UIUC Reaches Settlement with Steven Salaita

Steven Salaita and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have reached a settlement. According to a press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights, which helped represent Steven, Salaita will receive $875,000 from UIUC. According to this press report, he’ll receive $600,000 plus legal fees. Perhaps the $275,000 discrepancy is for the legal fees. I don’t know. The UIUC has already spent $1.3 million in its own defense. All told, this effort to silence an outspoken critic of Israel has cost the university nearly two and half million dollars.

Many of us had hoped that a settlement would include Steven getting his job back. For his sake and ours: to vindicate principles we all hold dear. I would be less than honest if I didn’t say I was disappointed.

But while this was a major battle for principle, there was a person at the heart of that battle: Steven. Since he first got the news of his firing, he and his family have been through hell. A protracted legal battle would invariably have been long and difficult, its outcome uncertain. It’s all well and good for those of us on the sidelines to say he should keep fighting—and he himself might have wanted to do so—but Steven has a family to support and a life to live. If this settlement helps him do that, I stand with him. Firmly. Throughout this fight, he has had my firm support, respect, admiration, and affection; now that it is over, he has all those things even more.

I know many of you will wonder about the fate of the boycott: though different statements voiced the demand differently, many statements had insisted that the boycott would continue till Steven was reinstated. It’s difficult now to know how to proceed. Because there was never a formal body that called for the boycott, there isn’t a formal body to call it off. So I’m only going to speak for myself. The boycott, I think, has been tremendously successful in raising awareness, in turning what might have been a backdoor, behind-the-scenes legal case into a full-on battle for free speech in the 21st century; certainly the university was always very mindful of it and its effects. I’m proud of that. But I don’t see a point in continuing a fight when its chief protagonist has resolved it. I know the boycott has been tremendously hard on many departments at UIUC, particularly those departments that were most in support of Steven. For all these reasons, I see no reason to continue it. Others may reach different conclusions. I respect their decisions.

As I was finishing up this post, Steven responded to an email I had sent him with the following:

We fought hard.  I tried my very best to represent those invested in the issue with dignity and decency.  And I hope this sort of thing never happens to anybody else.

I would say that Steven did more than try his very best to represent those invested in the issue with dignity and decency. He actually did represent those invested in the issue with dignity and decency. And while I don’t have a crystal ball, I’d be surprised if any university ever tried to pull this kind of stunt again.

UPDATE: According to this press report, the $275,000 is for legal fees.


  1. Keyboard Resistor (@freespeechlover) November 12, 2015 at 1:04 pm | #

    Hi Corey, I had the same kind of response as you. And then I found myself feeling a kind of melancholy. This really is a Palestinian story of expulsion and continual movement of a kind of homelessness that even that word seems unable to name.

    I agree with you that universities will not try this again. I know that you are right about that, and that this is where Steven really did represent his profession. I don’t think there are ways that the rest of us can pay him back. Continuing to boycott would not do so, nor can I imagine something else that would.

    The situation reminds me of the way that the state system and international community talk about Palestinian refugees, as abstract individuals that are exchangeable with everyone else and can be resettled and paid some money to settle accounts. I suppose on a positive note-at least it’s not “necropolitics.”

    I just find myself saying, “Yep. This is what it means “to be” Palestinian.”

    • Jen Gaboury November 12, 2015 at 1:51 pm | #

      Faculty on search committee/s could pay him back by offering him a stellar position.

  2. Snarki, child of Loki November 12, 2015 at 1:22 pm | #

    “universities will not try this again”

    One can hope, but there’s always a new ignorant generation to be educated. Painfully, with luck.

    • Andrew November 12, 2015 at 3:05 pm | #

      This capitulation ensures the exact opposite. It practically guarantees that it will happen again.

  3. Susan Davis November 12, 2015 at 1:22 pm | #

    I agree with you. here at UIUC, too, it is a little disheartening. $600k is about 1/3 the football coach’s annual salary. U of I has very deep pockets, and play very hard ball, and were under no pressure (except publicity pressure) not to drag this out for a very long time. I hope this is enough money to keep Steven and his family going until he’s settled with a full time and permanent job.

