A professor whose job offer was rescinded by the University of Illinois after he tweeted a series of anti-Israel comments filed a federal lawsuit Thursday claiming his right to free speech was violated.
Prof. Steven Salaita claims he exercised his First Amendment right when he posted a series of anti-Israel comments on Twitter. The suit, filed against eight members of the board of trustees, unknown donors, and a number of administrators, claims he was fired after pressure from "wealthy school donors."
Salaita had lifetime tenure at Virginia Tech prior to receiving an offer from U of I, the lawsuit said. But when U of I offered him that status in October 2013, Salaita agreed and surrendered his tenured position to begin teaching at U of I in the fall of 2014, the suit said.
During the time between his start date, Salaita made numerous controversial tweets and, on Sept. 11, 2014, the U of I Board of Trustees voted 8-1 to deny him employment.
According to the university, the tweets included:
- June 20: After three Israelis were kidnapped and killed, Salaita wrote: "You may be too refined to say it, but I'm not: I wish all the [expletive] West Bank settlers would go missing."
- July 8: "If you're defending #Israel right now, you're an awful human being."
- July 19: "At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?"
Salaita claims since the school rescinded its job offer, he's been unable to gain employment and has suffered financial losses, the suit said.
In a statement responding to the suit, the U of I said Salaita "began demonstrating that he lacked the professional fitness to serve on the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign."
It said the series of tweets "demonstrate that Dr. Salaita lacks the judgment, temperament and thoughtfulness to serve as a member of our faculty in any capacity, but particularly to teach courses related to the Middle East."
The suit also claims the university violated the contract by not hiring Salaita.
But the university said Salaita knew his employment had to approved by the board.
"As Dr. Salaita admits in the complaint he filed today, the offer he received in October 2013 from the American Indian Studies Program was at all times subject to the ultimate approval of the Board of Trustees," the statement said.
"Dr. Salaita was well aware of the importance of this final approval. At no time was Dr. Salaita hired as a faculty member. His appointment was always subject to approval by the Board of Trustees."
The eight-count suit seeks reinstatement and unspecified damages.