In response to Steven Salaita’s lawsuit yesterday, the University of Illinois administration issued a statement (copied in full below).
Many claims in the U of I statement are incorrect, and others seem to confess to precisely the punishment of political speech that Salaita’s lawsuit is based upon.
The U of I statement claims that Salaita’s tweets “demonstrate that Dr. Salaita lacks the judgment, temperament and thoughtfulness to serve as a member of our faculty in any capacity, but particularly to teach courses related to the Middle East.”
This is a highly unusual claim: that scholars who teach courses related to the Middle East must meet higher standards of “temperament” than other scholars. Why is this? Obviously, it’s because the Middle East is a politically controversial topic. So, the University of Illinois is essentially admitting that it refused to hire Salaita due to worries about his viewpoint on a politically controversial issue, and that it subjected his appointment to greater scrutiny due to his politics. This kind of admission in a carefully prepared statement is a serious blow to their legal case, since it undermines any assertion that Salaita was treated fairly like any other hire.
The U of I statement also invokes the final board approval needed for any faculty appointment and claims, “Dr. Salaita was well aware of the importance of this final approval.” Actually, he wasn’t. Salaita assumed, like everybody else, that Board approval of contracts was a mere formality, which is why it was scheduled to happen after he started teaching classes. If final approval of contracts by the Board is so important, why doesn’t it happen before a potentially evil professor starts teaching students?
According to the U of I statement, “the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure concurred that ‘donor influence’ was not a basis for the decision.” That’s not true. The CAFT report found “no evidence” of donor influence, but of course the subcommittee never saw the thousands of emails that the U of I is trying to keep secret in defiance of an FOIA request. A statement that no evidence was found is not the same as evidence proving that donor influence did not exist.
The U of I statement concluded, “As a private citizen, Dr. Salaita has the constitutional right to make any public statement he chooses. Dr. Salaita, however, does not have a constitutional right to a faculty position at the University of Illinois.” That’s not true. You do have a constitutional right to a faculty position, if you were fairly chosen for the position and then had it taken away for illegitimate reasons, such as your political views.
The U of I statement declares that all of Salaita’s claims are “meritless” and adds, “The University has attempted to negotiate a settlement for his reasonable losses and expenses, but he has refused those offers.” If Salaita’s claims are all meritless, why is the University offering a settlement? You can’t admit that Salaita suffered “losses” caused by the University and then assert his lawsuit is completely meritless.
The University of Illinois is facing a huge problem: the administration is likely to be censured by the AAUP, there are likely to be embarrassing revelations in the emails the administration is trying to keep secret, and a lawsuit could hang over the institution for years, culminating in a court order to reinstate Salaita as a tenured professor and pay him a million dollars in legal fees and losses. The only alternative might be for the U of I to pay Salaita about $4 million he would have earned over the next 40 years, and hope that he is willing to take the money. But if the University is unwilling to make a serious settlement offer, the Salaita case won’t disappear anytime soon.
Below is the entire U of I statement on the Salaita lawsuit:
A statement by the University re Steven Salaita complaint
University to vigorously defend against meritless claims
January 29, 2015
The University of Illinois must balance all of the interests of its campuses and the institution in reaching any decision, particularly one as important as granting a positon as a member of our faculty.
Last summer, while Steven Salaita was still under consideration for a tenured position to teach courses comparing issues related to the experiences of Native Americans to issues related to Palestinians and the Middle East, Dr. Salaita began demonstrating that he lacked the professional fitness to serve on the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Specifically, Dr. Salaita began making a series of statements via social media on precisely the subject matter that he proposed to teach at our University. For example, on June 19, 2014, after three Israeli teenagers were reported kidnapped and presumed dead, Dr. Salaita posted a statement on Twitter which read: “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the f**king West Bank settlers would go missing.” Dr. Salaita continued to post this comment even after the three teens were found murdered later that month.
Dr. Salaita also posted statements such as:
“Zionist uplift in America: every little Jewish boy and girl can grow up to be the leader of a monstrous colonial regime.”
“If #Israel affirms life, then why do so many Zionists celebrate the slaughter of children? What’s that? Oh, I see JEWISH life.”
“Zionists: transforming antisemitism [sic] from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.”
“Let’s cut to the chase: If you’re defending #Israel right now you’re an awful human being.”
These statements and many more like them demonstrate that Dr. Salaita lacks the judgment, temperament and thoughtfulness to serve as a member of our faculty in any capacity, but particularly to teach courses related to the Middle East.
As Dr. Salaita admits in the complaint he filed today, the offer he received in October 2013 from the American Indian Studies Program was at all times subject to the ultimate approval of the Board of Trustees. This is consistent with the Statutes of the University of Illinois and the past precedent of the University. Dr. Salaita was well aware of the importance of this final approval. At no time was Dr. Salaita hired as a faculty member. His appointment was always subject to approval by the Board of Trustees.
On September 11, 2014, after carefully considering all of the issues related to Dr. Salaita’s proposed appointment, the Board of Trustees voted 8-1 not to approve Dr. Salaita for a position on the faculty. Two weeks ago, the Board emphatically reiterated that its decision is final and will not be reconsidered.
The Board’s decision concerning Dr. Salaita was not reached hastily. Nor was it the result of external pressures. Indeed, the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure concurred that “donor influence” was not a basis for the decision. The decision did not present a “new approach” to the consideration of proposed faculty appointments. It represented the careful exercise of each Board member’s fiduciary duty and a balancing of all of the interests of the University of Illinois. In the end, this is a responsibility that cannot be delegated nor abdicated.
Today, Dr. Salaita has filed a complaint in federal court. Among other accusations, he contends that the individual trustees and administrators of the University of Illinois are liable for intentionally inflicting emotional distress by refusing to provide him with a faculty position. The University of Illinois intends to vigorously defend against these and each of Dr. Salaita’s other meritless claims. The University has attempted to negotiate a settlement for his reasonable losses and expenses, but he has refused those offers.
As a private citizen, Dr. Salaita has the constitutional right to make any public statement he chooses. Dr. Salaita, however, does not have a constitutional right to a faculty position at the University of Illinois.