the support of his colleagues and students have uplifted him to fight for his position, setting a precedence that he will not be bought out by the university for speaking his mind.

“I’ve upheld my end of the contract with the University of Illinois. I’m waiting, perhaps foolishly, for the university to uphold theirs. I’m upset for me, and for the students to whom I was a thesis advisor to. In their case, they are getting a real education,” said Salaita. Certainly, the issues surrounding his case of the university and politics are as real of a look inside academia as it gets.

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Vets are Honored and Called to Civilian Service at Veteran’s Day Commemoration

By Erin Jerome

The New Jersey Distinguished Service Medal is the highest military award for veterans in the state, with returning service members eligible after returning from active duty in a combat zone during wartime.  Two Rutgers University-Newark students were honored with the medal as part of Veteran’s Day Commemoration activities on campus on Wednesday, Nov. 12.

Colonel Stephen Abel, director of the Office of Veteran and Military Programs and Services, presented the awards and praised student military service and the Rutgers University-Newark Student Veteran Organization.  He encouraged student veterans to nominate themselves for the honor.

“We want to give out these medals but we can’t if you guys don’t apply!” he joked.

The awards preceded a talk by Sergeant Rachel McNeill, who served in Iraq and became involved in service as a veteran through The Mission Continues, an organization that promotes veteran adjustment to civilian life and organizes volunteer programs to help vets serve their communities.  Platoons have been organized all over the country to bring veterans and volunteers the opportunity to choose what issues to tackle and projects to work on in their area.  There are already several service platoons in New York, with a platoon in Newark currently in the works. Sergeant McNeill emphasized that the work being done by The Mission Continues all over the country is based on the decisions and efforts of veterans, not the organization.

“It’s interesting to see what veterans can do when they’re given the resources,” she said.

And many are willing to help.  More than half of the attendants at the commemoration were not service members, but supporters with loved ones in the military or just an interest in the cause. The Student Veterans Organization has strong involvement and support from non-veterans.

The self-discipline and pride instilled in so many military veterans became a topic of discussion as Sergeant McNeill shared the work of service platoons across the country.  Business school student Brian Bergen, 35, came to Rutgers under the GI Bill and shared that the military gave him confidence that translated as a business owner.

“I think veterans are more successful entrepreneurs,” he said.  “When you get higher up in the military you have to figure things out without instruction, you aren’t told what to do.”

McNeill asked student veterans to think about what problems in Newark need to be tackled the most as a service platoon is being organized.  The Mission Continues website says these groups work in innovative ways to create partnerships “at the local level to build stronger communities and tackle pressing issues.”

Sergeant McNeill concluded by emphasizing that the leadership of military veterans is needed on the home front:

“The world needs veterans to come home and continue serving in the United States.”

McNeill shared the work of service platoons across the country.  Business school student Brian Bergen, 35, came to Rutgers under the GI Bill and shared that the military gave him confidence that translated as a business owner.

“I think veterans are more successful entrepreneurs,” he said.  “When you get higher up in the military you have to figure things out without instruction, you aren’t told what to do.”

McNeill asked student veterans to think about what problems in Newark need to be tackled the most as a service platoon is being organized.  The Mission Continues website says these groups work in innovative ways to create partnerships “at the local level to build stronger communities and tackle pressing issues.”

Sergeant McNeill concluded by emphasizing that the leadership of military veterans is needed on the home front:

“The world needs veterans to come home and continue serving in the United States.”

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Women’s Soccer Team Makes History

The Rutgers University-Newark women's soccer team meets in a huddle.

The Rutgers University-Newark women’s soccer team meets in a huddle.

By Steven Abalo

The Rutgers Newark women’s soccer team finished the season on a historical runner up position in the ECAC tournament. Despite the loss against Stevens in the final the team has marked a new chapter in the program. The Scarlet Raiders had never won a post season game until this year and made play an outstanding ECAC tournament.

Senior midfielder Sarah Cuhna said, “I’m extremely grateful to have been part of this program at such a crucial moment. It’s been a journey and a half to get where we have, but it was well deserved after all the hard work put in from the coaching staff and players. When such a collective effort is made, it shows in the results. We’ve made history and it’s a great message for this program to send.”

And despite the tough 7-1 loss in the final the Raiders ended with their heads held high for finishing the best season ever. With a record of 14-8-2 the Raiders mark the best record in the history of the program.

