Judge: Professor’s Lawsuit Against U. of Illinois Can Proceed


A federal judge ruled that a lawsuit brought by a professor whose anti-Israel online messages led the University of Illinois to withdraw a job offer can continue.

U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber dismissed four of Steven Salaita’s accusations but decided that the bulk of his case could go on.

Salaita was offered a job to start teaching American Indian studies in the fall of 2014 and left his old position at Virginia Tech University only to be told by Chancellor Phyllis Wise not long before classes started that he wouldn’t be hired after all.

Salaita had written a long series of comments in the summer of 2014 complaining about Israel. Some university donors complained to Wise that the messages were anti-Semitic.

In one message, he wrote: “Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.”

In August, Wise told Salaita he wouldn’t get the job because the university was concerned about the “abusive nature” of his messages.

Leinenweber wrote that he believes it was clear the university had a contract with Salaita when in August 2014 it withdrew his job offer.

“The University paid for Dr. Salaita’s moving expenses, provided him [with] an office and University email address, assigned him two courses to teach in the fall, and stated to a newspaper that he would in fact join the faculty, despite his unsavory statements,” Leinenweber wrote.

In a printed statement, Salaita welcomed the ruling.

“I am happy to move forward with this suit in the hope that restrictions on academic freedom, free speech, and shared governance will not become further entrenched because of UIUC’s behavior,” Salaita said.

A university spokeswoman focused on the charges the judge dismissed, among them that the university had intentionally tried to inflict emotional distress on Salaita.

“While Dr. Salaita has the right to continue his lawsuit, a much narrower version of the case will proceed,” Robin Kaler said.