The Salaita Settlement and the Corporatization of the University

Last Friday, Inc. published an article on the Salaita settlement. Written by Joseph Steinberg, the article is titled “How a Single Social Media Blunder Cost a University $2 Million.” It provides advice on how institutions can avoid having to make similar settlements and avoid even more costly litigation and potentially larger settlements.

But it makes no distinction between universities and corporations as institutions, and it gives no explicit attention whatsoever to the central issue of academic freedom or, for that matter, to the problems inherent in the unprecedented manner in which Salaita was, in effect, de-hired.

The final sentence in what I will quote in this post does glance briefly in the direction of policies that would protect academic freedom, but Steinberg seems unaware that such policies were, very arguably, in place at the University of Illinois and violated by the university administration and Board of Trustees. And, in any case, given the very corporate–never mind inflammatory–framing of the case that precedes that sentence, it seems very unlikely that a policy extending academic freedom protections to social media would result from a mandate by most Boards of Trustees that such a policy be put in place.

For all of those reasons, this advisory article provides a case study of why, even if the corporate executives on our Boards of Trustees are well-intentioned, they almost cannot help but advance the corporatization of our institutions—unless there is some strong faculty voice countering that influence by asserting the culture, traditions, and values of American academia.

These are the last few paragraphs of Steinberg’s article:

“The university may or may not have prevailed had the case gone to trial, but, according to published reports, it felt that settling would be its least costly option–costs related to the case had already reached $1.3 million, and proceeding with hearings and a trial were likely to pile on significantly more expense.

“Salaita’s tweets were profane, highly offensive, and perhaps even libelous. But that is not the point. It wasn’t just Salaita who paid a price–his almost-employer is going to lose $2 million, and may pay additional hefty prices in terms of reputational damage, expended time, distracted employees, and other “softer” costs.

“Could the University of Illinois have avoided the whole mess with clear social media policies and technology to ensure that people are aware of the policies at the time they use social media?

“Imagine for a moment that a team of social media experts, cybersecurity and privacy pros, lawyers aware of relevant laws, and human resources managers had crafted clear, detailed social media usage rules for employees at the University of Illinois, that the school had required all new hires to accept them as a condition of employment, and that the school had provided Salatia with technology that warned him at the time that he was tweeting that what he was doing was against school policy. Might he have refrained from making the tweets? Might he have toned them down a bit? And had he continued and posted them as he did, would the school have had a much stronger case–thereby eliminating the incentive for attorneys to take Salatia’s case? Or giving the school grounds to countersue? Or, maybe, on the other hand, if the professionals had crafted a policy that had allowed him to express his views as he did–for example, if the experts believed that the University had no right to demand that employees not make such posts–would the school have refrained from rescinding its offer, and instead responded to his tweets in a different fashion? . . .”

Steinberg’s complete article is available at:$2-million.html.

11 thoughts on “The Salaita Settlement and the Corporatization of the University

  1. That inc article is ignorant on so many levels that it would be funny, if it weren’t yet another example of the “analyze the facts of the Salaita case without bothering to learn those facts” type of self-serving screeds that we’ve seen, are seeing and, no doubt, will soon see even more of soon.

    Salaita’s lawyers didn’t take the case to make money: The Center for Constitutional Rights is a NONPROFIT, and Loevy and Loevy (a Chicago for profit firm) did the FOIA case pro-bono. CCR’s mission in this case was to advance the claim that there’s a systematic attempt to suppress Palestinian voices, alas while this is a laudable goal (and they could be somewhat right about what they claim), CCR has been more than happy to twist the facts to their liking: e.g., saying that Wise was forced to resign from the UI (she stepped down as Chancellor, she’s still getting $300K) a year, or that the released emails show destruction of evidence in the Salaita case (they don’t — they show destruction of evidence related to the Carle/UIUC medical center). But in any case CCR took the case for reasons that have NOTHING to do with remuneration. That’s why they’re called the “Center for Constitutional Rights” and not “Dewey Cheatum and Howe.”

    Of course the tone-deafness of the inc article’s writer isn’t actually tone-deafness at all: he seems to run a company that advises entities on how to handle social media issues. So his voice has everything to do with $ and nothing (or not much) to do with casting a light on the situation.

