Steven Salaita filed a lawsuit today in a federal district court against the University of Illinois trustees and top administrators, seeking reinstatement and damages because of his dismissal.
The lawsuit makes many counts against the University of Illinois, including federal violations of the First Amendment (“firing him for his political speech”), procedural due process (“summarily stripping him of a tenured position without due process”), as well as violations under state law for Promissory Estoppel and Breach of Contract.
Salaita is seeking his job back and compensation for the harm done against him in what he called “this ordeal” in a conference call today. Salaita said, “the University’s actions have…left my academic career…in shambles.” Noting, “I am now jobless,” Salaita said that his family has been “forced to move in with my parents and struggle to make ends meet.”
Salaita’s lawyers noted, “We bring this lawsuit only after the University made it clear” it would refuse to follow the recommendations of a faculty committee (CAFT) to re-examine his case.
The most controversial part of the lawsuit will be the plan of the lawyers to file “claims against financial donors” for threatening to withhold donations if Salaita were hired. Salaita’s lawyers said they were “people who, based on their wealth, injected themselves into the hiring process.”
However, these donors have not yet been identified because the University of Illinois has refused to release documents under the Freedom of Information Act, claiming that there were “too many” emails about Salaita for them to process. A hearing on Salaita’s separate FOIA lawsuit will be held in Champaign on Feb. 13.
Salaita’s lawyers indicated that they would prove that “pressure from donors” constituted the “improper motivation” for Salaita’s dismissal. But they noted that the trustees’ professed objection to Salaita’s political speech was also an improper motivation, and was sufficient to allow them to prevail.
Salaita said his aim is to be reinstated: “I have been and continue to be interested in reinstatement and joining my colleagues there.” He added, “We don’t want the type of precedent to be established where upper administrators can violate their own rules.” The University of Illinois has promised to pursue a settlement with Salaita, but the trustees rejected any possibility of reinstatement, so it would take a court order after a long legal victory for Salaita to attain his position back.