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Salaita sues donors for ‘injecting’ themselves into U of Illinois decision, threatening to withhold gifts unless he was fired

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In a suit against the administration of the University of Illinois seeking his reinstatement as a professor at the school, scholar Steven Salaita also sued unnamed “John Doe donors” of the university for “injecting” themselves into the university hiring process and threatening “future donations” unless he was fired last summer because of the outspoken tweets he published during the Israeli onslaught in Gaza. Salaita was fired a week before classes were to begin.

The suit, filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights and a Chicago law firm, does not name the donors because the university has refused to release the names of donors who complained to the administration last summer after Salaita, 39, who was about to start at the school as a professor of American Indian Studies, tweeted his outrage over Israel’s onslaught. “Folks who shared their views” with the administration are not the target of the suit, explained Anand Swaminathan of the law firm of Loevy and Loevy.

“This claim is focused on people who, based on their wealth or connections to the university, injected themselves into the hiring process,” he said, threatening to withdraw gifts unless Salaita was fired. The suit mentions one donor, Steven Miller of Chicago. Miller met with Wise August 1, the same day she wrote to Salaita, terminating his appointment.

Records released by the university last year revealed that Phyllis Wise, chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, turned her schedule upside down late last July to meet with major funders of the university who were angered by Salaita’s tweets on Gaza. Swaminathan said that the records and the university’s conduct confirm the “improper motivation of these donors” and their outsize influence, despite the university’s denial that they played a role. The suit notes the fact that the university has refused to release their names despite FOIAs for the information, that Wise destroyed a two-page memo on Salaita she received from a donor who said the university’s decisions in the case would be very “telling,” and it has not sought an outside review of the firing decision, as requested by leading faculty at the school.

On a conference call arranged by the Center for Constitutional Rights to announce the suit, Salaita said the lawsuit aims to make sure that “upper administrative overreach doesn’t become the norm in American universities.”

Swaminathan said the focus on the donors reflects a principle of “tortious interference.” Wealthy individuals should not be able to inject themselves into a university hiring process and affect university decisions. Maria LaHood of CCR said that the suit is aimed at “at least a couple, maybe a handful, maybe more, high profile wealthy donors” who contacted Chancellor Wise.

Salaita had accepted the job in Fall 2013 after a long hiring process. At the end of that academic year in 2014, he resigned his position at Virginia Tech in order to move with his family to Urbana-Champaign. Then the Gaza onslaught happened, and Salaita published angry tweets about Israeli conduct. The tweets gained the attention of pro-Israel groups, which campaigned for his dismissal from the University of Illinois. Phyllis Wise and Vice President Christophe Pierre informed Salaita that they would not be passing his appointment on to the board of trustees in a “terse” letter two weeks before school was to begin. In the uproar that followed, including denunciations from department heads at the school, the university defending Salaita’s firing, saying that his speech was not “civil,” a standard that has been widely mocked.

Numerous academic bodies have come out on Salaita’s side, saying that the university was punishing him for his free speech. In the conference call today, an Illinois reporter said that the university is “leaning” towards a settlement with Salaita that would give him back his job. That will not be enough to make the case go away, though.

“I deeply miss the classroom where I always learned from students,” Salaita said, and he looks forward to joining his colleagues in Illinois. But the case now involves matters of university governance much bigger than his own case.

He also said that he and his wife and son are living with his parents because he has suffered such financial and professional damage from his firing. What little income he has gotten has come from speaking gigs. He has had many invitations given the celebrated nature of the case– and all the academic organizations that have taken his side (listed here).

 

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54 Responses

  1. hophmi
    January 29, 2015, 2:32 pm

    LOL. Threatening to withhold a donation because the college has extended an offer is not tortious interference, and even if it were, you can’t interfere with a contract that doesn’t exist. CCR will get laughed out of court.

    • lysias
      January 29, 2015, 4:49 pm

      We are of the firm opinion that the most effective way to rid ourselves of the dross in this area is to skim from the ingredients that make up the interference torts any mention of “unjustified” conduct as a per se element thereof. Under this sensible recognition of the components of the tort, a plaintiff would need to show only that a defendant intentionally induced another to breach a contract with him, or intentionally interfered with his future business prospects; FN4 and whether a defendant was justified to interfere with the existing or future business relationships of another becomes an affirmative defense which he must plead and subsequently prove

      Roy v. Coyne, 630 N.E.2d 1024, 1031 (Ill.App. 1 Dist., 1994).

