Updated: Salaita files federal lawsuit against UI

Updated: Salaita files federal lawsuit against UI

Updated 6:12 p.m.

Embattled professor Steven Salaita has filed a lawsuit against the University of Illinois to force the campus to hire him and compensate him for lost income and damages to his reputation.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in federal court of the Northern District of Illinois.

After university trustees voted 8-1 to reject his appointment in September, Salaita and his lawyers said they intended to sue the university to compel trustees to "complete the employment process."

Salaita "remains without a job, without health insurance, in his parents' home, with his academic career in tatters. ... (T)he faculty of the (UI) American Indian Studies Program still support Professor Salaita and want him to join their ranks," the complaint states.

 

The university issued a statement saying it would "vigorously defend against meritless claims."

The lawsuit alleges the university violated Salaita's rights to free speech and due process and breached their contract with him. Listed as defendants are the UI Board of Trustees (including former board chair Chris Kennedy and trustee Pam Strobel, both of whom did not seek reappointment this year), President Robert Easter, Vice President for Academic Affairs Christophe Pierre, Chancellor Phyllis Wise and "unknown donors."

Not listed in the complaint is James Montgomery, the Chicago lawyer who was the only trustee to vote against rejecting Salaita.

After its Jan. 15 board meeting in Chicago, trustees released a statement saying their decision was final and they would not reconsider Salaita's appointment. A campus committee that investigates alleged violations of academic freedom or faculty governance found fault with the process surrounding his case and concluded that Salaita's tweets critical of Israel did not render him "unfit for office." However, it also suggested any questions about Salaita's "professional fitness" be addressed by a newly-created panel of academic experts. His employment should be reconsidered, they said.

At Thursday's press conference announcing the lawsuit, Salaita said he decided to file the complaint after it became clear to him the university would not follow the committee's recommendations.

A former English professor at Virginia Tech, Salaita was offered a job in 2013 in American Indian Studies and was planning to join the Urbana faculty this fall. Over the summer, he blasted Israel and its supporters on Twitter, posting tweets such as "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," the university's statement Thursday read.

"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," the university stated.

Since the board rejected him on Sept. 11, Salaita has been touring the country delivering speeches at a variety of universities. That has provided him with some income. Salaita said he has sent out a "handful" of applications for faculty jobs elsewhere, but was rejected before advancing to the interview stage.

"I think it's difficult for folks not accustomed to the hiring norms of academe ... what it is to have a tenure position," he said, adding that he likely struck out of the academic job market this year.

"The earliest I can work is August or September 2016," he said.

Without a university affiliation, it's also difficult to publish in scholarly journals and apply for grants to fund research and travel to conferences.

Salaita and his lawyers also filed a lawsuit in November in Champaign County Circuit Court against the university after being denied access to documents via the Freedom of Information Act about the process that led to his not being hired. University lawyers have filed a motion to dismiss that suit; a hearing on that case is scheduled for Feb. 13.

The lawsuit filed Thursday asks the court for preliminary and permanent injunctive and "equitable relief," to reinstate Salaita and money for compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys' fees and costs. It also is filed against unnamed university donors, who "unlawfully threatened future donations to the university if it did not fire Professor Salaita on account of his political views," according to his lawyers.

Earlier this month, university officials said they wanted to come to a settlement of "mutually-agreeable financial terms" with Salaita.

"I think anything that's in the course of a litigation is an option," UI spokesman Tom Hardy said.

Salaita said he has been and continues "to be interested in reinstatement and joining my colleagues at UIUC."

Wise has said she regrets not consulting more people before deciding not to recommend Salaita's appointment. She also has insisted donor communications on the issue did not influence her decision.

Salaita is represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and the Chicago law firm of Loevy & Loevy.

Lawyers did not specify an amount for the damages Salaita is seeking.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Joe American wrote on January 29, 2015 at 11:01 am

"Embattled professor Steven Salaita has filed a lawsuit against the University of Illinois to force the campus to hire him and compensate him for lost income and damages to his reputation."

