Professor fired over anti-Israel tweets sues University of Illinois

Image from Facebook (Support Salaita Community)
A professor who lost his job over anti-Israel tweets is suing several officials at the University of Illinois. He claims his termination violates freedom of speech and was influenced by the institution’s “donors”.

Professor Steven Salaita quit Virginia Tech University, after he was offered a position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). However, just two weeks before the start of the 2014 academic year, Salaita was informed of a job offer being rescinded over his “uncivil” tweets, posted mainly during the summer war in Gaza.

The university cites some of those in a statement backing the decision.

You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the f**king West Bank settlers would go missing,” one of the tweets said. Another one was “If you’re defending #Israel right now you’re an awful human being.”

These statements and many more like them demonstrate that Dr. Salaita lacks the judgment, temperament and thoughtfulness to serve as a member of our faculty in any capacity, but particularly to teach courses related to the Middle East,” the University statement reads.

In the Federal suit, filed in US District Court in Chicago on Thursday, Salaita argues the university violated his constitutional right to freedom of speech and “trampled on principles of academic freedom.”

The firing has left my academic career, the primary mechanism for supporting my family, in shambles,” Salaita said at a press conference. “Without an income source, my wife, young son and I have been forced to move in with my parents and now struggle to make ends meet.”

New York-based Center for Constitutional rights is supporting Salaita’s case.

UIUC’s retaliatory firing of a tenured professor in response to the viewpoints he expressed on a matter of public concern represents a serious violation of his constitutional right to free speech,” the group says. “Universities have historically been sites of rigorous political debate where dissent and disagreement are not only welcomed, but are at the heart of a campus climate that fosters new ideas.”

Image from Facebook (Steven Salaita)

Salaita’s attorneys claim the university’s Board of Trustees, which did not approve him for the job, was influenced by university donors. UIUC denies that and says it will fight the suit.

As a private citizen, Dr. Salaita has the constitutional right to make any public statement he chooses,” the university Thursday statement says. “Dr. Salaita, however, does not have a constitutional right to a faculty position at the University of Illinois.”

UIUC also said Salaita had refused to “negotiate a settlement for his reasonable losses and expenses.”

Students protested the university decision at a September rally. A Facebook account in professor’s support with regular updates on his case features some 3,600 ‘likes’.

The University’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure ruled in late December that Salaita’s employment was to be reconsidered by the Board. The trustees however reaffirmed their decision of rescinding the job offer, January 15.