      To prevail in such an action, a plaintiff must plead and prove: “(1) his reasonable expectation of entering into a valid business relationship; (2) the defendant’s knowledge of the plaintiff’s expectancy; (3) purposeful interference by the defendant that prevents the plaintiff’s legitimate expectancy from ripening into a valid business relationship; and (4) damages to the plaintiff resulting from such interference.”

      Callis, Papa, Jensen, Jackstadt & Halloran, P.C. v. Norfolk, 686 N.E.2d 750 (Ill.App. 5 Dist., 1997) (citing Fellhauer v. City of Geneva, 568 N.E.2d 870, 878 (Ill. 1991)).

      • stevelaudig
        January 29, 2015, 5:32 pm

        These four elements seem to be met sufficiently to warrant summary judgment for the plaintiff. The CCR has a strong record of correctly interpreting statutes and caselaw. A thought experiment is substitute Palestine with Israel in the fact pattern [Palestinians holding the power and Israeli Jews living in Gaza for example] and the professor not being ‘hired’ for his pro Israeli tweets. How loudly does the hypocrite Dershowitz bellow then? There are limits on “speech” such as defamation. We will see if the US is a “rule of law” country or something else in this particular instance. Zionist Israel has been permitted to hold hypocritical views in the same way that those slaveholders and slaveholder defenders who became Confederates were. If anything was invented in the area it was the state of Israel which like some chicks tries to throw others hatching out of the nest. I

      • David Doppler
        January 29, 2015, 5:52 pm

        Good headnotes, lysias. Thanks.

        I guess Hophmi is recommending the “laughing out loud” defense. Rather than consider the facts or the law, the court should just laugh at the plaintiff.

      • Kathleen
        January 29, 2015, 6:46 pm

        One moment Hop is arguing there is no influence peddling by the I lobby then he argues there was no contract in this case. Will they be required by law to release names?

        How many Prof’s have lost jobs because of the I lobby? The one that always jumps out is Finkelstein.

      • ritzl
        January 29, 2015, 7:46 pm

        Thanks, lysias.

    • eGuard
      January 30, 2015, 9:19 am

      tortious interference. Boy if only Dershowitz were available to justify Torture For Israel once again.

    • W.Jones
      February 1, 2015, 4:30 pm

      “. Threatening to withhold a donation because the college has extended an offer is not tortious interference, and even if it were, you can’t interfere with a contract that doesn’t exist. ”
      IU made an offer and then Salaita accepted it. That’s a contract. It’s not just an offer.

      • lysias
        February 1, 2015, 5:53 pm

        I wonder where Hophmi studied contract law.

      • JeffB
        February 3, 2015, 11:10 am

        @WJones

        IU made an offer and then Salaita accepted it. That’s a contract.

        You are correct that would be a contract. That is not what happened. IU sent Salaita a document indicating that they had an intent to hire but the decision making process on their side was incomplete. In particular the Board of Trustees still needed to weigh in. So they sent him a letter of intent indicating their current intent which explicitly stated that this was not an offer of employment.

        The only obligation the letter could possibly imply is an obligation to require the Board of Trustees to consider Salaita. Which they did and he was rejected.

      • Mooser
        February 3, 2015, 5:47 pm

        “IU sent Salaita a document indicating that they had an intent to hire “

        It was a double-secret document. That’s why “JeffyB” can’t link to it, or a reference directly to it.

      • W.Jones
        February 9, 2015, 8:01 pm

        JeffB,

        This is a good question.

        Robin Kar, a U.Illinois contract scholar, explains that there was apparently contract despite the condition that the offer was subject to board approval. The reason is because the letter said that the hiring was made in accordance with the AAUP’s principles, and yet it appears that the University’s retraction was made in violation of those principles. The scholar writes that if the condition is one for which the university is responsible, and the university fails to fulfill the condition, then the contract was formed nonetheless.
        https://illinois.edu/blog/view/6100/116136

        Secondly, in case there was no contract, there is still a claim for promissory estoppel, in which Salaita relied on the college’s promise (if not an offer). The university was aware that Salaita relied on its statements to him when he left Va Tech. And besides, professors work for some time at U.Illinois even before the college’s board approves them, which is a form of reliance. For his part, the Interim Dean failed to present Salaita’s case to the board as the Dean promised before Salaita was rejected by Wise.