Huh?

Salaita damaged his own reputation, but like any good little liberal he points the finger at someone else.

OwlCreekObserver wrote on January 29, 2015 at 12:01 pm

He has already gotten exactly what he deserves.  Move on.

Mr Dreamy wrote on January 29, 2015 at 1:01 pm

It will be interesting to learn about the donors, their letters, emails, and more, to determine just how much they influenced Ms. Wise's decision. If I was one of those donors, I'd be a little nervous right now. 

whatithink wrote on January 29, 2015 at 2:01 pm

If you can't earn an honest dollar, sue.  

Sid Saltfork wrote on January 29, 2015 at 2:01 pm

Hopefully, the lawsuit will allow for transparency regarding the matter.  He does have the right to sue.  The taxpayers have the right to know what groups, and individuals influenced the Wise decision also.  I doubt that the "flagship" will want that though.  A settlement of an undisclosed amount may result.  It may be provided by the very groups, and individuals who instigated the matter initially.  Well, with the exception of the professors who played a role in it........... they don't have that kind of money.   However, they can always defend themselves with freedom of speech in academia though.

spangwurfelt wrote on January 29, 2015 at 5:01 pm

It was interesting to read the FOIA'd letters about Kilgore. Lots of stuff about donors threatening to become non-donors. But then, they weren't Jewish, so it's a different matter completely, isn't it. Just doesn't play into the rich-Jew stereotype as comfortably, does it.

Sid Saltfork wrote on January 29, 2015 at 7:01 pm

The article is not about Kilgore.  My comments were not about Kilgore.  Nothing was mentioned about members of the Jewish faith either.  You definitely have a chip on your shoulder.  Buy a puppet if you want to argue with someone.

spangwurfelt wrote on January 30, 2015 at 5:01 am

Just pointing out the glaring discrepancy. Sorry if you don't like glaring discrepancies getting pointed out if it challenges your perspective too uncomfortably. 

Sid Saltfork wrote on January 30, 2015 at 10:01 am

It does not change my perspective.  It is not  "glaring discrepancies" to anyone else either since Kilgore was not mentioned in the article.  You are the only one mentioning it.  People desiring the truth look forward to the lawsuit since it will provide more transparency on the matter.

spangwurfelt wrote on January 31, 2015 at 7:01 am

Your gatekeeping and backpedaling is hilarious. If the discrepancy isn't explicitly mentioned the article then it's not a discrepancy. Lotsa luck with that. 

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 03, 2015 at 1:02 pm

Why did you call it a discrepancy then?  Talk about "backpedaling" when you refer to it as a discrepancy first.  Read your previous comments before making additional comments. 

deborah.gordon@wichita.edu wrote on January 30, 2015 at 6:01 pm

This isn't about anti-Semitism, and you don't even make a good case for it being about that anyway.

spangwurfelt wrote on January 31, 2015 at 7:01 am

I don't think Salaita's an antisemite, just an idiot. 

But in previous posts Sid Saltfork explicitly called out Jewish donors, and now wants to pretend he hasn't. 

 

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 01, 2015 at 11:02 am

Play the propagandist all you want; but don't slander.  My comments in the past were not about "Jewish donors".  They were about Israeli supporters.  The two are not one, and the same.  Why should criticism of the nation of Israel be viewed as anti-semitic?  My comments were against West Bank Settlements, and targeting of Gaza schools, hospitals, and U.N. santuaries.  Millions of others have the same criticism including members of the Jewish faith.  You on the other hand play the role of Israeli propagandist.  You attack anyone who criticizes Israel as an anti-semitic including other Jews.

I look forward to the upcoming trial for transparency on the hiring, and firing of Salaita.  The U of I welcomes all religions.  However, it is an American university.  It should not allow international censorship on it's academia.   

spangwurfelt wrote on February 01, 2015 at 6:02 pm

"You attack anyone who criticizes Israel as an anti-semitic including other Jews."

