News Local/State

Columbia Law Prof Argues For A Salaita Lawsuit, Trustee Kennedy Defends Vote


Clarification: Katherine Franke also serves on the Board of Directors of the Center for Constitutional Rights, one of the organizations representing Steven Salaita.

A prominent law professor at Columbia University who‘s boycotting the University of Illinois after Steven Salaita’s job offer was withdrawn says he would easily win a legal case.  But University of Illinois Trustee Chris Kennedy is standing by the Board's decision.

Katherine Franke made the trip to Urbana on her own dime after cancelling a campus appearance in a show of support for Salaita, the professor who was denied a position at the University after controversial tweets about Israel.

Franke said she wanted to continue her boycott of the University, while still being able to lead a discussion about first amendment rights on campus. 

She called Salaita's case a "slam dunk" in her book, and says if he wins, it'll be an important moment for academic freedom. 

"There could be a very important precedent set on how a public university like this cannot retaliate against an otherwise qualified and luminous faculty member like Professor Salaita because he has views that they find upsetting," she said.

Franke said the removal of Salaita's appointment lwas a clear violation of academic freedom--a universally accepted protection for university professors.

"The academy and the academic mission is really devoted to interrogating any idea, no matter how controversial, no matter how frightening, and no matter how well settled it already might be."

Franke spoke at the Independent Media Center in Urbana on Thursday, to a crowd of about 100 Salaita supporters.

Her visit marks a week since the Board of Trustees voted to not hire Salaita.

Meanwhile, U of I Trustees Chair Chris Kennedy told the News-Gazette he stands by the decision to vote against Salaita's appointment. 

"It's absolutely clear that we could not bring Salaita onto this campus,'' Kennedy said in an interview with The News-Gazette's editorial board. "We cannot endorse that behavior. I don't believe there's anybody with an open mind who cannot be convinced we did the right thing, ethically and procedurally.''
Supporters of Salaita believe he effectively already had been hired and so his speech was protected by academic tenure. They said professors routinely begin work before the board approves their hires.
Kennedy defended senior university officials against accusations from some faculty members that they violated Salaita's due process and infringed on academic freedom and faculty hiring procedures.
"That's a huge issue: Did we violate the academic autonomy of a unit? Absolutely not,'' Kennedy said. "Did we violate someone's tenure? I don't know how we can violate someone's tenure if we never gave it to someone.''