    On the larger issues, he did a stellar job. And he started discussions that need to start. UIUC and the press will stick to the story that he was fired for his tweets — but it is broadly known that he was fired for his support of BDS. That can’t be covered up, and it is very important.

    Back on our campus — one important lesson is: a narrow sliver of faculty, in this case made up of Cary Nelson, Nick Burbules and Joyce Tolliver don’t speak for the whole faculty. They gavethe admin spectacularly bad advice –which the Admin was happy to take. The faculty as a whole has to speak for itself, and democratically. Otherwise this kind of catastrophe will happen again.

    • Keyboard Resistor (@freespeechlover) November 12, 2015 at 6:12 pm | #

      The other bright spot-Burbules and Tolliver along with the guy from Labor Studies were all exposed.

      • David Green November 12, 2015 at 8:47 pm | #

        You’re referring to Michael LeRoy, who is a major piece of work on a number of fronts.

  4. xenon2 November 12, 2015 at 1:56 pm | #

    Disappointed, but understanding.

    I think some university will try something similar, in near future.
    The university ‘as corporation’ will not disappoint.

  5. jonnybutter November 12, 2015 at 2:47 pm | #

    I am a little disappointed too, mainly that he wasn’t reinstated, but also that they couldn’t impose a bigger monetary penalty onto UIUC. Notice that the figure was kept under the million-dollar mark – kind of the ‘19.99’ effect in reverse; it’s actually about a million dollars, but there is a psychological effect of it being reported as less-than. Yes, hardball. A few hundred grand is chump change to them, so you know that was deliberate.

    I wish I could feel confident that a big public university won’t try this *kind* of thing again – perhaps a less obvious, less dipshit version.

    Dr Salaita didn’t deserve any of this, from beginning to end. I’m glad he got a settlement, but he has paid, and probably will continue to pay, a larger price. In light of that – in light of his not being reinstated – I would think UIUC deserves some kind of continued sanction. Whether what is possible in that regard is also practical and effective is a question I leave to people who would know better than I. But in principle UIUC absolutely shouldn’t be off the hook for anything. Remember, they not only ‘unhired’ him at the last minute, but also had him quit his previous tenured position, his wife quit her job, and they sold and moved, etc.. It’s scummy what they did.

  6. Kenny November 12, 2015 at 2:50 pm | #

    No matter how you look at it, $875K is far less than the value of a tenured position on a university faculty, so this is in no sense a “victory.” This is not a matter of blaming an individual for settling; I am certain that this is a good decision for Salaita and his family, and perhaps between whatever windfall the writing and appearances may be worth these couple years and the likelihood that he will find another permanent position he’ll end up all the wealthier for it. But on the political side the university doesn’t have his classes, has a significantly weakened Indigenous Studies program, and hasn’t even paid much to get out of it. Not a total loss, but a loss.

  7. Andrew November 12, 2015 at 3:05 pm | #

    I understand that the situation looks quite different from the perspective of the victimized scholar and that’s a position I am not in (and hopefully, never will be.)

    But let’s be honest: this was a complete defeat. We have now set a price for what it takes for wealthy donors or corrupt administrators to silence an academic whose views they don’t like: a little over 800 grand. For many of the elite who seek to destroy the public university and the values it stood for, this is chump change. Billionaire donors wouldn’t hesitate to spend 800, 000 dollars on a weekend getaway. What makes anyone think that this will discourage them from directing that “walking-around money” to targeting climate scientists, other anti-Zionists, socialists or others?

    That’s why I think the boycott needs to continue. UIUC has not admitted they were wrong, they have not taken steps to prevent it from happening again and they have not rectified the situation they and their total disregard for academic freedom and faculty governance have caused. If the boycott ends, these bastards will have gotten away with it.

