Salaita sues University of Illinois for firing him over Gaza tweets

Credit: Jeffrey Putney
Credit: Jeffrey Putney

First Amendment and due process violations among lawsuit claims

Today, PSLS’ partner the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit with co-counsel on behalf of Professor Steven Salaita claiming violations of his First Amendment and due process rights, as well as other breach of contract claims.  The lawsuit was filed against the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s (UIUC) Chancellor, Board of Trustees and donors for their roles in terminating him from a tenured appointment a mere two weeks before he was to begin.  As the lawsuit claims, the termination was in apparent response to donor pressure regarding Salaita’s tweets about the Israeli attack on Gaza last summer, despite the Chancellor’s justification that his tweets were “uncivil,” making him unfit to teach at UIUC.

PSLS and other groups wrote to the Board of Trustees in August, 2014 protesting Salaita’s termination, making clear the First Amendment and academic freedom violations that resulted from his termination, and urging the Board to reinstate him.  There has been a national outcry against Salaita’s termination, with 16 UIUC departments voting no confidence in the Chancellor, thousands of academics pledging to boycott the University, students organizing in support of Salaita, and several academic associations stating their opposition to the university’s actions.

As PSLS and partners have repeatedly asserted, even “uncivil” speech is protected under the First Amendment and by academic freedom principles.  In a letter to hundreds of universities this fall, PSLS and other groups highlighted Salaita’s case and other examples of universities condemning and stifling speech supporting Palestinian rights by calling for “civility” in campus activism.  Salaita’s case is part of a larger effort by Israel advocacy groups to pressure universities into shutting down criticism of Israel by labeling it anti-Semitic, claiming that it creates a “hostile environment” for Jewish supporters of Israel on campus, and initiating smear campaigns against individuals who speak out on the issue. PSLS documented and responded to over 230 incidents of repression and requests for legal help in 2014 alone, the majority of these on university campuses.

Relevant links:

See CCR’s press release.

See CCR’s Case Page and Fact Sheet.

See PSLS’ letter to the Chancellor and Board of Trustees opposing Salaita’s termination.

See PSLS’ letter to Universities warning against relying on “civility” as a standard for campus speech.