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Academics both ‘pleased and concerned’ with Salaita settlement with University of Illinois

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Yesterday a settlement was announced in Professor Steven Salaita’s lawsuit against the University of Illinois for violating his academic freedom and right to free speech when it rescinded a position at the University following Salaita’s criticism of Israel on social media. In the settlement Salaita will drop his lawsuits against the school and receive $875,000 while the University admits no wrongdoing. Also, Salaita’s position will not be reinstated at the university, which had been the hope of many who rallied around Salaita’s cause. Following the settlement this statement was sent to Mondoweiss by Katherine Franke.

Statement: Over 80 Academics Respond to Steven Salaita Lawsuit Settlement

As scholars in a wide range of academic disciplines we write to express that we are both pleased and concerned that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) has agreed to settle Professor Steven Salaita’s lawsuit challenging his illegal termination by the UIUC Board of Trustees after he made comments on social media critical of Israel’s military assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014. We note that the University agreed to settle Professor Salaita’s claims only after a federal court had ruled in Professor Salaita’s favor on key elements of his case, including that his employment was terminated after he had been given a contract of employment by UIUC, and that Professor Salaita’s comments on social media were protected by the First Amendment.

We are pleased that the University of Illinois trustees, through the payment of a substantial monetary settlement to Professor Salaita, have acknowledged how Professor Salaita’s termination amounted to a serious violation of both his constitutional right to free speech on matters of public concern, and principles of academic freedom. Agreeing to pay what amounts to the equivalent of Professor Salaita’s salary for ten years, the University of Illinois trustees have implicitly conceded the core claims of Professor Salaita’s lawsuit: that he was illegally terminated in retaliation for his comments in connection with the Israeli war on Gaza, and that UIUC officials’ decision to terminate Professor Salaita was motivated, at least in part, by pressure they received from large donors to the University as was revealed by emails disclosed by the University in connection with the lawsuit.

At the same time, we are concerned about the terms of the settlement for two principal reasons. First, it did not include Professor Salaita’s reinstatement. Although we respect Professor Salaita’s decision to accept the settlement and to move on with his career, we nevertheless call attention to the fact that a cash settlement without an offer of reinstatement leaves unaddressed the unjust terms by which his employment was terminated. Not only were his fundamental rights of free speech and academic freedom abridged, but he remains entitled to reinstatement at UIUC as a matter of principle, whether or not he chooses to accept that reinstatement. As it stands, the settlement demonstrates that the university can abridge such rights at a price, setting a perilous precedent.

Second, we recognize that UIUC’s unlawful treatment of Professor Salaita has had implications well beyond Professor Salaita individually. The UIUC American Indian Studies Program that hired Professor Salaita not only lost Professor Salaita as a colleague (after a rigorous search), it has suffered severe fall-out given the administration’s assault on the autonomy of the program and its selection to appoint Professor Salaita to the program. Professor Salaita’s hire was intended to build a rising, dynamic academic home for research and teaching on American Indian Studies. Now the program struggles with less than one full academic appointment. The decimation of the American Indian Studies Program at UIUC has been an additional price tag paid by the university’s capitulation to internal and external forces that disapproved of Professor Salaita’s exercise of constitutionally protected rights to free speech. Sadly, the settlement in this case fails to address the larger price paid by students, faculty, and the broader academic community that looked to the University of Illinois as a home of robust academic inquiry into the complex issues of sovereignty, belonging, dispossession, and conquest – both in the U.S. and globally.

On account of the manner in which Professor Salaita was terminated the American Association of University Professors censured UIUC for its failure to conform to sound academic practices as established in AAUP principles. We feel strongly that the monetary settlement of Professor Salaita’s legal claim does not address the underlying breaches of academic freedom and widely accepted standards for the conduct of academic governance that formed the basis of the AAUP sanction in this matter. For this reason we urge the AAUP to not remove UIUC from its list of censured administrations until such time as UIUC adequately addresses the larger pall of uncertainty that has been cast over the manner in which academic freedom is understood and respected at UIUC.

(List in formation – Titles and institutions are for identification purposes only. Access full list here.)

