Free Speech Case at University of Illinois Settled

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November 12, 2015; Chicago Tribune

On November 12th, the University of Illinois announced that they had reached a tentative settlement of Professor Steven Salaita’s lawsuits, which claimed the university had improperly fired him after he published a series of tweets expressing his views on Israel and its treatment of Palestinians.

As previously reported by NPQ, the controversy erupted after the university recruited Professor Steven Salaita for a tenured position. In response to protest over Salaita’s tweets, the university reconsidered its job offer and ultimately withdrew it—after the professor had already left his former job and begun the process of relocation. Salaita’s supporters said the university had violated his academic freedoms.

According to a press release, under the terms of the settlement, “Salaita will receive a lump sum payment of $600,000 but will not be hired by the University, nor will he seek or accept future employment at the University. The University also agrees to pay Salaita’s attorneys for legal costs he incurred. […] The proposed agreement stipulates that it does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the University.”

Barbara Wilson, interim chancellor for the Urbana-Champaign campus, expressed the university’s stance that this compromise is best for both sides:

The University believes that reaching a settlement with Dr. Salaita is the most reasonable option to fully and finally conclude all of the pending issues. Although the amount is significant, it is less than what we would spend if the case were to continue and proceed to trial over the next year. Considerable time and energy have gone into this case and it is time now to move forward. This negotiated agreement will allow the Urbana campus to focus on our goals of excellence in teaching, research and public engagement.  And it will allow Dr. Salaita to move forward with his academic career.

On his Facebook page, a statement from Professor Salaita describes the settlement a bit differently.

We settled the case against UIUC today, and I am deeply grateful for the support and solidarity from so many individuals and communities. Together, we sent a strong message to those who would silence Palestine activists and limit speech on campus. The activists, students, academics, and others who spoke up with petitions, demonstrations, and investigations proved that grassroots organizing can make a difference. This is an important victory, even if the bigger fight isn’t over. At this point I am ready to move beyond this particular matter and continue doing what I love—teaching, writing, organizing, and contributing in whatever way I can to struggles for justice.

The settlement will not totally put this controversy behind the university. In response to Professor Salaita’s firing, the American Association of University Professors censured the university for violating the due process rights of a faculty member and creating an environment that was not supportive of academic freedom. This censure will remain in effect until the Association meets again in 2016.—Marty Levine