University of Illinois Pays $875,000 to Settle Salaita Case

Here is the press release from Salaita’s lawyers:

Settlement Reached in Case of Professor Fired for “Uncivil” Tweets

November 12, 2015, Chicago – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel Loevy & Loevy announced the settlement of Professor Steven Salaita’s case against the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) for firing him from his tenured position over his personal tweets criticizing the Israeli government’s assault on Gaza in 2014. Professor Salaita sued UIUC, the university Board of Trustees and high-level administrators for violating his First Amendment right to free speech and for breach of contract. Salaita’s firing became a flashpoint for debates over academic freedom, free speech, and the repression of Palestinian rights advocacy. In exchange for Professor Salaita’s agreement to release his claims, the university has agreed to pay $875,000.

“This settlement is a vindication for me, but more importantly, it is a victory for academic freedom and the First Amendment,” said Professor Salaita. “The petitions, demonstrations, and investigations, as well as the legal case, have reinvigorated American higher education as a place of critical thinking and rigorous debate, and I am deeply grateful to all who have spoken out.”

Professor Salaita’s firing prompted student walkouts; the cancellation of more than three dozen scheduled talks and conferences at the school; further pledges to boycott UIUC by more than 5,000 academics; a vote of no confidence in the university administration by 16 UIUC academic departments; and public condemnation by prominent academic organizations, including the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the Modern Language Association, and the Society of American Law Teachers. In April, the AAUP released a scathing report on Salaita’s termination and, in June, voted to censure the UIUC for its actions. In August, a federal judge rejected the university’s argument that Professor Salaita had not actually been hired, despite a contract and his impending family move to the university, writing, “If the Court accepts the University’s argument, the entire American academic hiring process as it now operates would cease to exist.”

Within hours of the court’s decision, Chancellor Phyllis Wise, who sent Professor Salaita the letter notifying him of his termination a year prior, resigned from the UIUC. The following day, the university revealed that administrators had been using personal email accounts in an attempt to avoid publicly releasing their correspondence. In one email released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Chancellor Wise admitted that she was not only using her private email because of the litigation, but was deleting her messages after sending. Provost Ilesanmi Adesida resigned a few weeks later. Prior FOIA productions had revealed that wealthy UIUC donors had threatened to withhold funding unless Professor Salaita was terminated.

“Professor Salaita’s case galvanized champions of academic freedom and Palestinian rights activists alike, making clear that punishing speech―even speech that dares to criticize Israeli government atrocities―will not be tolerated. It resulted in widespread condemnation of the university’s actions and a federal court decision finding he had a contract and his tweets were protected by the First Amendment. Professor Salaita has in fact won―and this settlement permits him to move on and refocus on his work as a premier scholar and an excellent teacher,” saidCenter for Constitutional Rights Deputy Legal Director Maria LaHood.

In July 2014, after his contract with the university had been signed, Professor Salaita tweeted a number of strongly worded messages from his private account expressing his outrage and dismay at the Israeli government’s attacks in Gaza, which killed more than 500 children. Professor Salaita’s firing is part of a broader crackdown on activism for Palestinian rights that includes event cancellations, baseless legal complaints such as the ongoing case in Washington against Olympia Food Co-op board members for boycotting Israeli goods, administrative disciplinary actions, false and inflammatory accusations of terrorism and antisemitism, and legislation to prohibit boycotts of Israeli goods and institutions. The Center for Constitutional Rights co-authored a report this fall with the organization Palestine Legal on the widespread attempts to silence U.S. activists critical of Israel’s policies, called “The Palestine Exception to Free Speech”.

“Make no mistake: the size of this settlement is an implicit admission of the strength of Professor Salaita’s constitutional and contractual claims,” said Anand Swaminathan of Loevy & Loevy. “He has scored a major victory for those who care about free speech and academic freedom. In the future, university administrators will have to think twice before they choose the interests of wealthy donors and alumni over upholding their constitutional obligations. This legal victory could not have been possible without the support of a large and committed movement of activists and academics.”

For more information on the case, visit CCR’s Salaita v. Kennedy case page.

14 thoughts on “University of Illinois Pays $875,000 to Settle Salaita Case

  1. WRONG! Wise DIDN”T resign from UIUC, she stepped down as Chancellor. She’s planning on teaching courses here in the spring, and now that Salaita’s settled who knows whether her destruction of documents and use of personal emails to avoid FOIAs — particularly MY FOIAs — will ever be revealed.

    Also WRONG is CCR’s claim to the nexus to Salaita’s speech on Israel. Any idiot knows that there was obviously some role for that; but as I documented over and over and over again, Wise was mostly concerned with the medical center she wanted built at UIUC, and for CCR to turn it into just about Palestine is, unfortunately, an example of their own bias rather than a desire to speak the truth.

