The News–Gazette reported that Steven Salaita’s lawsuit against the University of Illinois will proceed. The University of Illinois had argued, since the lawsuit had been filed by the professor’s lawyers, the Center for Constitutional Rights (C.R.C.), and not specifically by Professor Salaita, that the plaintiff did not have legal standing. Judge Chase Leonhard, a Champaign County state judge, issued the ruling today that rejected the U. of I. argument. He is allowing Dr. Salaita to pursue his Freedom of Information Act requests, by amending the complaint, in order to clarify precisely the plaintiff in the case. It is the professor, and not the C.R.C.
Beginning last September, a month after he was fired for tweets describing his response to Israeli military strikes in the Gaza Strip, Professor Salaita has attempted to receive, through open-records claims, e-mail and other communication from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The university complained the volume of documents requested were “unduly burdensome.” A major objective is to examine the role played by wealthy donors in derailing the tenured appointment in the American Indian Studies Program.
The next hearing on the matter is scheduled for April 13. As this case proceeds, I expect the University of Illinois can overcome their “burdens,” and abide by the Illinois F.O.I.A. and produce the documents that a public institution in Illinois is required to provide. Any cover-up, any further delay, simply prolongs this ordeal for Professor Steven Salaita, who is eager to get back into the classroom, and resume his academic career that he earned in a national search confirmed by a contract proffer in 2013.
Anand Swaminathan of Loevy & Loevy in Chicago has been a courageous lead attorney defending a professor against a powerful and well-connected academic institution. He is quoted in the article as stating at the hearing:
“The records requested concern the university’s decision to terminate Professor Salaita’s appointment to a tenured faculty position at the university based on Professor Salaita’s political speech on a matter of tremendous public concern.
“Because of the devastating impact of the university’s decision on Professor Salaita personally, and the hugely important principles at stake-free speech, academic freedom, faculty administration, shared governance, insulating faculty hiring decision from the influence of wealthy donors – the circumstances surrounding Professor Salaita’s firing have garnered national attention…”