UPDATED: UI reaches tentative settlement with Salaita

UPDATED: UI reaches tentative settlement with Salaita

Submit a Letter to the Editor here

URBANA — The University of Illinois has reached a tentative settlement with Steven Salaita, who sued the UI after losing his job because of his controversial tweets.

UI trustees will vote Thursday on a proposed settlement with Salaita, though spokesman Tom Hardy said details cannot be released because the item won't be final until Thursday. He said the board had to post the item on its agenda to comply with the Open Meetings Act.

In recent days, UI President Timothy Killeen and interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson had said they were close to a resolution of Salaita case, an important step in removing Illinois from the American Association of University Professors’ censure list.

Wilson informed members of the campus Senate Executive Committee of the news late Monday afternoon, though she said she couldn't provide any details.

Wilson told The News-Gazette that a settlement is "very important" to the campus' ability to move on from the Salaita controversy. She declined to say whether it includes a job offer for Salaita.

Wilson said it was "just coincidence" that the news came on the same day as the release of an investigation into the UI athletic program and the firing of Athletic Director Mike Thomas.

Killeen was not available to talk to reporters, though he presided over a town hall meeting in Springfield Monday afternoon.

"It hasn't been any secret that the university has been trying to work with Mr. Salaita and his legal representatives on an agreement that would put this case behind everybody and allow everyone to move forward," Hardy said. "Hopefully we've arrived at that time."

Salaita’s attorney, Anand Swaminathan of Loevy and Loevy in Chicago, did not reply to requests for comment. He had continued to push for Salaita to be reinstated by the UI even as settlement talks ramped up in October.

A trustees committee discussed a possible settlement at a closed-door meeting Oct. 22 for “pending litigation and employment matters.”

Salaita was offered a tenured position in the American Indian Studies Program in October 2013, but former Chancellor Phyllis Wise revoked the job on Aug. 1, 2014 — three weeks before he was to start teaching — after Salaita posted a series of angry, sometimes-profane tweets about Israel.

The decision led to academic boycotts of the campus and no-confidence votes in Wise by campus academic departments, who argued that Salaita was being punished for exercising his rights to free speech and academic freedom. They also took issue with statements put out by Wise and other administrators and UI trustees defending the decision in order to promote “civil discourse” and “civility” on campus.

UI trustees upheld Wise’s decision in September and reiterated their stance in a formal statement in January, effectively ignoring the advice of a campus committee that investigates violations of academic freedom, which said Salaita’s employment should be reconsidered.

Salaita then filed suit, alleging that the university violated his rights to free speech and due process and breached its contract with him. Listed as defendants were the UI Board of Trustees, former President Robert Easter, Vice President for Academic Affairs Christophe Pierre, Wise and “unknown donors.”

The UI maintained that Salaita never had an official employment contract with the university because his appointment had not been approved by trustees. Critics argued that trustee approval of hundreds of faculty appointment each year are considered a formality.

Meanwhile, in response to a court order, the UI has released internal communications to Salaita’s lawyers about its decision to withdraw the professor’s job offer. But almost all of the information in the documents is blacked out, according to Salaita’s attorneys.

The ruling came in Salaita’s FOIA lawsuit against the university, filed last November after he was denied a request for public documents related to his case. The judge’s order related to an amended request for documents filed by Salaita in January, after his lawyers had narrowed it twice. It included only one of the nine items in his original request, which asked for records of communications among 37 people over 21 months, according to UI officials.

In June, Champaign County Presiding Judge Thomas Difanis ordered the UI to turn over thousands of pages of documents sought by Salaita under the Freedom of Information Act. Difanis said the public interest in knowing whether outside influence was involved in his hiring decision outweighed the university’s claim that producing the documents was “unduly burdensome.”

The documents released in October went beyond those that were made public by the UI in August following an ethics investigation which found that some documents were not turned over in response to FOIA requests. It showed that Wise and other officials used personal email accounts rather than university addresses in their communications about the Salaita case, James Kilgore and the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine. In at least one instance, Wise stated she deleted emails afterward.

That revelation prompted the judge in Salaita’s federal lawsuit to reinstate a claim from his lawyers accusing the university of destroying evidence about the hiring decision.

 

Sections (2):News, Local

Comments

News-Gazette.com embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

Speakerman11 wrote on November 09, 2015 at 4:11 pm

Major check writing today on campus....

UIUCHoopFan wrote on November 09, 2015 at 4:11 pm

For not having any money the UIUC campus appears to be hemorrhaging copious amounts of cash today.  I guess the next stop will be furloughs, lay-offs, and no raises for those left behind who do their jobs and don't cause any trouble. 

