State Sen. Chapin Rose says he almost "drove off the road" Friday when he heard that the University of Illinois' legal fees in the Steven Salaita saga surpassed $1 million.
"At what point do you know you're going to settle?" asked Rose, R-Mahomet, who said he was already flabbergasted by Thursday's news — that the UI's settlement with Salaita was for $600,000, not including the professor's $275,000 in legal fees that the UI agreed to cover.
Rose said he called UI officials Thursday to express his displeasure. He said he plans to bring it up again next week during a previously scheduled meeting with UI President Timothy Killeen.
"There are so many things wrong with this on so many levels," Rose said.
Pointing out that he's a UI law school graduate and attorney, Rose questioned what the UI got for $1.3 million in legal work. If the UI's attorneys recommended settling, "then settle it" without dragging it out, he said. Salaita filed suit against UI leaders in January.
"You could have hired me, and I would have had it done for a hell of a lot cheaper," said Rose, who also had a beef with the $2.5 million buyout former UI athletic director Mike Thomas will receive after his firing Monday.
"Every time you turn around, we're paying another high-priced payout to everyone," Rose said.
The timing of the settlement, reached Thursday as lawmakers continue to squabble over state budget issues, reflects poorly on his alma mater, Rose said.
Just two days earlier, Killeen testified before the state House that the budget stalemate could have a crippling effect on the UI. When every dollar is being scrutinized, Rose said, "it is exponentially harder to defend" the university's actions.
Salaita was offered a faculty job in the UI's American Indian Studies department in October 2013, but it was rescinded the following August after he posted a series of provocative tweets, sometimes using profanity, about Israel's invasion of Gaza.
Rose said the UI should never have been in this situation to begin with.
"It's increasingly difficult in Springfield to defend Salaita, (UI Professor James) Kilgore, all the things the UI must continue defending," said Rose, who added that he hears the same complaints from constituents.
In an interview with The News-Gazette, Rose posed the same question he did earlier Friday when he called WDWS 1400-AM to vent to host Jim Turpin on "A Penny For Your Thoughts."
If a cook at a UI residence hall spewed racist and anti-Semitic tweets after work, he would have been dismissed, Rose says. But if that cook sued the UI, would he get hundreds of thousands of dollars in a settlement?
No way, Rose contends.
"It's frustrating, no doubt about it. The whole situation is frustrating," he said. "It is so hard to try to defend this kind of behavior to legislative colleagues who think it's a waste of money."