Steven Salaita, a former Virginia Tech professor who last year was dismissed from a new job at the University of Illinois two weeks before classes began for his anti-Israel comments on Twitter, is headed to a teaching position in the Middle East.
Earlier this year, Salaita, a Bluefield native and Radford University graduate, sued the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for wrongful termination and failure to disclose documents related to his dismissal under Illinois sunshine laws.
In 2013, Salaita was recruited by the University of Illinois to teach in its Department of American Indian Studies. He accepted the offer, signed an employment contract and resigned from his tenured position at Tech.
But two weeks before he was to begin teaching classes, that university's chancellor, Phyllis Wise, notified Salaita that she would not forward his employment contract to the board of trustees for final approval — essentially rescinding the job offer.
The dismissal came after Salaita, in strong language on his personal Twitter feed, criticized the bombardment of the Palestinian-controlled Gaza strip by Israeli forces, wherein hundreds of civilians were killed, including children.
"Only #Israel can murder around 300 children in the span of a few weeks and insist that it is the victim," Salaita posted.
"If you haven't recently been called a terror-loving anti-Semite, then I'm sorry to say that your critique of #Israel is totally weak," read another Salaita tweet.
"#Israel's message to #Obama and #Kerry: we'll kill as many Palestinians as we want, when we want. p.s.: [expletive] you, pay me," Salaita tweeted.
These and other tweets were picked up by pro- and anti-Israeli bloggers, and went viral.
Calling his comments anti-Semitic and questioning his ability to foster civil dialogue in his classroom, students, faculty and others lobbied Wise to block Salaita's appointment.
In November, University of Illinois officials announced that they had reached a settlement with Salaita, which included a $600,000 payment to the professor. In exchange, Salaita agreed to drop his lawsuits against the university and promised never to seek to work at the school. The university did not admit any wrongdoing under the deal, according to a news release.
University spokesman Thomas Hardy wrote in a December email that he could not release the settlement agreement to The Roanoke Times because it had not yet been signed by all parties.
The Chicago Tribune has reported that Salaita's attorneys will get $275,000 under the agreement. The case has cost the university an additional $1.3 million in legal fees, according to the Tribune.
Meanwhile, Salaita has been named a visiting associate professor at American University of Beirut, according to that school's website. He recently published a book titled "Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom."
Salaita continues to tweet about controversial issues, including presidential candidate Donald Trump's calls to temporarily bar Muslims from the U.S.
The Illinois controversy was not the first time Salaita had garnered national attention.
In 2013, while still teaching at Tech, Salaita caused a stir by publishing an online commentary critical of the phrase "Support the Troops." Despite widespread calls for his firing or disciplinary actions against him, Tech officials refused to censure Salaita, citing his freedom of speech and academic freedoms. But the university did distance itself from his opinions.
Salaita was not the only academic to lose his job over the Illinois controversy.
Wise, the chancellor who rescinded Salaita's job offer, resigned in August after an independent ethics investigation discovered that she and other administrators had used their personal email accounts to correspond about Salaita's case, among other controversial decisions, believing they could keep those messages confidential.
"The university allows employees to use private computers and/or email accounts to conduct university business, however the position of the university — and of the public access counselor's office of the Illinois attorney general — is that those email exchanges must also be produced if potentially responsive to a FOIA request," according to a university news release.
"In a number of instances [Wise's] university-related emails written and stored on private email accounts were not produced in response to FOIA queries," the release stated.
The university's trustees rejected a negotiated resignation deal with the former chancellor that would have included a $400,000 contract bonus, and considered beginning dismissal procedures, the Tribune reported. But, the board ultimately accepted her resignation without the bonus.
Hardy wrote in an email that Wise remains employed at the university as a tenured professor.