    • Keyboard Resistor (@freespeechlover) November 12, 2015 at 6:13 pm | #

      Hi Andrew, If you are the Andrew I think you are, thank you for all of the hard work you did to get the emails out in the public square.

      • Andrew November 12, 2015 at 10:03 pm | #

        I wish I were, but I’m not.

  8. jonnybutter November 12, 2015 at 3:42 pm | #

    perhaps between whatever windfall the writing and appearances may be worth these couple years and the likelihood that he will find another permanent position he’ll end up all the wealthier for it.

    Ah, the fine art of concern trolling.

  9. M. K. BRUSSEL November 12, 2015 at 5:10 pm | #

    It was a measly settlement in view of what Steven’s future is likely to be. With no comparable academic appointment foreseeable, and an academic lifetime of about 35 years, with compensation of about $120,000/year, he should have asked for much more, in the millions. It would have been worth the effort. With a more sensitive and receptive administration now at Illiinois, Steven’s legal help should not have aquiesced so readily…

  10. Scott MacKenzie November 12, 2015 at 8:27 pm | #

    I am happy for Steven to have this over, but this is no way a victory for academic freedom or the freedom of speech. I changes nothing about how students and faculty and potential hires are treated by UI in terms of speech and the free exchange of ideas. The payout is, what, 2 1/2 years of Phyllis Wise’s salary not to be Chancellor, while she maintains tenure. The interim Chancellor made it clear that it was a comparatively inexpensive solution by stating that it was less expensive to settle than to fight for another year (looking at UI’s bills, way less expensive). The price of the settlement will in no way deter further actions like this; it seems like a lot of money for an individual, but for UI it is pocket change. For those who promoted and support the boycott, to now say that it should stop, abrogates any commitment to academic freedom or freedom of speech.

  11. Justin Schwartz November 13, 2015 at 12:31 am | #

    Seriously, you’d be surprised they didn’t try this again? I’d be astounded if they didn’t. A substantial settlement with a gag order in the Finkelstein case didn’t stop UICU from thus stunt, and while the settlement hurts, it’s basically in the cost-of-doing-business range. The total operating budget for the three UI campuses (and UICU is the largest) is $5.6 billion. https://www.uillinois.edu/our/issues/budget___tuition/ a cost of less than $1 million doesn’t even rate. They misplace that sort of money on a regular basis. I don’t blame saliata for not fighting more, but face it, we _lost_.

  12. J. Otto Pohl November 13, 2015 at 1:00 pm | #

    This is good news. Although I am still rather dissapointed in how extremely weak the response by historians was in signing the boycott petitions. I would like to think it was entirely due to antipathy to the person collecting them which was me. But, I suspect there might also be something else going on in the discipline of history in the US that might it adverse to supporting Salaita in this case.

  13. J. Otto Pohl November 13, 2015 at 1:02 pm | #

    This is good news. I am still rather dissapointed at the extremely poor showing of history as a discipline in providing signatures for the boycott petitions. I would like to think this was completely a result of antipathy to the person collecting the signatures which was me. But, I think there might also be something else in the current make up of the history discipline in the US that made the unwilling to support Salaita on this issue.

  14. Corey Robin November 13, 2015 at 3:55 pm | #

    I had this to say about the settlement over at the comments section of Crooked Timber. I’m simply reprinting it here.


    Let’s review some facts.

    As of August 3 of 2014, the UIUC had fired Steven Salaita and thought that was the end of the story. Phyllis Wise was the chancellor, Chris Kelly was the president of the UI system.

    Steven Salaita and the rest of us who were active in this campaign — some 5000 academics across the globe, not to mention countless number of students and other supporters — put that university administration through a year of living hell. I’m never quite sure around here how many of the commenters are actually academics or not, but if you are (and even if you’re not), just imagine being the subject of daily obloquy throughout the international community of which your institution is a part. Just imagine your institution becoming a rogue state throughout the world. Just imagine your institution being thought of as a serial violator of every value that the international community of which it is a part holds dear.

