CHICAGO — Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson says the UI never considered reinstating Professor Steven Salaita to his job in American Indian Studies as part of the settlement approved today.
"From the beginning, we were pretty clear about what our perspective was on that," Wilson told reporters after the Board of Trustees' meeting in Chicago. "We were not going to hire him."
To Salaita's critics, Wilson said the university felt some compensation was appropriate.
"I think the university from the beginning recognized that we disrupted Dr. Salaita's career and made it difficult for his family, so we feel some amount of compensation is reasonable and appropriate," Wilson said.
She said both sides were comfortable with the amount of the settlement, negotiated via a federal mediator.
Wilson, who is also dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, where Salaita had many supporters, is hopeful that the settlement can help the campus move on. She said she's been trying to rebuild trust among faculty since the start of the controversy.
"I think a lot of faculty are ready to move forward. They recognize this has been a really disruptive and challenging case."
Wilson has talked with the American Association of University Professors about the settlement, a key element of getting the AAUP's censure of the campus lifted. That can't happen until the national AAUP meeting next June, and other steps will be required, she said.
In a prepared statement, Wilson said:
"The settlement allows Dr. Salaita to move on with his career and allows our campus to focus on ensuring excellence in teaching, research and public engagement.
"Today's an important step in our efforts to see the AAUP censure lifted and I will continue to work with the local and national chapters about further actions that we can take to achieve that goal.
"I hope the settlement brings some closure to a challenging period for our entire community. I truly believe it marks a point in time when we can collectively shift our conversations from what has happened in the past to where we want to go in the future.
"Some of the discussions, debates and disagreements of this past year have been difficult ones. But I will also say we've learned a great deal from them. I'm hopeful that the knowledge and experience that we've gained can be used to improve our processes and policies and to further the national dialogue about issues of scholarship and academic freedom in the 21st century."
Trustees approved the settlement with Salaita.
Tim Koritz voted against it, saying the board acted "in best interests of students" in withdrawing his job offer.
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The UI will actually pay out $875,000 for the legal settlement with Steven Salaita. He will get $600,000 but his attorneys will receive about $275,000 in legal fees.
Attorney Anand Swaminathan of Loevy and Loevy in Chicago said the size of the settlement is an "implicit admission of the strength of Professor Salaita's constitutional and contractual claims."
Salaita, who is now working on a one year university appointment in Beirut, had continued to press for his job at the UI.
Swaminathan said Salaita was "ready to move on."
"He is very happy with this settlement and very happy to look forward and focus on his academic career," Swaminathan told The News-Gazette.
"He has scored a major victory for those who care about free speech and academic freedom. In the future, university administrators will have to think twice before they choose the interests of wealthy donors and alumni over upholding their constitutional obligations. This legal victory could not have been possible without the support of a large and committed movement of activists and academics," Swaminathan said in a release.
Steven Salaita will walk away from the battle over his aborted appointment with a $600,000 check from the University of Illinois.
Details of the UI's legal settlement with Salaita were released this morning, shortly before the board was scheduled to vote on the agreement.
It provides Salaita with a $600,000 lump sum payment, but he will not be rehired by the UI. The university also agrees to cover his legal costs of $275,000. Salaita agrees to withdraw his state and federal legal claims against the university.
"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," interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson said in a release. "Although the amount is significant, it is less than what we would spend if the case were to continue and proceed to trial over the next year."
Salatia sued the university after losing his tenured faculty appointment in August 2014 because of his controversial tweets about Israel.
"Considerable time and energy have gone into this case and it is time now to move forward. This negotiated agreement will allow the Urbana campus to focus on our goals of excellence in teaching, research and public engagement," Wilson said. "And it will allow Dr. Salaita to move forward with his academic career."
U.S. District Judge Wayne Andersen helped mediate the settlement, according to the UI.
The UI has racked up $1.3 million in legal costs for the Salaita case, according to spokesman Tom Hardy.
Wilson and UI President Timothy Killeen had made the settlement a priority in recent weeks, hoping to resolve the 14-month controversy.
It is considered a key part of the UI's effort to get a censure lifted by the American Association of University Professors.
Salaita was initially hired in October 2013, but his appointment with withdrawn by the university in August 2014 after he posted a series of provocative and sometimes-profane tweets about Israel over its invasion of Gaza.
The decision led to academic boycotts and some votes of no-confidence in former Chancellor Phyllis Wise, who stepped down in August of this year over an email controversy that included exchanges about the Salaita case.