UI settles with Salaita

The Board of Trustees authorized an $875,000 settlement with Steven Salaita, on Nov. 12, following 14 months of protests, legal motions and inter-University conflict.

Salaita, the man who was at the center of many University conversations since August 2014 agreed to the settlement on the grounds he would never try to work at the University.

A University press release sent Thursday stated the University and Salaita reached a settlement that “allows both parties to move forward while focusing on their respective priorities.” Salaita will receive the $600,000 as a lump sum and will not join the Urbana faculty. The remaining $275,000 will pay for Salaita’s attorney fees.

Salaita’s federal and circuit court suits will be voluntarily dismissed.

“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,” Wilson said in the release.

Wilson said the University had been trying to work with Salaita’s legal team since January when they entered the lawsuit. She said the time and money spent in trial would have been far greater than the agreed settlement.

Former U.S. District Judge Wayne Andersen was invited to serve as a mediator in October, according to the release.

A press release from Salaita’s legal team, Anand Swaminathan of Loevy & Loevy and Maria LaHood of the Center for Constitutional Rights, also detailed the settlement.

The University release stated that the settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing by the University. Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson stated the settlement is in everyone’s best interest. However, Swaminathan’s statement argued differently.

“Make no mistake: the size of this settlement is an implicit admission of the strength of Professor Salaita’s constitutional and contractual claims,” Swaminathan said.

Swaminathan regarded the settlement as a “major victory” and said ti would not have been possible without the support of academics and activists.

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

Salaita and the University have been engaged in a lawsuit since Jan. 29 when Salaita filed a federal suit in the Northern District of Illinois, alleging the University violated his right to academic freedom and caused intentional emotional distress.

Salaita’s suit named former chancellor Phyllis Wise, former president Robert Easter, former Board of Trustees chairman Chris Kennedy, Vice President for Academic Affairs Christophe Pierre and unnamed donors. He is seeking the job for which he was originally hired and monetary compensation.

Salaita was offered a position as a tenure professor in the American Indian Studies department for the 2014-2015 school year. On Aug. 1, 2014, in an email to Salaita, Wise stated she would not forward his appointment on to the board for approval, citing his recent tweets regarding the conflict in Gaza.

Emails later released showed Wise was under pressure from donors and other University stakeholders to rescind Salaita’s offer.

The decision sparked outrage on the University’s Urbana campus, nationally and even globally. However student protests, faculty letters and concern from the American Association of University Professors did not impact the board’s decision. On Sept. 11, 2014, the board stood by Wise’s statement and voted not to approve Salaita’s appointment.

Trustee James Montgomery was the only board member to vote differently.

In the year following the decision, tension between the University and Salaita continued.

In November 2014 Salaita filed suit against the University in Champaign County circuit court, claiming the University failed to comply with the Freedom of Information Act, FOIA. He requested documents regarding his employment on Sept. 17, 2014, 6 days after the board officially rejected his appointment.

When the University labeled the request “unduly burdensome,” Salaita downsized the parameters and submitted a new FOIA request on Nov. 5, 2014. When he received no response, he decided to file suit on Nov. 17, 2014.

In December 2014 the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, a committee of the Academic Senate, released a report on its investigation into the handling of Salaita’s case. The committee ultimately suggested the board should reconsider its decision on Salaita’s appointment.

Almost one month later, on Jan. 29, Salaita filed the federal suit that was settled Thursday. Hearings for the suit continued throughout the spring, when the American Association of University Professors visited the University as part of its investigation into the University’s handling of the case.

The AAUP reported it found the University violated Salaita’s rights to free speech and academic freedom. The AAUP report gave the association cause to consider censuring the University at it’s annual conference.

On June 13 the AAUP voted to censure the University, meaning it would no longer consider the University an institution that values academic freedom. The University will remain censured until the next annual conference in June 2016, at the earliest.

On Aug. 27 Salaita filed a motion against the University for destroying evidence related to his case. The motion came on the heels of the release of over 1,100 pages of previously withheld emails regarding Salaita, James Kilgore and the Carle-Illinois College of Medicine. The release led to the resignations of former chancellor Phyllis Wise and provost Ilesanmi Adesida.

Salaita is currently serving as the American Studies chair at the University of Beirut and published a book, Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom, in October.

The book, published by Haymarket Books, features Salaita’s tumultuous relationship with the University. According to Haymarket’s website, Salaita “combines personal reflection and political critique to shed new light on his controversial termination. He situates his case at the intersection of important issues that affect both higher education and social justice activism.”

Salaita is being represented by Anand Swaminathan of Loevy & Loevy and Maria LaHood of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Neither Swaminatha or LaHood could be reached for immediate contact.

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