Better yet.....hand the bill to Phyllis Wise!

wayward wrote on November 09, 2015 at 4:11 pm

Curious what the settlement will be.  It's not like the market for tenure-track faculty positions in ethnic studies anywhere is great, so Salaita would have a pretty strong financial interest in getting the job at UI.

leftylib wrote on November 09, 2015 at 5:11 pm

I'd be totally shocked if they hired/rehired him.  I think the university will pay nearly anything for him to just go away.

BruckJr wrote on November 09, 2015 at 8:11 pm

They hired Kilgore.

spangwurfelt wrote on November 09, 2015 at 5:11 pm

Here's what I expect --

1. No admission of wrongdoing from U of I.

2. Gag order on the amount of the payout, most of which goes to his lawyers.

3. No job for Salaita.

4. Salaita tries to parlay his moment of fame into an interntional career as Censored Guy.

5. He fails, but gets commiseration email from Ward Churchill.

tominmadison wrote on November 09, 2015 at 7:11 pm

Spin anyway you want: Salaita wins.

to satisfy AAUP they have to publicly change policy on "civility" as it applies to free speech

attorney gets around 1/3 of a lot.

 

would not be entirely shocked if he does join uiuc faculty; if not, cash payout will be in  Trump terms "huge"

Salaita won

 

 

spangwurfelt wrote on November 10, 2015 at 5:11 pm

Really? The one thing Salaita made clearer than clear was his #1 priority was getting his job "back." Again and again and again, he said that was his main goal. And there ain't nobody who thinks he's going to get it.

So instead, people like you have to redefine "losing your number one priority" as "winning."

And if the Salaita adventure taught anybody anything, it's that nobody gives a damn about the AAUP.

tominmadison wrote on November 10, 2015 at 7:11 pm

yes,really.

 

He will get, at a minimim, a lot of dough, UIUC having to change policy on "civil" speech, the career of at least one administrator, a lot of attention for his favorite Issue, an AAUP censure, and the support of lots of faculty st UIUC and beyond. 0h, and exposure of inappropriate donor influence.

 

One of the drivers of the settlement, as stated by Barbara Wilson, is to get off the AAUP bad list.

 

so, I'd call that winning.

 

im sure he will as well

 

Cuthbert J. Twillie wrote on November 09, 2015 at 6:11 pm


Lets see:

 

2 former Presidents on payroll

 

2 ex coaches stil being paid

 

one AD to be paid

 

One   former Chancellor on payroll.

 

They must be printing money over there at the Henry Admin.

Tom Napier wrote on November 09, 2015 at 9:11 pm

"Moving forward" is a popular phrase today. "Running away from the lumps under the carpet" woud be the more honest statement. 

andrewscheinman wrote on November 11, 2015 at 12:11 pm

It will likely be a miracle to rival the parting of the red sea if UIUC actually releases any of the details of the Salaita affair, or the ethics report(s) around Wise's misconduct and those of her cronies.  As someone said above, given that they're apparently printing money at the admin building, it's clear that they'll be more than happy to spend whatever it takes to bury the facts, on the theory that the best way to learn from this tragedy is to conceal, dissemble, and run like heck from the truth.

Oh well.  The other question is how much respect do we appropriately have for Salaita if he settles without there being some truth-telling.  On the one hand, he has kids to take care of, and I think any parent would understand that children run on money as well as love.  Also I'm sure the controversy hasn't been especially good for his health -- I know there are many who think he's a publicity hound, but his talk at the IMC a few weeks ago was chock-full of shyness and missed opportunties to bang the drum everyone seems to think he likes to whack.

But if Salaita really does believe in speaking truth to power, what do we think of him if his settlement involves the continued supression of the truth?  He's in an incredible position, in that his lawyers are as far as I know basically working for free -- the Center for Consitutional Rights (CCR) took his case as part of their own agenda of (in a rosy view) supporting dissident voices (especially Palestinan ones) and (in my pessimists view) of creating a story about "the Joos" acting in concerted fashion to suppress those dissident voices.  So he could continue to push the issue, and goodness knows there's more than a little there to pursue: destroying documents, pretending they didn't know personal emails were subject to FOIA, one little conspiracy after another, utter disregard for university procedure, policy, or the law ...

I have the bad feeling the only thing we *might* get in the way of "disclosure" is the 10,000 emails (you know, Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, central Illinois is the land of 10,000 emails).  But even that's not sure, it's been 6 months and counting.

And of course, even if UIUC does release those emails, you can bet they'll be a sea of mostly blacked out text, especially since, with Salaita's settling, who's going to push back to get the blacking out removed?