You say this in reply to a post where I explicitly say that Saliatia isn't an antisemite.

Doh.

Learned your reading skills from Steven Salaita, did you?

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 02, 2015 at 1:02 pm

No, you did not say it about Steven Salaita.  You said it about me.  You have said it about David Green.  You have said it about others also.  Try reading your own comments,#12.

lcoil79 wrote on January 29, 2015 at 3:01 pm

I'd still like to see the contract he signed saying he was hired.  Know why we haven't seen it? Because it doesn't exist.  

Regardless of what has happened in the past and rubber stamping these things, he was offered the position with the understanding that it must be approved by the Board.  It wasn't, so he wasn't hired.  At best, he may be able to claim financial duress at the hands of unnamed donors that may have influenced the Board's decision, but he's not getting hired.

He'll walk away with a pretty penny for being annoying, and the UofI will walk away with BoT approval before the start of classes and signed contracts stating you're not hired until approved.

jwr12 wrote on January 29, 2015 at 3:01 pm

And while he's at it, President Obama: produce that birth certificate!

The CAFT report, among many other publicly available sources, have addressed this question.  What trial juries will decide, no one knows, but somehow I think they'll pay more attention to the details of the case -- and precedents -- than this sort of back of the envelope, somewhat conspiratorial reasoning.

rsp wrote on January 29, 2015 at 4:01 pm

He actually had a signed contract, he was to start working before the board met to rubber stamp it. That's the way it always happened.

deborah.gordon@wichita.edu wrote on February 03, 2015 at 1:02 am

So you say.  I'm still watiing to hear what the court has to say about the Chancellor's sudden "loss" of an email from a FOIA request as well as other documents that her office just couldn't produce.  Isn't illegal in the state of Illinois for a state official to withhold documents of public interest?  Those emails definitely fall into that category.  There is no judge anywhere-well maybe one in Champaign or Urbana, IL., who would say that the Chancellor didn't have a legal obligation to turn over those records.  And frankly whoever advised her not to was not giving her good advice-rule #1 of being a state official:  when you get a FOIA request, you don't try to hide things like the CIA.  You turn them everything over.  

 

That way you uphold the reality and appearance of not having anything to hide.  Instead, some genius thought it would be a good idea to advise her not to turn things over with the goal of protecting the donor.  No donor is worth even flirting with something illegal.  It doesn't matter whether the U of I foundation is a separate, private organization.  As long as those emails were in the Chancellor's email box, and as long as she is the Chancellor, she had a legal obligation which she did not fulfill.  This isn't rocket science, but somehow in this fiasco it will be presented by some university lawyer as though it is.

I say "good luck," and let the games begin.  And don't forget to invite Chief Illiniwik to dance at recess of the trial.   

deborah.gordon@wichita.edu wrote on February 03, 2015 at 1:02 am

So you say.  I'm still watiing to hear what the court has to say about the Chancellor's sudden "loss" of an email from a FOIA request as well as other documents that her office just couldn't produce.  Isn't illegal in the state of Illinois for a state official to withhold documents of public interest?  Those emails definitely fall into that category.  There is no judge anywhere-well maybe one in Champaign or Urbana, IL., who would say that the Chancellor didn't have a legal obligation to turn over those records.  And frankly whoever advised her not to was not giving her good advice-rule #1 of being a state official:  when you get a FOIA request, you don't try to hide things like the CIA.  You turn them everything over.  

 

That way you uphold the reality and appearance of not having anything to hide.  Instead, some genius thought it would be a good idea to advise her not to turn things over with the goal of protecting the donor.  No donor is worth even flirting with something illegal.  It doesn't matter whether the U of I foundation is a separate, private organization.  As long as those emails were in the Chancellor's email box, and as long as she is the Chancellor, she had a legal obligation which she did not fulfill.  This isn't rocket science, but somehow in this fiasco it will be presented by some university lawyer as though it is.

