U of I OKs settlement with professor over job offer

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The University of Illinois will pay a professor who lost his job offer over a series of anti-Israel tweets $600,000 plus legal costs under an agreement trustees approved Thursday.

The agreement settles Steven Salaita’s lawsuit against the university with the school admitting no wrongdoing, the university said. Salaita will not be hired and his legal claims against the university in federal and state courts will be voluntarily dismissed.

“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 statement.

Trustees approved the agreement 9-1. The ‘no’ vote was from Trustee Timothy Koritz, who said he felt the decision not to hire Salaita was correct.

The school’s total payment will be $875,000, university spokesman Tom Hardy said. The amount includes $600,000 plus $275,000 in attorneys’ fees. However, Salaita’s attorney Maria LaHood said legal fees amount to less than 30 percent of the $875,000.

Urbana-Champaign campus interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson said that the amount is significant but less than what the university would have paid had the case gone to trial.

“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,” she said.

Salaita was offered a job starting in fall 2014 but the university rescinded the offer over a series of his messages on Twitter objecting to Israeli action against Palestinians. Salaita maintained that he had already been hired and his speech was protected by tenure.

He has since taken a job at the American University of Beirut.

In his lawsuit, Salaita claimed he had already been hired as a tenured professor and his speech should have been protected. The university has argued that university trustees had not yet taken the required step of approving Salaita’s hire.

Some faculty members were upset by the decision not to hire Salaita, and the American Association of University Professors put the school on its censure list, a sort of official reprimand from the academic group.

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