        Further:

        He was told by Illinois that trustee approval was essentially a rubber stamp, and in reliance on that representation he resigned from his prior position on the faculty of Virginia Tech.

        https://verdict.justia.com/2014/08/13/academic-freedom-salaita-case

        Thirdly, even if there was no contract or promise, the university cannot choose to reject him because of political disagreements.

        “As the Supreme Court explained in the 1990 case of Rutan v. Republican Party ofIllinois, “conditioning hiring decisions on political belief and association plainlyconstitutes an unconstitutional condition, unless the government has a vital interest indoing so.” A university may not choose to deny a job to a professor based on political disagreements, as the Supreme Court ruled in the 1972 case of Perry v. Sindermann”
        http://www.dorfonlaw.org/2014/08/salaita-follow-up_17.html

      • Mooser
        February 10, 2015, 2:28 pm

        “I wonder where Hophmi studied contract law.”

        He fulfilled his contract, and then he was a made man.

      • W.Jones
        February 10, 2015, 5:36 pm

        In this Supreme Court Case in the Georgia Supreme Court, the court decided that there was still a contract made, even though the board didn’t approve it as the official offer letter said. The court decided that the words about Board approval meant that the board had an implied duty to approve the contract with the new professor, and that the board’s approval was only “perfunctory.”

        The court also wrote: ” there was no evidence to show that, at the time Georgia Tech and Doe executed their employment agreement, there was even a slight possibility the Board would have rejected Doe’s appointment, the trial court did not err in finding the Board’s vote would have been merely perfunctory and that the lack of such vote did not preclude enforcement of the contract.”

        Likewise, in Salaita’s case, at the moment Salaita was given the offer letter there was no chance that the board would reject him, because it was unaware of the “civility” controversy. Likewise, the civility controversial was not sufficient basis to legally reject Salaita.

        The Georgia case is:
        https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/1390201/board-of-regents-of-the-univ-sys-v-doe/

  2. pabelmont
    January 29, 2015, 2:34 pm

    Terrific “complaint” aside from (at least) one typo where “any” appeared as “and”. I like the “spoliation” count where the demand damages from Chancellor Wise for destroying memos (those which justified her firing him) where the law forbids potential litigants from destroying papers which might be evidence in a later case.

    And “tortious interference” (usually commercial) is a fine accusation agaisnt the JOHN DOE DONORS who threatened to withhold monies from UIUC unless his contract (as he calls it) (and as it is almost universally regarded by academics when they offer you a job and you accept it) was torn up; as it was.

    I sure hope they get a good judge! Let’s follow this one closely! If CCR makes public the opposing filings, please make them available.

    • DoubleStandard
      January 29, 2015, 2:36 pm

      I second your request to for the University’s filings. Don’t agree with anything else.

      • straightline
        January 29, 2015, 6:17 pm

        @DoubleStandard

        You don’t agree with:
        1. That Chancellor Wise destroyed papers?
        2. That the law forbids potential litigants from destroying papers which might be evidence?
        3. That the donors threatened to withhold money?
        4. That he was offered a job?
        5. That it was torn up?
        6. That they should get a good judge?
        7. That we should follow this closely?
        8. The typo?
        9. Or …..”Terrific complaint”?
        10. Or none of the above?

    • Giles
      January 30, 2015, 9:45 am

      The Lobby — headed by David Horowitz in this case — did in Ward Churchill.

      Fink was done in largely by the Dersh. The chickens seem to be coming home to roost in Dersh’s case.

  3. tinywriting
    January 29, 2015, 3:32 pm

    Salaita might get his job back?

  4. lysias
    January 29, 2015, 4:09 pm

    Tortious interference with contract.