Junior forward and leading scorer, Sara Corson said, “There’s almost always going to be a tough loss in your season and it’s important to learn from it. Although the way it ended hurts, there’s still reason to hold our heads high. I think we can look back on this season with pride. We definitely had a great season, the best in the program history, after being picked to finish 9th out of 10 teams in our conference.”

Cunha played her last game in Rutgers career and couldn’t be more overwhelmed with the season at large. This team set the stage and allowed her along with the other seniors on the team to walk out the grand door.

“Rutgers University- Newark can no longer be underestimated.” Cunha said, “I couldn’t have asked for a better season to end with, nor a better team to lead.”

But with shoes to be filled from the graduating seniors Corson believes the coming years will be full of success.

“I think it’s created a great building block for the future years for the program and I’m excited about that.” Corson said.

A bitter sweet ending to a great season for Women’s Soccer team who hope to keep growing in the coming years and be able to reach higher goals and achievements and prove they are title contenders from here on out.

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Men’s Soccer Team Fall in Second Round of NCAA Tournament

By Steven Abalo

The Men’s Soccer team headed to Babson College for the first two NCAA national championship rounds this past weekend. With hopes really high the Raiders had one goal in mind which was to play there hardest and try to come home with two victories. Unfortunately, the Raiders lost in second round to SUNY Cortland 2-1 after having beaten Babson College in the first round 2-0.

Senior forward Raphael Araujo said, “Playing this weekend at the NCAA national championship was an amazing experience, even though we lost we came home with our heads up high because we played our very hardest until the final whistle and we never gave up. The game was a tight one and could have gone both ways; sadly we came out on the losing side.”

Junior defenseman Paul Tarnawski added, “We had a great season, and I’m proud of my team. Even though we lost in the second round, we fought all the way to the last second and gave it our all. We made it farther than last year, and our expectations will only grow for next season.”

And the record breaking Raiders were able to do it again in the NCAA. After making it for the first time to the NCAA last year this year the Raiders made history getting the first program win in the national tournament. For many seniors including Araujo it was the last time they will wear the Rutgers jersey.

“Playing my last game with Rutgers was sad but I’m very proud of everything I have accomplished personally and with my team.” Araujo said, “We made history and I’m very thankful for having the opportunity to play for this great program with irreplaceable teammates.”

The seniors carried a big part of the weight this year coming through with exceptional qualities that helped the team finish an outstanding season.

Tarnawski said, “I also want to thank our seniors for playing their hearts out this season. They will truly be missed.”

And like Tarnawski and the rest of his teammates everyone will have to step up next season to be able to once again make the record books and achieve the unachievable by the Scarlet Raiders.

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How Underemployed are College Graduates Today?

By Everet Rummel

Here’s more good news for college graduates: getting a degree is still worth it. The economy is improving and even at the height of the recession those with a bachelor’s earned a substantial amount more and were employed more often than those without one, on average. Even so, the nature of our recovery is a concern for some; are fresh graduates being employed in worthwhile, full-time jobs that actually require the type of education they received, or are they stuck in low-paying, part-time service jobs with few prospects for paying off their debt?

The sexy thing to do these past few years has been to paint a gloomy picture for soon-to-be college graduates. An endless stream of anecdotes portray life after school as a hopeless struggle with job applications, rejections, debt peonage, and living in your parents’ basement. Perhaps that was once the case for some, but the data says something different nowadays.

Microdata from the Census Bureau compiled by Ben Casselman at FiveThirtyEight shows the after-school performance of people under the age of 28 with certain types of college degrees, including median and quartile earnings as well as percent working in part-time and low-paying jobs.

From this data it is clear that your employment prospects after graduation are determined largely by your program of study. Petroleum engineering majors, for instance, earn by far the most; the median annual salary is $110,000 while the 25th quartile (those with this income earn more than 25% of the others) is $95,000! Meanwhile only 13% and 10% of petroleum engineering majors are stuck in part-time and low-paying jobs, respectively.

Okay, perhaps that was a fluke? Well, the top 6 majors in terms of median earnings potential are some kind of engineering: mineral ($75k), metallurgical ($73k), naval ($70k), nuclear ($65k), and chemical ($65k). Next is actuarial science ($62), astronomy ($62), and then a bunch more engineering types. The chances of underemployment are incredibly low for all of these majors, as well.