I say "good luck," and let the games begin.  And don't forget to invite Chief Illiniwik to dance at recess of the trial.   

spangwurfelt wrote on January 29, 2015 at 5:01 pm

"Embattled professor Steven Salaita" ... professor? Where? Not here. Not Virginia Tech. Free-lance professor maybe? University of Salaita's PO Box?

everything-bagel wrote on January 29, 2015 at 6:01 pm

He can't be without health insurance...Obamacare doesn't allow that. 

Sid Saltfork wrote on January 29, 2015 at 8:01 pm

Is President Obama anti-semitic because of his criticism of the nation of Israel?  I only ask because of the references in the comments toward the President when the article has nothing to do with him.

spangwurfelt wrote on January 30, 2015 at 5:01 am

The man who accuses others of having chips on their shoulders reveals his own.

 

 

Sid Saltfork wrote on January 30, 2015 at 10:01 am

Nope, just trying to understand what President Obama has to do with this article on Salaita vs. the U. of I.

deborah.gordon@wichita.edu wrote on January 30, 2015 at 6:01 pm

Oh come now.  You don't think these commentators were actually going to read the article do you?  Reading is elitist.  Obama can do it, so it must be evil.

spangwurfelt wrote on January 31, 2015 at 7:01 am

You know, it's entirely possible to have followed this case very closely from the beginning, in deep detail and with secondary sources, as I have, and yet come out with an opinion different than yours. Your snark isn't serving you any better than Salaita's served him. 

Bulldogmojo wrote on January 29, 2015 at 10:01 pm

 

Some important things to know.

Human resource matters are confidential, so if a donor due to his implied threats of withholding money, they may or may not actually have intended on donating, insert themselves into the hiring process usurping that confidentiality then no public employee is safe from retribution. NO ONE.

We are guaranteed free speech in this country, what is not guaranteed is anyone to be free from being offended.

Phyllis Wise laid this egg by turning some heated twitter syntax into a national referendum on academic freedom by dragging it through the U of I press release system. Unless her so called "visioning" of hiring 500 new academics was an actual hallucination, it's not going to happen. Yet just another in a long line of administrators who keeps us right on the scandal sheets. We should change our motto from Learning and Labor to, Hey at least we're not Penn State.

Oh yes and the good Mr Easter is just a huckster too as evidenced by getting caught in this lie about his involvement in the matter.

http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/email-contradicts-univ-illinois-presidents-statement-salaita-firing

Lastly that corporate raider Rauner who stomped through here telling the chamber of commerce how important the U of I is as an economic engine couldn't care less and this community will pay dearly in financial stagnation if his ham fisted plans take shape. Remember it's Bruce's administration who now owes us $300+ million and with donors now getting sued, the so called "strategic plan" to double the endowment is going to crash and burn at the end of the runway.

So long and thanks for all the fish. LOL

 

Rocky7 wrote on January 30, 2015 at 2:01 am

This case should be dismissed!

Dr. Salaita's profanity-laced,hate-speech tweets led to a predicatable result.  According to the news article;

"Salaita said he has sent out a "handful" of applications for faculty jobs elsewhere, but was rejected before advancing to the interview stage."

No surprise here. No place would hire him for the same reasons he was ultimately turned down by UIUC.  Or did he apply only to "create evidence?" And why hasn't Virginia Tech invited him back if he was so "outstanding?"

If the case is not dismissed, I'll volunteer for jury duty. But then,his attorneys probably wouldn't accept me because possibly, I may understand the issues better than they do.

deborah.gordon@wichita.edu wrote on January 30, 2015 at 7:01 pm

It won't be dismissed, because your beloved Chancellor likely broke the law by not handing over documents in a FOIA request.  It's the law in the state of Illinois that state officials have to do this. 

dalechampaign wrote on January 30, 2015 at 8:01 am

what a loser - wow - really - sue the u of i?  go back to where ever you crawled out of - no one wahts to hear your hate monger dialog

deborah.gordon@wichita.edu wrote on January 30, 2015 at 7:01 pm

Dialogue is spelled with a "ue" at the end.  Spelling correctly is not elitist. 

spangwurfelt wrote on January 31, 2015 at 7:01 am

Merriam-Webster gives "dialog" as a variant of "dialogue." Both are acceptable. Next time you're eager to spelling-flame someone, you may want to wait for an actual error. 