    If the suit is not dismissed by the court, I think discovery may reveal the names of the donors

  5. Nevada Ned
    January 29, 2015, 4:21 pm

    I hope whoever is saying that Salaita may possibly get his job back knows what he is talking about. The real weapon of the Salaita forces is that the discovery process may greatly embarrass the UIUC administration. Maybe enough to give Salaita his job back, as part of a settlement.

    Shouldn’t this case be decided on its merits? Actually, if it were decided on its merits, Salaita would never have gotten fired in the first place.

    By the way, today with the Obama White House in a battle with the Netanyahu administration and the Congressional Republicans, the atmosphere surrounding the Israeli lobby is open to scrutiny like never before. The atmosphere has changed significantly since Salaia was fired.

  6. just
    January 29, 2015, 4:57 pm

    Yay, Professor Salaita, CCR and Anand Swaminathan!

    May the wind be at your backs~ go get ’em & expose the rot!

  7. DoubleStandard
    January 29, 2015, 5:17 pm

    The point of this lawsuit is to force a financial settlement. Mr. Salaita is not paying the legal fees for this battle — they are being footed by private organizations, so he doesn’t have to worry about dragging it out. UofI does. I’m honestly surprised that any foundation would want to waste its money so that a misery like Salaita can rant, with profanity, on Twitter about how much he hates Zionism.

    I’m sure all lawyers have explained to Mr. Salaita he has no real legal case since only the BoT had the actual statutory authority to hire him. Mr. Salaita’s own contract explicitly said that the faculty committee was “recommending” his hire — the actual point at which he was a full, protected employee of UofI would have occurred when the Board affirmed his appointment. I understand that the offer from the faculty is generally considered binding, but Mr. Salaita’s conduct — not speech — over the summer gave them a reason to reconsider. If Mr. Salaita wrote an essay condemning Israel or something respectful and thoughtful, we wouldn’t be at this point. But the raw, visceral hatred he has for the idea of a Jewish state, as demonstrated by his inappropriate Twitter posts, is effectively “new information” that wasn’t available when the faculty committee extended its offer.

    Better that he asked for a jury trial. I suspect that common people will be less sympathetic to him than a judge who is well acquainted with the university system (having been through college and law school).

    I do have some sympathy reserved for Mr. Salaita since when all is said and done, he lost his livelihood and his reputation is irreparably tarnished.

    He spoke freely, but paid the price as so many people do. There is no reason why being an academic should protect you from the consequences of behavior that takes place outside the context of your academic studies.

    I do hope that he manages to get some kind of financial settlement since I feel bad he gave up his V Tech job expecting this one. It shouldn’t be very large — maybe 5 year salary or something like that. Enough for him to get a real job and become a productive member of society, not a victim studies pseudo-academic.

    Does anyone know when we ought to expect the case to finish?

    • tinywriting
      January 29, 2015, 8:16 pm

      “so that a misery like Salaita can rant, with profanity, on Twitter about how much he hates Zionism”

      Salaita’s tweets were about how much he hates murder and the murder of children at that.

      • DoubleStandard
        January 30, 2015, 2:09 am

        Palestinian children maybe. He seemed pretty alright with that kidnapping/murder in the West Bank.

      • talknic
        January 30, 2015, 2:38 pm

        @ DoubleStandard ” He seemed pretty alright with that kidnapping/murder in the West Bank”

        He did? How so?

      • just
        January 30, 2015, 7:00 pm

        Totally wrong, DS.

        Totally.

      • Mooser
        January 31, 2015, 12:11 pm

        “Totally wrong, DS.”

        And Mondo owns reams of the stuff from him and the others.

      • DoubleStandard
        January 31, 2015, 4:56 pm

        Lucky Mondo then. I hope they put it to good use. And obviously Salaita is going to say he is seeking reinstatement lol. He’s not gonna say, “Today I filed a lawsuit hoping to get a financial settlement.”

        You do have a point though given that sources indicate he was offered some compensation but turned it down. He’s not going to get his position. It really is that simple.

        He has no right — legal or moral — to employment at the University of Illionois.

        It’s cosmically — and really satisfyingly — ironic that a professor who is part of the US Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel is complaining that his “academic freedom” was violated by being boycotted.

        That Mondoweiss users are so hypocritical and can’t even appreciate how richly just this is is kind of disappointing.

      • Mooser
        January 31, 2015, 8:13 pm

        “Lucky Mondo then. I hope they put it to good use.”