But not all of us are particularly well-suited for engineering or astrophysics. What are the prospects for some of the more popular, less technical majors? Psychology, one of the most popular majors in the U.S., shows median earnings of $32k while over half of graduates hold jobs that don’t require a degree. Biology — certainly popular on this campus — majors earn $33k and almost half could be considered underemployed. This goes to show that a STEM major does not necessarily guarantee one a job. However, psych and bio majors who go on to graduate school (and most do) earn substantially more while underemployment figures plummet. So pre-med and other grad-school-bound students in certain programs can rest easy with their choices, as well.

What about non-science majors? Education majors show relatively low earnings but have strong job prospects. Public policy ($50) and “court reporting” ($54k) show decent earnings, although over half of both may be underemployed. The lowest performers include Library Science ($22k) and Theater Arts ($27k), both of which show severe underemployment potential. In fact, 78% of drama majors are working in jobs that don’t require a college degree, while 31% are stuck in low-paying service-sector jobs.

Last week I argued that the recent college graduate unemployment/underemployment problem may be linked to a shortage in technical skills or certain majors tied to growing industries among graduates. This data adds some more teeth to the claim that technical skills are a boon in today’s evolving job market. While Science-related majors do well if they go to graduate school, Technology, Engineering, and Math students do consistently well with just a bachelor’s. Other majors tied to growing industries, such as education, nursing, and actuarial science, have low underemployment potential and thus greater success after college. I encourage anyone interested to Google search “Ben Casselman college major economic guide” to learn more.

The takeaway lesson from this data is that students need to adapt to a changing job market, just as they always have had to do since the advent of higher education.

Certain interest groups have tended to make broad pessimistic claims in order to drum up support for their causes. I am not a fan of buzz words and clichéd political rhetoric, especially when the data should inspire a bit of optimism in view of the job market. I encourage skepticism of any group who claims to represent our interests while ignoring the data and appealing to our fears with carefully-selected anecdotes cherry-picked statistics.

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Ferguson, 100 Days Later

Art in Ferguson. Photo by Matt Cole

By Dina Sayedahmed

It’s been one hundred days and then some since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, the unarmed young adult from Ferguson, Missouri.  On August 9th, at 12:01PM, the 18-year old resident of Ferguson, Missouri, was shot dead only a few meters away from his home.

Brown, according to eye witness testimonies, had raised his hands in resignation and explicitly stated that he was not armed. His killer, shockingly, was a police officer: Mr. Darren Wilson. Brown’s body remained, bleeding, on the warm street of Canfield Drive under the summer sun for four and a half hours and was not covered until 12:15PM. Homicide detectives were not called until approximately 40 minutes later. Brown’s body was finally checked into the morgue, a 15 minute drive from the scene, at 4:37PM, more than four and a half hours after he had fallen dead.

Since then, protests erupted throughout the streets of Missouri, most notably in front of the Ferguson Police Department on West Florissant. Protesters were met with rubber bullets and tear gas. Getty Images photographer and journalists from Aljazeera, The Huffington Post, Anadolu Agency, and The Washington Post were arrested along with civilian reporters, photographers, and protesters.

It took 4 days of relentless protest for the Justice Department to open a civil rights investigation. Soon after, on August 16th, Governor Jay Nixon declared an emergency state and imposed a curfew. On August 19th, military tanks began making their presence on civilian streets: the Governor ordered the deployment of the National Guard. Three months later, on November 17th, Governor Nixon would declare a state of emergency again.

Brown is not the first victim of police brutality, nor is he the last. Indeed, approximately two months after Brown’s shooting, VonDerrit Myers Jr. was shot in the Shaw neighborhood of St. Louis by a police officer. Myer’s killer, however, was an off-duty police officer and working his second job as a security guard at a private firm when he shot Myers. Nevertheless, it still raises the question of a militarized police force targeting young, unarmed black men, as both Brown and Myer were black and unarmed.

What makes Brown’s story unique is the way authorities have handled the situation and the fact that his body was left, uncovered and bleeding, in the middle of the street only a few meters from his doorstep. Brown’s story also awakened the St. Louis community to the challenge the inherent racism engraved on their streets.

100 days after Brown’s killing, protests and rallies continue to erupt throughout St. Louis County. Coffeehouse owners have begun declaring their properties a safe space for protesters and organizers to gather. St. Louis County finally began acknowledging and addressing its longstanding tradition of racism.