    There’s going to be a lot more of this post-hoc ignorant opining. It’s going to take a story that isn’t fully told (because UIUC hasn’t been forced to tell it) and make it even more of a tool for people with their own agendas.

    Not that the Salaita Affair was’t always subject to those abuses; but without the full story, the abuses will only grow.

    • The lawyers will receive $275,000 and Salaita will receive $600,000. So the lawyers are taking 31%, which a bit lower than average – between a third and 40% is usual for plaintiffs’ lawyers.

  2. It is interesting how little information is available to people who are not insiders about this. The same few things are repeated over and over and we are left to guess about all the other things that may have been going on.

    It seems clear that some people were very upset about the Salaita hiring and that the tweets precipitated that since before them most people may never have heard about him and what he had written. I would guess many people even now do not know about the politically oriented changes to indigenous studies departments where Palestinians are rolled in as indigenous peoples while it appears that Jews and Hindus are not viewed as indigenous in the lands their religions arose in. I think the prevailing view in professordom is that Sanskrit, Hindu scriptures and Hinduism are not indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. I would guess research brought some of that to the attention of people who had not known about it before the Tweets got huge publicity.

    • My concern here is that everyone is hurt when the FULL truth isn’t revealed. UIUC has now settled, so we’ll likely never seen the internal documents that Salaita’s lawyers were seeking; we may see the 10,000 emails that were sought under FOIA and that an Illinois state court judge ruled UIUC had to produce, but those documents will likely be either a) uninformative or b) heavily redacted in order to provide no information.

      Jews in particular should be outraged that the full truth isn’t out, because the meme of a Jewish conspiracy is still reverberating. There’s no doubt that Jews pressured UIUC over what Salaita had said — there’s this first amendment thing that seems to give them that right to do so. Was there some back room dealing? Quite possibly, but, you know what, one Jew doesn’t speak for all Jews, nor does one Jew (no matter how rich) constitute a conspiracy.

      In this case as I’ve already observed based on detailed analysis of the FOIAed documents, there appear to have been any number of generic complaints by Jews at large, and perhaps three that came from potentially real $ donors, with perhaps a total of $3M at stake. Is that a conspiracy to suppress Palestinian voices? For a campus that gets $300M or something like that every year in donations?

      It could be. The point is that Jews have suffered terribly from the perpetuation of the likely myth of concerted Jewish actions — and, no, that statement in NO WAY minimizes the abuses heaped on Salaita, it’s not a zero-sum-game.

      What I’d like to know is, if we Jews are so good at conspiracies, how is it that we haven’t come together to demand full disclosure from UIUC? Salaita signed a consent decree that he gave up rights to all litigation, UIUC can’t claim litigation is ongoing, let’s pressure UIUC to tell the complete and FULL truth.

      Otherwise the lesson isn’t learned, UIUC won’t change, and all the old anti-Semitic ideas that we (“the Joos”) march in lock-step will go on reverberating.

  3. “Jews in particular should be outraged that the full truth isn’t out, because the meme of a Jewish conspiracy is still reverberating.”

    Is it? We are blamed for all kinds of things. There is no point to wringing our hands and being in despair about that.

    If a Jew complains, is that pressuring people? Do people have a right not to be questioned?

    I am sure some Jews complained and I don’t think it was only about the tweets. I don’t view the tweets as a huge big deal by themselves. The total picture is disturbing. It seems to be part of a grand deal on the left where groups will get Muslim and Arab support in return for supporting the Palestinians. And that is seen as the forces of light fighting the forces of darkness. Actually we are all pretty much alike. That is especially so for people who are actually in the same large grouping of people such as American college graduates or American Protestants.

  4. “`Jews in particular should be outraged that the full truth isn’t out, because the meme of a Jewish conspiracy is still reverberating.’”

    “Is it? We are blamed for all kinds of things. There is no point to wringing our hands and being in despair about that.”


    Jews get blamed for all sorts of things, as do Muslims, Christians, Americans, Canadians, New Yorkers, etc. etc. etc. You don’t have to look very far to find someone classifying others as a group, even when it’s a group of ONE.

    Some of that is as you say, not worth wringing hands over. On the other hand I am NOT suggesting Jews wring hands or be in despair over various points of view regarding Salaita; instead, I’m saying Jews ought take action to demand a full accounting from UIUC, for the simple reason that, in this case, the truth — whatever it is — will puncture a lot of the untruths on all sides.

