News Local/State

Columbia Law Professor: Salaita Un-Hiring Illegal On Constitutional, Contractual Grounds


The University of Illinois community is still grappling with the case of Steven Salaita, whose job offer was rescinded after he posted inflammatory comments about Israel on Twitter this summer. 

The Board of Trustees voted to not hire Salaita earlier this month, but protests continue at the U of I's Urbana campus. Supporters say no matter the tone of Salaita's comments, he’s protected not only by the First Amendment, but also under the concept of "academic freedom."

Last week, Columbia University Law Professor Katherine Franke visited Urbana to speak with Salaita supporters about the case. Franke is boycotting the campus and cancelled an appearance at the University, but says she still wanted to make the trip, albeit on her own dime.

Franke sits on the Board of Directors of the Center for Constitutional Rights, one of the organizations representing Salaita. She says putting aside the issues of free speech, Salaita still has a compelling case against the University under contract law.

"When and if Professor Salaita brings a lawsuit challenging the actions of the University here, under Illinois law, he has a slam dunk case of breach of contract," she said.

Others, like U of I professor Cary Nelson (who WILL spoke with here) say Salaita wasn't protected by academic freedom because he clearly wasn't under tenure, as the University's Board of Trustees had not yet approved his job.