        Great, glad you feel that way, since I’ll probably exercise my freedom-of-speech on it.
        The drawing of you being hoist by your own petard is a knock-out.

      • Mooser
        February 6, 2015, 6:37 pm

        “Lucky Mondo then. I hope they put it to good use. “

        Oh, DS, Mondo doesn’t have to do a thing. All your comments pop up whenever the subjects are Googled. Who knows, they could end up as part of a college course someday.

    • Giles
      January 30, 2015, 9:47 am

      Hey Double. Let’s have the case go forward and see what we can find in discovery as far as what the donors role in all this was. Shall we?

      • DoubleStandard
        January 31, 2015, 4:57 pm

        We’ll see what discovery reveals.

        You guys do realize that someone who gives money to a school has the right to not give that money if the University doesn’t do what he says? It may not be so ethical, but money talks and people who have a lot of money have a lot more control.

        That’s not particular to Israel, that’s just life.

      • Mooser
        January 31, 2015, 8:17 pm

        Isn’t it a State University in the United States? That means even the donors are bound by the law! Same for the administrators.

        But isn’t that the usual pattern? When it looks like they don’t have ethics or the law on their side they brag about their ability to do unethical things, even break the law and get away with it.!! Isn’t that called a Double Standard?

        You know, that could make a lot of people wonder just what the hell was in those matzohs. Maybe grenadine.

      • Giles
        February 1, 2015, 10:16 am

        “You guys do realize that someone who gives money to a school has the right to not give that money if the University doesn’t do what he says? It may not be so ethical, but money talks and people who have a lot of money have a lot more control -”

        Surely Double Standard has no objection then to a lawsuit revealing just what the donors role was in this event? Surely he does not think the money should talk IN COMPLETE SECRECY at a state university? Or maybe he does think its okay if it is particular to Israel, hence re-enforcing the sobriquet “Double Standard”?

      • Mooser
        February 1, 2015, 11:41 am

        And why would a Zionist like “Double Standard” know about anything as plebeian as State Universities in the US.

      • DoubleStandard
        February 1, 2015, 3:42 pm

        I don’t think that discovery will reveal anything with the donors, but we’ll see. You’re making more out of this than it is and are more excited than you ought to be.

        The laws are notorious for favoring employers and it’s very difficult to fight a government university system for a job they don’t want you to have, especially when the bureaucratic process wasn’t finished.

      • lysias
        February 1, 2015, 5:56 pm

        Ah. but does he have the right to tell the university that he is conditioning his giving money upon the university’s breaching a contract?

      • DoubleStandard
        February 2, 2015, 12:52 am

        Depends whether not confirming him was a breach of contract. The board doesn’t have to confirm him–what power would it have if it did?

    • talknic
      January 30, 2015, 11:44 am

      @ DoubleStandard “The point of this lawsuit is to force a financial settlement.”

      1st line in the article …

      University of Illinois seeking his reinstatement as a professor at the school

      From the suit (scroll to the bottom) http://www.ccrjustice.org/files/Salaita_Complaint_1-29-15.pdf

      WHEREFORE, Plaintiff Steven Salaita respectfully requests that the Court enter judgment in his favor and against all Defendants, for preliminary and permanent injunctive and equitable relief including but not limited to reinstatement by completing his appointment to the tenured faculty; and for monetary relief including compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs, and for any other relief that this Court deems just and proper.

      “I’m sure all lawyers have explained to Mr. Salaita he has no real legal case “

      Yeh … sure … http://www.ccrjustice.org/files/Salaita_Complaint_1-29-15.pdf

      ” the raw, visceral hatred he has for the idea of a Jewish state, as demonstrated by his inappropriate Twitter posts”

      Quotes, verbatim … please

      “Better that he asked for a jury trial. I suspect that common people will be less sympathetic to him than a judge who is well acquainted with the university system (having been through college and law school)”

      He’s not on trial

      “I do hope that he manages to get some kind of financial settlement”

      What happened to ” he has no real legal case”

      “since I feel bad he gave up his V Tech job expecting this one. It shouldn’t be very large — maybe 5 year salary or something like that. Enough for him to get a real job and become a productive member of society, not a victim studies pseudo-academic”

      You really don’t know when to shut it

      • Mooser
        February 2, 2015, 2:09 pm

        ” the raw, visceral hatred he has for the idea of a Jewish state, as demonstrated by his inappropriate Twitter posts”

        Gee, I don’t think Prof. Saliata ever directed any of his tweets at people in Israel. He was directing his tweets at those criminal settlers who are determined to use Israel as their human shield!

