Anti-Israel prof. receives $825,000 in lawsuit against Univ. of Illinois

The University of Illinois (UI) is cutting a $600,000 settlement check to a professor after it revoked a job offer over comments he made about Israel on social media.

Prof. Steven Salaita, a former professor at Virginia Tech, filed a lawsuit against UI after it revoked a job offer extended to Salaita based on inflammatory content found on his Twitter account.

Salaita posted a smattering of anti-Israel tweets to his account during the summer of 2014 on the brink of an upcoming promotion to a tenured faculty position in the American Indian Studies department at UI.

“Let’s cut to the chase: If you’re defending #Israel right now you’re an awful human being,” Salaita tweeted in July of 2014.

A few days later, Salaita condemned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and likened his administration to the KKK.

“Ever wonder what it would look like if the KKK had F-16s and access to a surplus population of entrapped minorities? See #Israel and #Gaza,” Salaita wrote.

“At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?” he added.

A month later, UI withdrew its offer of employment after attention was drawn to Salaita’s controversial tweets. In November of 2014 , the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the University of Illinois on behalf of Salaita after former UI Chancellor Phyllis Wise confirmed the decision was made because of the “disrespectful” nature of Salaita’s Twitter posts.

“What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them,” Wise wrote in a letter to all students, faculty, and staff after the university was pressured to reinstate Salaita.

In February of 2015, (CCR) amended its original complaint after it found reason to believe the university had withheld information after the initial (FOIA) request was made. In August, an ethics investigation revealed some documents had not been turned over in response to initial requests and some university officials, including Wise, used personal email accounts rather than university addresses in their communications about the case.

In response, the university released personal correspondences between administrators involved in Salaita’s termination. However, Salaita’s attorneys charged university officials with attempting to destroy evidence from the case after they discovered almost all of the information in the newly released documents had been blacked out.

In addition to First Amendment charges and (FOIA) violations, Salaita claimed his tenure was violated because he already had an employment contract with the university at the time of his termination. UI officials, on the other hand, said Salaita was not yet an employee because the Board of Trustees had yet to vote on his appointment, according to a copy of the settlement obtained by The News-Gazette.

The university’s legal settlement with Salaita was finalized on Dec. 24 after all parties involved in the case signed it, UI officials told The Gazette. The settlement was approved by UI trustees in November in an effort to “avoid the time-consuming, costly, and burdensome nature of continued litigation and trial,” the settlement states.

The settlement addresses all of Salaita’s claims against the university, according to The Gazette, including alleged First Amendment violations and charges that the university destroyed case-evidence. Salaita will receive a $600,000 settlement plus another $275,000 to cover legal expenses. The $875,000 will be paid with interest from the university’s self-insurance plan. UI’s legal bill for the case totaled $1.42 million.

Salaita now teaches at the American University of Beirut.

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