Salaita v. Kennedy, et al. Historic Case

At a Glance

Date Filed: 

January 29, 2015

Current Status 

On November 12, 2015, Professor Salaita reached an agreement with the university and university officials to settle his claims against them for breaching his employment contract and violating his constitutional rights.   

Co-Counsel 

Anand Swaminathan, Gretchen Helfrich, Steven Art, Jon Loevy and Art Loevy of Loevy & Loevy

Client(s) 

Case Description 

Salaita v. Kennedy, et al. is a lawsuit on behalf of Steven Salaita, a Palestinian-American professor of indigenous studies who was fired from a tenured position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign following pressure from donors who did not like some of his personal tweets criticizing the Israeli government’s assault on Gaza in 2014. The lawsuit alleges that Professor Salaita's termination in retaliation for his protected speech on an issue of public concern violates the First Amendment and principles of academic freedom as well as his due process rights. The case is part of CCR’s longstanding support for the struggle for Palestinian human rights and the effort to ensure that those engaged in that struggle in the U.S. are not silenced or punished for it.

Professor Salaita is a nationally recognized scholar of the effects of colonization on indigenous people and a prolific academic. He was a tenured English professor at Virginia Tech University when UIUC's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offered him a tenured position in its American Indian Studies Program. Based on the contract Professor Salaita had with the University of Illinois, he and his wife resigned their jobs at Virginia Tech University and prepared to move their family to Illinois. Two weeks before Professor Salaita was due to start teaching, he received a letter from Chancellor Phyllis Wise and Vice President Christophe Pierre summarily informing him that his appointment had been terminated. It offered no explanation.

University officials have since acknowledged that their decision was based on Professor Salaita’s tweets critical of Israeli government atrocities in Gaza that they deemed “uncivil.” Yet Professor Salaita has consistently received stellar student evaluations, including in the category of “concern and respect for students.” Documents obtained through FOIA requests reveal pressure from donors who threatened to withdraw financial support from the university if it did not fire Salaita. This pressure is consistent with broader efforts by outside groups to silence Palestinian human rights activists on campuses across the country.

Prior to filing the case, attorneys filed a separate Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the University of Illinois on behalf of Professor Salaita seeking email correspondence to and from administrators and trustees regarding his firing.

Professor Salaita’s termination has gathered national and international attention and drawn widespread criticism. More than 5,000 academics from around the country pledged to boycott the institution, resulting in the cancellation of more than three dozen scheduled talks and conferences at the school. Sixteen academic departments of the university voted no confidence in the university administration, and prominent academic organizations, including the American Association of University Professors, the Modern Language Association, and the Society of American Law Teachers, have publicly condemned the university’s actions. A public petition for Professor Salaita's reinstatement has garnered thousands of signatures. For more information, see Professor Salaita's op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, "U. of I. destroyed my career," and the factsheet on this case.

Case Timeline

November 12, 2015
Salaita settles case against university
November 12, 2015
Salaita settles case against university

Professor Salaita reaches a settlement with the university and university officials. The agreement settles all of Professor Salaita’s claims against the university, including for breaching his employment contract and violating his First Amendment and due process rights. In exchange, the university agrees to pay Professor Salaita $875,000, a victory for academic freedom.

August - September 2015
CCR files amended complaint
August - September 2015
CCR files amended complaint
The amended complaint makes new allegations regarding the use of personal e-mail accounts by university administrators and the deletion of e-mails in order to conceal and destroy evidence relevant to the case. The motion to amend the complaint is filed on August 25, 2015 and granted on August 27, 2015. The university files its answer to the amended complaint on September 10, 2015. Professor Salaita's motion for entry of an order to preserve evidence is granted on September 29, 2015.
August 7, 2015

FOIA lawsuit: University releases personal e-mails of administrators related to Salaita termination

August 7, 2015

FOIA lawsuit: University releases personal e-mails of administrators related to Salaita termination

Following the university's launch of an ethics inquiry regarding the use of personal e-mail accounts by university administrators in order to avoid e-mails being released subject to FOIA, the university produces a series of personal e-mails from administrators relevant to Professor Salaita's termination.

August 6, 2015

Court denies university’s motion to dismiss

August 6, 2015

Court denies university’s motion to dismiss

Judge Leinenweber denies the university’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit in major part, noting that, “[i]f the Court accepted the University’s argument, the entire American academic hiring process as it now operates would cease to exist.”

June 13, 2015

AAUP votes to censure university

June 13, 2015

AAUP votes to censure university

At its annual meeting, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) votes to censure the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for its termination of Professor Salaita. According to the AAUP, censure is reserved for a situation involving "a major departure" from AAUP standards of sound academic practice that "remains unresolved."

December 23, 2014

UIUC's Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure (CAFT) releases report critical of Professor Salaita’s firing

December 23, 2014

UIUC's Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure (CAFT) releases report critical of Professor Salaita’s firing

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure (CAFT) releases a report on Professor Salaita’s firing that finds the university's actions with regard to Professor Salaita violated his academic freedom and due process rights and recommends that his candidacy be remanded to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for a limited review of his scholarship by a body of qualified academic experts and that he be provided an opportunity to be heard.

November 17, 2014

FOIA lawsuit: Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed

November 17, 2014

FOIA lawsuit: Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed

CCR's co-counsel in Chicago, Loevy & Loevy, files a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the University of Illinois on behalf of Professor Salaita. The FOIA suit seeks records, including email correspondence to and from administrators and trustees surrounding Professor Salaita's firing. The university initially denies the FOIA request as "unduly burdensome,” and even though the request is then substantially narrowed, the university continues to refuse to comply with the FOIA law and produce the documents that reveal the full story behind its decision to fire Professor Salaita from a tenured position.

September 11, 2014

University Board of Trustees votes to terminate Professor Salaita

September 11, 2014

University Board of Trustees votes to terminate Professor Salaita

September 9, 2014

Professor Salaita speaks publicly about his termination

September 9, 2014

Professor Salaita speaks publicly about his termination

Professor Salaita speaks publicly for the first time about the termination of his position at a press conference with his attorneys.

August 22, 2014

Chancellor Wise releases statement

August 22, 2014

Chancellor Wise releases statement

Chancellor Wise asserts that the decision not to recommend Professor Salaita's appointment was made because his speech was "uncivil."  

August 7, 2014

CCR sends letter to Chancellor Wise

August 7, 2014

CCR sends letter to Chancellor Wise

Prior to representing Professor Salaita, CCR sends a letter to Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise regarding her decision to terminate the appointment of Professor Steven Salaita based on the content of his constitutionally-protected speech critical of the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza.