Steven Salaita settles lawsuit with Univ. of Illinois

Steven Salaita speaks at the Maryland AAUP’s conference on academic freedom, at John Hopkins University, 25 April.

Mike Ferguson AAUP

Steven Salaita will not be reinstated under the terms of an out of court settlement with the University of Illinois.

The deal will pay Salaita $875,000 – about ten times the annual salary he would have received as a tenured professor in the American Indian Studies program at the university’s flagship Urbana-Champaign campus.

“This settlement is a vindication for me, but more importantly, it is a victory for academic freedom and the First Amendment,” Salaita said in a release from his legal counsel, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the law firm Loevy & Loevy.

The settlement brings an end to Salaita’s breach of contract lawsuit against university trustees and administrators over his August 2014 firing because of his tweets excoriating Israel’s attack on Gaza.

Salaita had sought reinstatement as well as financial damages.

The terms of the deal will come as a surprise to some supporters. His lawyers had said all along that Salaita was willing to settle, but that his primary goal would be to get his job back.

The university has been adamant, however, that it would not allow him into the classroom.

“This is an important victory, even if the bigger fight isn’t over,” Salaita added in a post on Facebook. “At this point I am ready to move beyond this particular matter and continue doing what I love – teaching, writing, organizing, and contributing in whatever way I can to struggles for justice.”

“The University believes that reaching a settlement with Dr. Salaita is the most reasonable option to fully and finally conclude all of the pending issues,” Urbana-Champaign Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson said.

“Although the amount is significant, it is less than what we would spend if the case were to continue and proceed to trial over the next year,” she added.

The university statement said Salaita would receive a lump sum of $600,000, while the remaining amount would cover his legal fees.

Cause celebre

Salaita’s case became a cause celebre for academic freedom, highlighting the role of pro-Israel donors in pressuring university administrators.

Thousands of academics pledged to boycott the university until he was reinstated.

The Salaita affair devastated and demoralized the university’s celebrated American Indian Studies program, leading to the departure of several faculty.

His firing also earned the University of Illinois a formal censure from the American Association of University Professors for violating academic freedom, a rare rebuke and severe blow to its reputation.

“The petitions, demonstrations, and investigations, as well as the legal case, have reinvigorated American higher education as a place of critical thinking and rigorous debate, and I am deeply grateful to all who have spoken out,” Salaita’s statement said.

The university has undoubtedly paid a high price by bowing to Israel lobby pressure. The settlement with Salaita deals only with the legal aspects of the matter but not with questions of ethics and academic freedom which will tar the university’s reputation for years to come and could discourage academics and students from applying there.

Strong case

Salaita had scored successes in the early phases of his federal lawsuit.

In August, US District Judge Harry Leinenweber backed Salaita’s contention that he had a binding contract with the university.

Yet there was never a guarantee that even if he won at trial that the court would order his reinstatement.

In September, the judge found that university officials had destroyed emails that may have contained key evidence Salaita needed to prove his case.

This came after sensational revelations that top officials, including then Chancellor Phyllis Wise, had been using private email accounts to discuss the case and evade disclosure laws.

Wise and another official, Provost Ilesanmi Adesida, resigned in disgrace, adding to the disarray at the frequently scandal-plagued state university.

“Make no mistake: the size of this settlement is an implicit admission of the strength of Professor Salaita’s constitutional and contractual claims,” attorney Anand Swaminathan of Loevy & Loevy said.

“In the future, university administrators will have to think twice before they choose the interests of wealthy donors and alumni over upholding their constitutional obligations,” Swaminathan added.

In August, Salaita took up a year-long post as Edward W. Said Chair of American Studies at the American University of Beirut.




The damanges Salaita will actually receive ($600,000) is less than two years of Phyllis Wise’s salary as professor.


As chancellor, Phyllis Wise in addition to her base salary ($549,000) enjoyed an overall compensation package which included a very generous expense account and numerous percs. During her tenure as the school's top administrator, she also sat on the board of directors of Nike, a company known for its success in securing contracts with university athletic departments. She is not thought to have held this position on an unpaid basis. Her initial resignation, whose terms included a $400,000 payment, was rejected by the very board which had prompted her to act against Salaita. By then it had become obvious even to her that she was being hung out to dry after performing the bidding of those wealthy donors and board members who objected to Salaita's appointment. In departing from her administrative role, she next took up a faculty position worth $300,000 annually. Despite experiencing some disappointment, I'd say yes, the lady's come out of this mess with a fair piece of change. After all, she could have faced criminal prosecution, a large fine, perhaps even imprisonment.


Can't fault him for wanting to get out of what must seem like permanent purgatory. But he had the admin by the balls. He was so right on the merits and absolutely deserves tenure. He relinquished tenure in reliance on UIUC's promise of employment and sure, he's got $600K (tax free), but that doesn't compensate for lifetime employment. The Speech police won. They've kicked Steve out of Academia and it'll be very difficult for him to get back in given that "controversial" is now affixed to his name. And while $600K is a lot of money, Tenure is worth significantly more. Though cannot begrudge Steve for doing what he believes to be best under the circumstances as a drawn out trial didn't sound like fun.