Katherine Franke
Sulzbacher Professor of Law
Columbia University

Judith Butler
Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature
University of California, Berkeley

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui
Associate Professor of American Studies and Anthropology
Wesleyan University

Rashid Khalidi
Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies
Columbia University

Cynthia Franklin
Professor of English
University of Hawai’i

David Palumbo-Liu
Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor
Stanford University

Lisa Duggan
Professor, Department of Social & Cultural Analysis
New York University

Kendall Thomas
Nash Professor of Law
Columbia University
James Schamus
Professor of Professional Practice, School of the Arts
Columbia University

Bill V. Mullen
Professor of American Studies
Purdue University

Bruce Robbins
Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities
Department of English and Comparative Literature
Columbia University

Macarena Gomez-Barris
Associate Professor, American Studies & Ethnicity
University of Southern California

Robert Alexander Innes
Assistant Professor, Department of Indigenous Studies
University of Saskatchewan

Lauren Berlant
George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor of English
University of Chicago

Joseph Massad
Professor, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Columbia University

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
University Professor in the Humanities
Columbia University

Noura Erakat
George Mason University

Sunaina Maira
Professor, Asian American Studies
University of California, Davis

Corey Robin
Professor of Political Science
Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center

Colin Dayan
Robert Penn Warren Professor in the Humanities
Professor of Law
Vanderbilt University

Margaret Russell
Professor of Law
Santa Clara Law

David Prochaska
Department of History
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Lisa Rofel
Director, Center for Emerging Worlds
Professor, Department of Anthropology
University of California, Santa Cruz

Helga Tawil-Souri
Associate Professor, Media, Culture, and Communication
New York University

Marianne Hirsch
William Peterfield Trent Professor of English and Comparative Literature
Director, Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality
Columbia University

Valerie Forman
Associate Professor, Gallatin School
New York University

Neferti Tadiar
Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Barnard College

Inderpal Grewal
Professor, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program
Professor, South Asian Studies
Professor, Ethnicity, Race and Migration Studies
Affiliate Faculty in American Studies.
Yale University

Brinkley Messick
Professor of Anthropology and of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies Columbia University

Kandice Chuh
Professor of English and American Studies
Acting Coordinator, American Studies Certificate Program
CUNY/The Graduate Center

Roderick A. Ferguson
Professor, Department of African American Studies and the Program in Gender and Women’s Studies
University of Illinois, Chicago

Valerie Forman
Associate Professor
Gallatin School of Individualized Study
New York University

Natalie Zemon Davis
University of Toronto

Dr. Rima Najjar Merriman
Al-Quds University, Palestine

Stephen Duncombe
Professor of Media and Culture
Gallatin School of Individualized Study &
Media, Culture and Communication, Steinhardt School
New York University

Chandler Davis
Professor Emeritus of Mathematics
University of Toronto

Jodi Melamed
Associate Professor
Marquette University

Frederick Neuhouser
Professor of Philosophy
Barnard College

Bruce Levine
J. G. Randall Distinguished Professor of History
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Laura Briggs
Chair and Professor, Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Ann Cvetkovich
Ellen C. Garwood Centennial Professor of English
Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies
University of Texas at Austin

Alyosha Goldstein
Associate Professor & Director of Graduate Studies
American Studies Department
University of New Mexico

David Klein
Professor of Mathematics
California State University, Northridge

Taylor Carman
Dept of Philosophy
Barnard College
Columbia University

Professor E Frances White
Gallatin School of Individualized Study and Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, FAS
New York University

Kevin Bruyneel
Professor of Politics
Babson College

Miranda Joseph, Professor
Department of Gender & Women’s Studies
University of Arizona

Dr Patrick Wolfe
Honorary Research Associate
History Program
La Trobe University
Australia

Christine B. Harrington
Professor, Wilf Family Department of Politics
Affiliated Faculty, NYU Law School
New York University

David Roediger
Foundation Professor of American Studies
University of Kansas

Magid Shihade
Birzeit University

Leti Volpp
Robert D. and Leslie Kay Raven Professor of Law
Berkeley Law

Dean Saranillio
Assistant Professor
New York University

Gayatri Gopinath
Associate Professor, Dept of Social and Cultural Analysis
New York University