    I’m not sure what your point of view is; mine is really simple, find out the whole truth, because there’s still a lot not known. And that’s not a paranoid observation, as has been documented over and over it’s a simple fact.

    • No offense, but you yourself are skewing the facts to suit your interpretation-that it was all about the medical school that Wise wanted to secure. It’s entirely possible that a number of things were going on at once, not this or that.

      No one has “blamed the Jews” for what happened at UIUC. For one thing, many of Salaita’s key defenders were Jewish, just as some of the most important voices of advocacy for the academic BDS in the US are Jewish. Everyone remotely connected to the Salaita brouhaha or debates about the BDS campaign in the US or elsewhere knows this.

      There were donors who tried to interfere; they are right wing Zionists. There is a difference between Jewish and Zionist. There’s no sense in pretending that donors as well as local politicos who were also political conservatives didn’t try to do what they did.

      That said, Andrew, I think there’s also no denying that Wise had a vexed relationship to Chris Kennedy due to struggles over at what university within the Illinois system the much-coveted-by-Wise medical school would be built. In other words, it’s possible to walk, chew gum, tap dance, and do other things at the same time. Michael Rothberg of UIUC’s thoughtful essay on how the Salaita case was “overdetermined” is very useful along these lines and can be found below:

      David, I think your characterization is not accurate but polemical. But you’re right-unless you’ve read all of the documents (and there are many, thanks in large part to Andrew AND Salaita’s attorneys), it’s impossible to really grasp. In addition, as Andrew points out, the settlement means that more of UIUC’s dirty politics will be kept hidden.

      There is no “grand deal” on “the left.” What left? Is there a left anywhere near the US university? If so, please direct me to it. The reason why it even became possible to imagine boards of trustees and administrators “un-hiring” a faculty member is precisely because there is no organized left in the US academy. The AAUP is not a leftist organization, and that’s no put down of it.

      Second, the idea that Arabs and Muslims are in some alliance with “the left” distorts reality. How many Arab or Muslim faculty are actually teaching in US universities? Not many, particularly not likely many Muslims outside of maybe Engineering. Arabs? Palestinians? You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s not exactly like there are Palestinian faculty that have been hired in droves at US universities.

      And no, you don’t get to question a hire after it’s been made, which was essentially the point of the judge who ruled that the case could go forward.

      • I don’t know the world of the academy. In the corporate world it would be very bad form to tell someone they are hired when there is a step in the process that still has to take place. Someone eager to hire might omit that but it is something that should be said. But academia is a very different place.

        Like Hank you are quick to insult and rebut and so eager to do that you fail to note what I said. I was only talking about the new idea of what indigenous studies departments are all about. I don’t know how many departments have gone with that. The one which hired Salaita did.

        One of the things that has always amazed me is the way people on both sides of these opposing dichotomies view themselves as filled with virtue and truth and those on the other side as the opposite. In many cases they are all wrong.

      • I have NEVER said that the medical school was the only factor, I have always said that there were many Jews of all stripes who wrote, some Zionist some just plain Jews. I have also always said that there were a few donors, three from my close reading of the emails, one of them identified by accident and I have no recollection of whether he’s just a plain Jew or a detested Zionist.

        I have always said that the med school played hugely in the decision making and that that’s been an inconvenient truth that everyone ignores. CCR claims wise destroyed documents relating to salaita but those emails of hers show only destruction relating to the medical center, something they clearly know but choose to elude over.

        So, yes, I emphasize the med center but I have NEVER said other things weren’t involved … I’d be crazy to claim the contents of the tweets were jnimportant to what wise did, and o do not now nor have I previously made such claim. What I come back to over and over is that the story hasn’t been told, and that it needs to be. Period.

        Otherwise it’s just people saying what, ultimately, is nothing more than anything they choose.

  5. I have been watching things where two groups are sure they are right since the 1950s. They each get their truth out and are sure about it. There is never any way to reconcile the truths. I think people I know are a lot more concerned about what happens at famous schools than about what has happened at this school. I think JVP Jews want to keep the matter going. I don’t have to find out all about it and I have no need to decide what happened. I would like more information about what has gone on among leadership people in the AAUP but I don’t expect to ever get that.

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