A Scottsdale Community College professor who was accused of teaching material that condemned Islam will receive $155,000 after reaching a settlement with the Maricopa Community College District.
Professor Nicholas Damask sent the district a notice of claim in October after a lawsuit against him and the college was dismissed. The claim says the professor's reputation, as well as his and his family's safety, was jeopardized when the district failed to publicly defend his academic freedom.
Damask's attorney said the professor tried to resolve the issue with the district without filing a notice of claim. In those unsuccessful efforts, he asked the district for $250,000, which his attorney said is about half of what comparable defamation claims have earned. Damask also tried getting an additional $3,500 for attorney fees.
When filing the notice of claim, Damask sought $500,000 plus an amount to cover attorney fees or $666,667 in total.
The settlement reached was a payment of about 30% what the professor's claim notice sought plus $30,000 for attorney fees. In exchange, Damask agreed not go seek further legal action or compensation.
Neither side admitted to wrongdoing in the settlement.
Controversy erupted last spring
Damask came under fire last spring after a student in his online world politics course posted three questions from a quiz on social media that he viewed as condemning Islam.
Scottsdale Community College officials initially responded to the social media firestorm by apologizing and saying the quiz questions were inaccurate and inappropriate. The larger Maricopa County Community College District quickly stepped in, though, and criticized the rush to judge the professor and not fully consider his right's to academic freedom.
The student, Mohamed Sabra, and the Arizona chapter of the Council for American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, asking the college and Damask stop teaching materials on the topic until they "do not have the primary effect of disapproving of Islam."A judge dismissed the suit last August, saying Damask's course did not inhibit the student's personal worship in any way.
CAIR filed an appeal in January with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to overturn that decision.
The professor told The Arizona Republic last year he was concerned CAIR's action was intended to intimidate teachers into not going into controversial issues. At the time, he added CAIR wasn't going to make him back down.
Reaction to settlement
CAIR's Executive Director Azza Abuseif released a statement on Wednesday, following Damask's settlement with the college, saying the district's choice to settle shows that Islamophobia is still a publicly acceptable form of bigotry.
"This act has devastating, real impacts on real people — our friends, family and neighbors of the Muslim faith," Abuseif said. "We must publicly condemn Islamophobia of rewarding public school teachers who violate the Constitution by forcing their students to condemn a religion."
Damask and the district issued a statement that settling the claim reflects the college's commitment to academic freedom, including the freedom of faculty to teach and choose materials, curriculum and assignments.
The statement said the college is committed to the creation of a committee on academic freedom, which will be involved in matters impacting that freedom.
"At Maricopa - we continually strive to better protect our faculty's right of academic freedom," the district's Interim Chancellor Steven Gonzales said. "We support our community and will continue promoting a culture conducive to teaching and learning."
The statement said the college has revisited its policies and procedures to address student complaints and redoubled its efforts to provide training information and guidance to administrative staff.