Barbara Ransby
Distinguished Professor
University of Illinois at Chicago

Sandra K. Soto
University of Arizona
Department of Gender & Women’s Studies

Lara Deeb
Professor of Anthropology
Scripps College

C. Heike Schotten
Associate Professor
Department of Political Science
University of Massachusetts Boston

John Maynard
Professor of English
New York University

Kiara M. Vigil
Assistant Professor
American Studies
Amherst College

Cynthia Grant Bowman
Professor of Law
Cornell Law School

Chandan Reddy
Associate Professor
English and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies
University of Washington

Jeff Goodwin
Professor of Sociology
New York University

Juliana Hu Pegues
Assistant Professor
Smith College

Carolyn Dinshaw
Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and English
New York University

Sarah T. Roberts
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Information and Media Studies
Western University

Rebecca Comay
Professor, Department of Philosophy
University of Toronto

Aziz Rana
Professor of Law
Cornell Law School

Moon-Ho Jung
Department of History
University of Washington

Vasuki Nesiah
Associate Professor of Practice
The Gallatin School, New York University

Nadine Suleiman Naber
Associate Professor
Department of Gender and Women’s Studies
Asian American Studies
University of Illinois at Chicago

Tithi Bhattacharya
Associate Professor, History
Purdue University

Joseph R. Slaughter
Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature
Columbia University

Salah D Hassan
English
Michigan State University

Andrea Gadberry
Assistant Professor
Gallatin School of Individualized Study;
Department of Comparative Literature,
College of Arts & Science
New York University

Malini Johar Schueller
Professor
Department of English
University of Florida

Sinclair Thomson
Associate Professor of History
New York University

Rebecca Schreiber
Associate Professor
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Department of American Studies
University of New Mexico

Benjamin Balthaser
Assistant Professor of English
Indiana University, South Bend

Hannah Gurman
Clinical Associate Professor
Gallatin School
New York University

Alex Dubilet
Visiting Scholar, Department of Religious Studies
Vanderbilt University

Marita Sturken
Professor, Department of Media, Culture, and Communication
Steinhardt School
New York University

Susan G Davis 
Professor Emerita Communication Dept, and Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Dawn Peterson
Assistant Professor of History
Emory University

Hartry Field
University Professor and Silver Professor of philosophy
New York University

Jules Lobel
Bessie McKee Walthour Professor of Law
University of Pittsburgh Law School

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“We are pleased that the University of Illinois trustees, through the payment of a substantial monetary settlement to Professor Salaita, have acknowledged how Professor Salaita’s termination amounted to a serious violation of both his constitutional right to free speech on matters of public concern, and principles of academic freedom. Agreeing to pay what amounts to the equivalent of Professor Salaita’s salary for ten years, the University of Illinois trustees have implicitly conceded the core claims… Read more »

It’s disappointing to see the case resolved in this way, with no admission of wrong-doing by UIUC and no reinstatement of Prof. Salaita. The financial settlement, while undoubtedly welcome by Salaita and his family after the economic turmoil they suffered, doesn’t mean much to anyone who cares about the issues raised by case. It’s not even a large amount of money, relatively speaking, considering UIUC’s resources. They’d probably pay that much to someone who slips… Read more »

New piece by Salaita in The Nation:  Steven Salaita: I Will Always Condemn Injustice, No Matter the State of My Employment.

By saying that he now takes long walks on the Corniche, he reminds us that he is now living in downtown Beirut, fortunately not that near the neighborhood attacked by the suicide bombers yesterday.

The settlement doesn’t make Salaita whole, or the program he would have joined whole, nor is it in any way comparable to the payout granted by the Trustees to the Chancellor who terminated him. The better way would have been to compensate him for the costs was forced to incur in fighting for his reinstatement and his reputation PLUS the offer of reinstatement, but, given the vagaries (including delays) in our justice system, even with… Read more »

Here’s the problem with the monetary settlement. It’s the same problem we have with financial settlements for police brutality cases, i.e. that the perpetrators go free and leave the taxpayers – or, in this case, the university’s insurance company – holding the bag. This means there is little disincentive for the perpetrators to do the same in the future.