This event, though local to the St. Louis area, is an international tragedy and racism is an international crisis. Even as America is looked upon, by the world, as the ideal land of democracy and freedom, the United States justice system has first failed at protecting the life of its citizens.

As both students and reporters studying in Newark, a predominantly black city, The Observer felt inclined to delve deeper into the institutional racism and oppression rooted in the St. Louis County. Given the 1969 Conklin Hall takeover and the resulting diversity for which Rutgers University-Newark is celebrated, the St. Louis County events are directly correlated to the history of this campus and its current demographics.

Being the most diverse college campus nationwide does not give Rutgers University-Newark a simple marketing strategy, but a duty to educate and understand the factors that led to this 17-year distinction.

The unrest and the narratives of those in the St. Louis County drew the eyes of many, including The Observer. An investigation grounded in Missouri led The Observer’s reporters to discover unsung victories and narratives not yet heard.

Over the next several weeks, The Observer will feature a series of articles and narratives from St. Louis County. This series will feature a diverse range of personal profiles:  the young to the old, the grassroots activists, narratives on the awakening of the black community in St. Louis, the impact of Brown’s shooting on businesses and St. Louis community, and the resonating Saint Louis University Occupation.

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China’s Currency: The Floating Yuan

By: Jeannie Mark

For years, China has faced pressures from other countries such as the United States to allow their pegged currency to float thus allowing the Yuan to appreciate in value. Right now, China maintains a “dirty float” currency which means that the Chinese government takes actions to keep the exchange rate constant of their currency, the Yuan, against the American dollar. Many accuse China of monopolizing exports by preventing other countries to compete with their exports due to their cheap cost. Other countries such as the United States and United Kingdom cannot compete with the cheap labor and, subsequently, blame China for the significant decrease in jobs. They also accuse China of manipulating the global foreign exchange market by not allowing the Yuan to be fully convertible. The United States believes that allowing the Yuan to float freely, meaning that the Yuan will appreciate and depreciate in value based on supply and demand, will solve the imbalance in the global market and help increase exports from other countries. Due to the overwhelming pressure faced from other nations, China makes a decision about whether or not to allow their currency to be based on a floating exchange rate system. However, China has not changed its policy due to a huge possibility of their manufacturers moving to other countries thus causing millions of people in China to lose their jobs which will cause social and political distress. The country of China also fears that they will face the same fate as Japan, a period of deflation and stagnation for the economy, after they switched to a floating exchange rate.

So who will really be effected by this? Due to China wanting to keep their exchange rate pegged to the US dollar, China buys and invests a lot of money into US Treasuries. Buying these US Treasuries puts money into the American government, which keeps interest rates low. These low interest rates reflect on the United States housing market. In a nutshell, China buying US Treasuries keeps American mortgage rates low and allows people to buy houses more easily. If China switches over to a floating exchange rate, the Yuan will go up in value and cause a decrease in the value of the American dollar. Therefore, all the foreign reserves and Treasuries China has in its possession will essentially be worthless which will cause them to sell these reserves. Upon selling these reserves, the American dollar will inflate and interest will go up possibly causing another crash on the housing market. Additionally, if the Yuan goes up in value, this means that the Chinese people will be able to afford more imports thus causing an increase in the price of oil and petroleum.

China’s main concern, a huge increase in unemployment, will be the winning factor in this decision. Many Americans foresee a huge increase in employment if China allows their currency to appreciate. However, China does not directly compete with American jobs. The manufacturing sector of America has gone down due to rising and developing technology for the past decade. America focuses heavily on knowledge-based goods such as software and concepts. China heavily focuses on the more labor-intensive jobs thus posing a huge problem if their manufacturing companies move out of China and into cheaper countries. However, even with the pegged currency, the manufacturing jobs in China have been decreasing. Although China still remains to be underdeveloped in comparison to other countries such as the United States, the have seen an increase in technology as well. Therefore, one cannot say if a floating exchange rate will exactly have a huge impact on the jobs in China as well as the United States.

In the past years, China has allowed their currency to appreciate in value to slowly make its way to a floating exchange rate. Right now, they maintain a “dirty float,” with the government intervening when necessary to make sure the Yuan does not appreciate too much. However, the Yuan has appreciated by 25% in the past decade. Right now, China’s managed float has been the greatest choice given its economy and political regime. If they continue down this road, the switch to a fully floating exchange rate should be nearly seamless.

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