Prof. Salaita Sues U of I Leaders, Board Of Trustees
A professor who lost a University of Illinois job offer over his sometimes profane, anti-Israel Twitter messages has sued the university's board of trustees and key administrators to try to get that job.
Steven Salaita filed his lawsuit Thursday in Chicago.
In it he asks the court for an order letting him go to work at the University of Illinois' Urbana-Champaign campus. He also seeks unspecified monetary damages.
Salaita was offered a job teaching Native American Studies starting last August. The offer was rescinded after he wrote the Twitter messages. Some university donors complained they were anti-Semitic.
Salaita left a job at Virginia Tech University to come to Illinois but his hiring hadn't yet been approved by the trustees.
In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Salaita said losing the position has caused financial hardship but his main concern is being able to teach.
"I deeply miss being in the classroom where I always learned from students, in addition to teaching them," he said. "My primary motivation in bringing this suit is to join my colleagues in the American Indian Studies program and begin teaching.”
Salaita attorney Anand Swaminathan said his client’s right to free speech was violated, and that U of I leaders were pressured by donors to pull the job offer.
“The university says publicly that its decision was not based on donor pressure," he said. "Yet it refuses to comply with the freedom of information requests of Professor Salaita and others for communications with donors. If the university is to be believed, why won’t it release that information?”
University of Illinois Urbana campus Chancellor Phyllis Wise says the campus will fight the lawsuit. Wise says the school has tried to resolve the issue outside of court.
"We've been trying to negotiate with him for a settlement and he doesn't want to do that. If we have to we're going to defend ourselves," she said.
In a statement, a U of I spokesperson quotes some of Salaita’s Twitter messages, saying that he lacks the "judgment, temperament, and thoughtfulness to serve as a member of the university’s faculty in any capacity, but particularly to teach courses related to the Middle East." It also notes the Trustees’ decision was not the result of external pressures.
A faculty Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure recently cited problems with the way the case was handled by the university. But U of I Trustees quickly reaffirmed their position on Salaita would not be reconsidered.
Salaita filed a separate lawsuit in the fall, demanding documents related to the university's decision to cancel his faculty appointment.