        I don’t think his tweets referenced anything in The Jewish State, Israel. He’s talking about events in Palestine. And those settlers aren’t, “Israelis”, as you will discover if you look at their identity papers.

      • eljay
        February 2, 2015, 2:35 pm

        >> DoubleStandardeee: … But the raw, visceral hatred he has for the idea of a Jewish state …

        “Jewish State” is a religion-supremacist construct. Mr. Salaita is right to condemn supremacist constructs.

        What’s truly disturbing is:
        – the raw, visceral hatred Zio-supremacists like you have for the concepts of justice, accountability and equality; and
        – the hypocrisy of Zio-supremacists like you who believe you are entitled to do unto others acts of injustice and immorality that you would not want others to do unto you.

    • pjdude
      February 1, 2015, 6:26 pm

      so because you like the fact that he was prejudicially denied employment you think its ok to well basic slander him and his field. i bet if a jewish person was treated this was you’d beg to differ. your name is apt once again supporting the double standard in zionism’s and zionists favor

  8. stevelaudig
    January 29, 2015, 5:35 pm

    I wonder when Israeli government officials’ fingerprints will begin showing up in this case as orchestrating or cheerleading or merely assisting in the violation of a US national’s civil rights?

  9. Pixel
    January 29, 2015, 7:41 pm

    Nice angle.

    • ritzl
      January 29, 2015, 7:46 pm

      Yep, Pixel. Maybe the shape of things to come. I hope it’s successful.

  10. Rooster
    January 29, 2015, 9:38 pm

    JeSuisSalaita?

  11. JLewisDickerson
    January 30, 2015, 1:55 am

    RE: “He also said that he and his wife and son are living with his parents because he has suffered such financial and professional damage from his firing.” ~ Weiss

    FROM SupportStevenSalaita.com:

    SUPPORT STEVEN’S CASE!

    Many have asked how to directly help Steven and his family, who were left unemployed and without a home following the unjust firing by the University of Illinois. There is now a website dedicated to this effort, which you can reach by clicking here: http://fundly.com/support-steven-salaita

    Funds will be used for legal and other support as Steven prepares for the long haul in his battle for justice and academic freedom. Thank you!

    SOURCE – http://supportstevensalaita.com/

  12. Citizen
    January 30, 2015, 10:00 am

    It’s not over until the fat lady sings. As with any law suit, big pockets usually win. The big donors still have those pockets.

    • Mooser
      January 31, 2015, 12:13 pm

      I’m not sure a University, and certainly not a State University, has quite the same width in it’s options defending a case like this, that a corporation or business or individual has.

  13. Pretext
    January 30, 2015, 1:52 pm

    Courts are notorious for finding any excuse possible to avoid setting a precedent that might “open the floodgates”, and this certainly sounds like such a case. I hope that Professor Salaita is successful, but I’m not going to turn blue holding my breath over it.

    • Mooser
      February 4, 2015, 12:02 pm

      “might “open the floodgates”,

      To the thousands of college Professors who were fired in between being hired and teaching their first class? I don’t think we’ll be seeing any class-action suits if Saliata wins.

  14. W.Jones
    February 9, 2015, 8:11 pm

    Salaita’s complaint is online here:
    http://www.ccrjustice.org/files/Salaita_Complaint_1-29-15.pdf

    In it, he argues that the letter stating that his offer was subject to board approval meant this as a mere formality, based on the University’s actions. The university repeatedly referred to him as an employee and listed him as one, and indeed it would only be after several months of teaching that the board would decide on its approval. Further, the standards in the academic community reflect that board approval is a mere formality. SEE PAGES 12-13

    The college’s own committee on academic freedom said that such offers are customarily treated as “binding”. The complaint says that it is virtually unheard of for a board to reject an offer at a university after the university extended it and the teacher accepted.

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