    We at Brooklyn College have some sense of this because for a few weeks a few years ago we were almost in exactly the same situation. I can tell you from firsthand experience: the entire institution was brought to a halt. That’s pretty much what UIUC has endured, not for a few weeks but for an entire year and then some.

    How do I know this? Because virtually every professor who’s there — whether they were pro-Salaita or anti-, whether they were pro-boycott or anti- — has told me so. As have multiple reports both internal and external to that institution.

    Oh, and there’s this: those two major leaders of the institution, Phyllis Wise and Chris Kelly. Where are they today? They’re gone. Wise was ushered out in a case of striking public humiliation and ignominy (remember that hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonus money she lost?), Kelly just ushered out. And not it’s not b/c anyone thought they handled anything of this particularly well.

    Now, as I said in the OP, Steven didn’t get his job back, and that really does suck. Obviously that would have been the ultimate victory. But the way everyone here is acting as if the next university administrator will simply tally up the costs and make the same calculation that Wise or Kelly did, I just think that’s insane. For a few reasons.

    First, there’s the year of business being ground to a halt. Even the UI’s own administrators will tell you that the public campaign took a tremendous toll on them and their administrations. If you think another university is just going to do that all over again, well, I guess we have different understandings of university administrators. I think of them as very timid and risk averse. Increasingly the bite of the pro-Israel forces is becoming less and less potent. We see this everywhere (most recently with Obama and the Iran deal). The bite of the pro-academic freedom (and yes, anti-Israel) forces is becoming stronger and stronger. I think you’re vastly underestimating how nervous university administrators are, and that a simple balance of forces calculation could lead them to bend the right way.

    Second, the money. The university wound up spending over 2 million dollars on this. Here’s where our conflation of the American academy with roughly 50 or so elite universities (Ivy League and very good state universities like Michigan or Wisconsin or UIUC) gets us into trouble. You guys act as if two million dollars is chump change. I’m at a university where we’re squeezing every last dollar out of the adjunct budget in order to make up a 5.5 million dollar budget shortfall, just this year alone. The notion that a university administrator would just walk into this thinking, okay, we’ll lose two million, but what the hell, let’s do this — again, it’s ludicrous. Maybe at more elite universities, but not at the bulk of the institutions where most of us do our work.

    Third, there’s us. Again, not sure how many of you are academics, but we’re acting as if we’re not actors here, people with agency. We’re the ones who pounded the shit out of UIUC this whole year. We’re the ones who made Wise and Kelly take the toll that they did. I don’t get the sense of powerlessness and passivity that I find here — and not just here but throughout the internet. I mean I get it: we all often feel this way. But we had a major impact. Again, think back to where things stood on August 3, 2014.

    Did we get what we ultimately wanted? Obviously not. And I’d be a fool if I said we did. But we exacted a tremendous cost on the university. In the future we can exact even a higher cost. Or at least we should do our damn best to try.

    But what we should really stop doing is acting as if we’re not a part of this story, as if they write the entire script. They don’t.

    There’s a wonderful writer who often says just these things. So I’m not being original and can’t take the credit. His name is George Scialabba. You should check his stuff out.

    • Mardy December 6, 2015 at 8:50 pm | #

      I’m sorry, but we lost, homie. You wrote a lot here and I checked it every month. But this settlement will not stand the test of time. You say you’d be surprised if they pulled this again. But the question is, after today, will another tenured or vying for tenure, professor feel they have an increase in security after criticizing Israel in the same vein as Steven once did.

      The answer is no.

      What they do know is that their name and life’s work will be dragged through the mud for a year and half, they will lose their job and be black listed from employment from the best institutions, and their families will suffer immensely for it, will the possibility of homelessness constantly looming over their heads. If they can weather all of that for a year and a half… They miiiight get a cool 600 thousand out of it… If they’re lucky.

      Or.. They can just keep their mouth shut and play ball, enjoy what security they have left and hold on their careers and the respect they’ve built.

      The costs outweigh the benefits.

      I’m sorry but we lost.

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