    So will we ever know the truth? Will the Illinois AG’s office pursue destruction of evidence claims against Wise? Will we even see the ethics report on Wise released?

    I rather doubt it. And here’s the saddest thing: the two groups that lose are 1) anyone involved with UIUC, since the house-cleaning that still needs to occur likely won’t, and 2) Jews everywhere, since we’ll never learn how much the Salaita Affair had to do with money interests around the medical center versus the actions of “the Jews,” or, as anti-Semites everywhere like to put it to avoid computerized flagging, “the Joos.”

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  3. ‘“This settlement is a vindication for me, but more importantly, it is a victory for academic freedom and the First Amendment,” said Professor Salaita.’

    Salaita is mistaken. UIUC paid $875,000 to ensure that its students will be ignorant of ideas that might challenge how they view the world, and how they treat others who live in it. The university paid a minor fine to ensure future claims against the institution will be neutered. The settlement has effectively bled dry First Amendment complaints by scholars against educational institutions–scholars for whom speech and research are inextricable from questions of employment.

    Had Salaita received a dollar settlement and the reinstatement of his job, with all rights, privileges, and duties incumbent on that position, then, and only then, would there have been “a victory for academic freedom and the First Amendment.” As it is, Professor Salaita, you have merely set the price of doing business in the contemporary university, and that price is shockingly low. UIUC’s lawyers and administration must be deeply pleased.

    • Completely agreed. Now the question is whether the AAUP has any interest in raising that price tag by, for example, refusing to lift the censure merely because Salaita settled.

      In fact, let me go further and say that, by lifting censure, AAUP is pandering to the anti-Semitic narrative that, sadly, CCR seems to be happily promoting. Think about it: if “the Jews” were as involved as CCR originally said (and now says by its continued use of “rich donors” as a cover phrase), why on earth would they settle now when they could have pushed forward with the vast amount of momentum they have now — things like destruction of evidence, purposeful evasion of FOIA, etc. etc.

      I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I think there’s a really simple explanation: the facts that they were learning in discovery showed minimal involvement by “the Jews,” and maximal involvement on the part of a bunch of venal administrators who wanted the medical center and, more generally, to do whatever they wanted with no accountability. And if what you want to sell is a narrative of coordinated conspiracy by “the Joos” then you have no incentive to have that other narrative proceed.

      I realize that I’m being very harsh in my criticism of CCR; on the other hand, I think what they’ve been putting up about the Salaita case amounts to pure propaganda in order to advance their own agenda.

      If they REALLY believed in the Constitution, they’d be pushing for the truth, not for their own endpoint.

      And the truth at a price tag of only $875K is not even a little truth, much less one of constitutional proportions.

    • Mission Accomplished, and rather cheap at that. He would have received more if he had spilled hot coffee from MacDonalds on his lap. Salaita didn’t win; he was paid off and will be lucky if he ever gets another tenured job in American academia. As for the notion that this was about the medical center and not Israel, this is nonsense. If he had tweeted about any other subject, he would be on the UIC faculty today. Finkelstein redux.

      • I wonder, Paul, did you actually read all the FOIA results, as I did? Did you actually track Wise’s continued involvement with the medical center on a daily basis throughout all of 2014? Did you read her dismissal of the Mayor of Urbana’s concerns about Carle’s not paying taxes as “a distraction?” Did you ever read her sycophantic communications to Jim Leonard, CEO of Carle, her pandering and sucking up?

        I never said there was no connection between the content of Salaita’s speech and what happened to him. What I said was that it had much more to do with the medical center than with Jewish actions; a fact that we’ll now never have probed, and that especially everyone who thinks there was that connection should demand be investigated.

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  7. This settlement is no victory or vindication of academic freedom. It’s another blow and, for the University, yet another scandal. Prof. Salaita might have felt he had no choice but to accept it and then to put the best face possible on it. But it is a very bad settlement indeed for anyone concerned with academic freedom and shared governance.

    The departure of the previous Universoty president, chancellor, and provost raised hopes that their replacements would fix the mess already made by reversing the original decision to fire Salaita — by restoring his job to him and demonstrating respect for the views of the Academic Senate and for the faculty’s right to choose their colleagues.

    The administration had the golden opportunity to do that. Salaita’s lawyers called for that. But tis administration flatly refused to do that — refused to do the right thing. It decided instead to offer a financial settlement far, far smaller than the likely cost to Prof. Salaita as measured in a lifetime of probably lost academic salary. It refuses to give him his job back. It refuses to acknowledge its own wrong-doing. And, to add insult to injury, it requires Prof. Salaita — the injured party — to promise that he will never again seek a position at the U of I.

    This University president, chancellor, and provost — who previously only inherited the Salaita scandal — now own it.

    And what is the upshot… what’s the lasting message that this settlement sends? That a university can fire a scholar for expressing views it finds distasteful and get away with it so long as it’s prepared to pony up some cash.

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