The $600K that Salaita-heads receives is taxable according to Brian Leiter, a prominent Salaita-heads backer. The $275K for legal fees may or may not be taxable.


This is a very important victory in a landmark case. While the University failed to renew its initial offer of a post to Professor Salaita, by any reasonable interpretation the financial terms of the settlement amount to an admission of guilt. They don't have to put that in words. We can all smell it. Every supporter of free speech and employment rights is standing a little taller in light of today's outcome.

So well done, Steven Salaita, for defending the rights of Palestinians subjected to barbarous assault and oppression, and for fighting this case through to a successful conclusion. Your example, and that of the academic institutions and figures who stood by you, will inspire redoubled efforts on campuses throughout the US in support of the BDS campaign.

Also, a word is in order regarding Ali Abunimah's early and sustained coverage of this case. The Electronic Intifada led much of the reporting in uncovering the machinations behind Chancellor Wise's misconduct. Thank you, Ali, and to the staff at EI.


Didn't UIUC originally offer to settle this for $1 million with Salaita? I thought he turned it down because he didn't want the money -- he wanted his professorship at UIUC's top-tier American Indian studies department. What happened to make him change his mind and settle for only $600,000 -- less than they offered originally?!?

What's stranger, the legal battles were actually going his way. The judge rejected the claim that Salaita was never employed by UIUC, so the case would have proceeded on the assumption that the university had an obligation to give a him job. The whole thing just seems like Salaita got a rough deal and the establishment got off easy. Sure they had to pay legal costs, but in the end, Salaita did not get his job, the American Indian studies program is in shambles, and Salaita only got 600,000/85,000 = 7 years of salary.


Part of the settlement would have included the university establishing and funding two chairs. "The Zionism is Racism Chair of Anti-Racist Studies" and the "Zionism is Torah Desecration of Religious Studies."

Oh well.


How about a commitment to rebuild that "novelty program" (words of publisher of the local fishwrap) Native American Studies and include the suppressed discourse regarding colonial settler states .. .


Indeed, it is a great victory for him and other people who like to enjoy freedom of expression.


A)The deal will pay Salaita $875,000 – about ten times the annual salary he would have received as a tenured professor in the American Indian Studies program at the university’s flagship Urbana-Champaign campus.

B)This settlement is a vindication for me, but more importantly, it is a victory for academic freedom and the First Amendment,”

C)Steven Salaita will not be reinstated under the terms of an out of court settlement with the University of Illinois.

This is a slap in the face of all us who demand freedom of speech, and free application of said free speech. Buying off Steve is utter bs. This is only a vindication for the asphyxiation of the truth. Where does this payoff come from? Where did the money come from? Was it put it from those protesting isaeli donors? Of course not, it was miked from the tuition fees of students.
Steve lost, we lost, freedom of speech lost because he was paid off to move on and he will. But does the truth walk off with him? No, it gets swept under the rug,filtered by a compliant board of academic monkeys. We all lost but the Palestinian lost what we care most of all about: Truth, and the right, the ability to speak and write truth. 30 pieces of silver were tossed to Steve and though he wanted his job back, he is refused his greatest desire; reinstatement.
Look at times have changed. The PM of that nutjob illegal state of denial comes a' calling to the white house after ripping Obama and he in turn falls all over bibi, offering more $ to slaughter people living under and illegal and amoral occupation while Intifada lll is in full swing. Have you've bothered to see what is going on there? Human beings throwing rocks at a military occupation that is stealing their country and we allow a university, 6,000 miles away to kick out a professor for talking about it? Do you not think this is odious incarnate?
Now another voice is lost for 600 pieces of silver and Palestine and her people get what?


His supporters should stick to their guns and boycott the university until he is offered his job back on reasonable terms.

... and I think we can shorten one of the suggestions to "Zionism is Torah Desecration".


I agree with the boycott; however, I would not wish nor force an exposed and failing university on a talented person as Steven Salaita. He did his job well, and it's time for a new and hopeful chapter. As I see it...God prevailed with this man in exposing what needed to be exposed. The settlement is to be used wisely, not to be denounced. When we focus on $$$ we have fallen into the same pit with the ones who have been exposed.


I applaud Steven winning the settlement, but this ain't over. There's a new petition for academics going around on to continue the academic boycott and censure of UIUC until Steven receives his position. UIUC will remain a pariah in the academic community and will be known as an institution that suppresses intellectual freedom and freedom of speech. Meanwhile, Prof. Salaita is now known throughout the academic community as a thoughtful, engaged and conscientious scholar. He will be in high demand when his job at American University in Beirut is completed. His case brought before the world the spectacle of a University brought to ethical and moral lows by allowing wealthy donors to dictate its actions, while failing its responsibilities to students and faculty to protect their rights to intellectual freedom and the privileges of tenure. Now the world sees yet again how the Zionists are trying to buy their way into spreading an image of their righteousness and infallibility. The good news is, their blatant lies will backfire in their faces as these despicable tactics are revealed for all to see. Phyllis Wise may be making big bucks, but she has lost the respect and esteem of her colleagues which is infinitely more valuable. She and the University are tarnished until they make drastic changes and renounce servitude to wealthy interests.