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 01, 2015 at 3:02 pm

Please read your comment, #23, regarding "snarky" again before responding to other commenters.

gdf wrote on January 30, 2015 at 11:01 pm
Profile Picture

I see a contradiction here that's maybe a little humorous.  On the one hand, faculty at other universities are supposedly boycotting events at UIUC due to this issue.  On the other hand, Salaita claims he can't get a job in academia - he's applied at "a handful" of places and been turned down.  You'd think these other institutions would be practically begging him to join them.

spangwurfelt wrote on January 31, 2015 at 8:01 am

The whole battle needs to be viewed in the light of the glut of humanities PhDs as tenure-track positions have evaporated over the last generation or so. Landing a tenure-track position in the humanities now is very much the exception rather than the rule for a PhD; it would be interesting indeed if Robert Warrior would let us know exactly how many applicants there were for the position. Dozens, certainly; a hundred wouldn't surprise me, because the market really is that bad. But does anyone still believe that Salaita is a one-in-a-hundred mind? He's made it clear that he got the winning lottery ticket by being lucky rather than by being smart, and that, more than "controversy" or secret cabals will make him unhirable. 

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 01, 2015 at 11:02 am

Now, you say that he got the job because he was "lucky"?  Being "lucky" will make him "unhirable" also?  Come on; you can do better propaganda than that.  Why not ask if he still beats his dog?

 

spangwurfelt wrote on February 01, 2015 at 6:02 pm

Ah, that Sid Saltfork reading incomprehension thing pops up again. Are you sure you didn't learn to read from Steven Salaita?

It isn't the fact that Salaita was lucky enough to get a job offer from the U of I that will make him unhireable, but that he went on to demonstrate that it was clearly luck, not intelligence, that got him the position. And he demonstrated that by doing some very stupid things.

Also, you'll do me the favor of taking that "propaganda" accusation and sticking it in your ear. "Propaganda" does not mean "disagreeing with Sid Saltfork more than once." But oh what a handy charge it is when, like you, you're backpedalling furiously and need to throw something as a distraction.

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 04, 2015 at 7:02 pm

Why did you use the reference about Kilgore then?  Your previous comments on other articles comments regarding the Salaita Affair, and criticism of the nation of Israel were from the Propaganda 101 toolchest.  You use propaganda in your attacks on others.  Why not admit it?  If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck; it is a duck.  Sorry, no favors for a propagandist...........

deborah.gordon@wichita.edu wrote on February 02, 2015 at 9:02 am

Everyone knows that criticism of pro-Israeli donors and Jews are not the same thing.  Except apparently some shilling for the donors.  The donors-as if they need are the aggrieved party here and need support. 

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 02, 2015 at 2:02 pm

Well, spangerfelt is not everyone when it comes to the distinction.  Hopefully, the donors will learn from the experience.

Rocky7 wrote on February 02, 2015 at 3:02 pm

With hiring frozen at the UofI and statewide, is there even a faculty job to sure for?

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 02, 2015 at 8:02 pm

The hiring freeze applies to all except "essential" employees.  It does not affect administrators in state employment, or university administrators and academics.  The university does not always follow state directives including Ethics.

jgrout wrote on February 03, 2015 at 11:02 am

Departments full of professional haters should be dissolved... tenure does not protect scholars working at revolution.  Any department that would offer this fruitcake a job deserves a thorough investigation.

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 03, 2015 at 1:02 pm

Who would investigate?  Salaita made no reference to "revolution" in his comments, and tweets.  The last thing needed in higher education is more political correctness, and donor influence.  There should be open discussion of issues.  Students are intelligent enough as adults to draw their own conclusions.  They are not children that need sheltering from ideas.

-