¶ … civil lawsuit that has been covered in a newspaper article. The main legal arguments are given. The decision of the court and the reasons given will also be looked into. The agreements and disagreements that followed will also be discussed.
Saliata v. Kennedy
This case is about a lecturer's employment status at the University of Illinois after he made controversial statements on his twitter account or 'handle'. The following are the facts taken from the Complaint, which the civil court must verify as true for it to grant a motion to dismiss. Dr. Steven Salaita, the lecturer, was a tenured instructor at Virginia Tech when he learned that the University of Illinois was looking for a professor to teach its American Indian Studies course (Salaita v. Kennedy).
The lecturer, who had specialized in Native American and Indigenous studies, applied to be considered for the position, and soon after the university began a vetting process (Salaita v. Kennedy). The vetting process ended in the university sending a letter to the professor; this letter is largely at the heart of this lawsuit (Salaita v. Kennedy).
Dr. Salaita resigned from his teaching position at Virginia Tech out of the expectation that he would soon be starting to teach at the University in August. Not long after he commenced the process of moving his family to Urbana where the university is located. During the same time, another conflict had emerged in the never-ending rivalry between Israel and Palestine, which ended up in deaths of about 2100 Palestinians who included women and children (Salaita v. Kennedy).
The professor took to his twitter handle to voice his disapproval. To put it mildly, the tweets by Salaita were heavily critical of Israel's actions and the language used therein was harsh and profanity-ridden. The professor's tweets soon got huge media coverage which then forced the university to issue a public statement regarding his employment status (Salaita v. Kennedy). In reaction to a newspaper reporter's request for comment, the University's spokesperson said that the professor was to begin his employment at the University of Illinois on the 16th of August and that he was to be made associate professor, teaching American Indian Studies programs (Salaita v. Kennedy).
The spokesperson then further stated the university's policy to recognize and uphold the freedom of speech rights for all its employees. Despite this strong initial support, the University of Illinois soon changed its voice on the matter. Emails and letters obtained through the state's Freedom of Information Act showed that donors, students, and alumni had written to the University's Chancellor (Phyllis Wise), to air concerns against the professor joining the institution. One writer, to be specific, who is said to be a multi-million dollar donor, said that he would be ceasing his support to the university because of the professor and his tweet(s) (Salaita v. Kennedy).
The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois then met on September 11th the same year to vote on new academic staff appointments. The Board then in a single vote approved the appointment of 120 new academic staff and then decided to vote separately on Dr. Steven Salaita's appointment. Chancellor Phyllis Wise stated that in spite of the earlier letter that had affirmed the professor was being recommended for appointment, she was not doing so. The Board of Trustees then voted 8-1 to deny Dr. Salaita's appointment (Salaita v. Kennedy).
The vote took place about a month after the official start of the semester and at a time when all other associate professors had already started lectures, and about a month since the Salaita's appointment date (Salaita v. Kennedy). According to the lawsuit filed by Salaita, this was the first time in the history of the university that something like this had happened. The Complaint has nine counts against different defendants. The first count alleges that the President and Vice President of the University, the Chancellor and the Board of Trustees violated §1983 in their retaliation against Salaita for exercising his free speech rights (the 1st amendment) (Salaita v. Kennedy).
The second count alleges that the same defendants in the first count denied Dr. Salaita the rights to a procedural due process by taking away his job without any post deprivation remedies. The third count alleges that all the named defendants...
Salaita his job in breach of §1985. The fourth count claims promissory estoppels against the Board of Trustees (Salaita v. Kennedy).
The fifth count alleges contract violation against the Board of Trustees. The sixth and seven counts alleges that several donor defendants gravely interfered with the complainant's business and contractual relations (Salaita v. Kennedy).The eighth count alleges all the named defendants intentionally brought about emotional distress on the complainant. Finally the tenth count is a state-law destruction of evidence claim against the Chancellor for destroying a two page letter from one of the donors (Salaita v. Kennedy).
All the defendants the filed a motion to dismiss all the ten counts based on Rule 12(b)(6). Such a motion to dismiss due to a party's failure to state a claim, challenges the legal adequacy of complaints, for instance Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Chi. Lodge No. 7,570 F.3d 811, 820. Complaint must contain therein sufficient facts to state a claim to remedy that is reasonable in its face, thus under rule 12(b)(6) a court must first accept the version of the plaintiff's allegations (Salaita v. Kennedy).
The court doesn't have to accept any legal conclusions or any arguments for a cause of action supported just by conclusory statements. The University's main argument is that at no point did it ever enter into a valid legal contract with Dr. Salaita (Salaita v. Kennedy). The University also argued that the language used in its first letter was conditional on the Board of Trustees' approval, and therefore its acceptance of Salaita's application was similarly only conditional (Salaita v. Kennedy).
In response to this second argument, the plaintiff argued that the condition was only on performance under the teaching contract, and not the offer itself. Furthermore the doctor argued that the condition was just a formality and that the approval of the Board was only ministerial in nature (Salaita v. Kennedy).
The main issue in dispute in the case is the agreement between the university and Dr. Salaita. On one hand, the professor claims that by signing the university's offer letter and sending it back to the university, he had then officially entered into an employment contract; a contract which the university breached by depriving him of his job due to his political utterances (Salaita v. Kennedy).
On the other hand, the university claims that the professor never became its employee and that his appointment was conditional on the Board's approval. Most of the arguments from both sides concern whether or not there was a contract. Thus the court begun by first examining contract violation and then the promissory estoppels counts before looking into the rest of the arguments (Salaita v. Kennedy).
Personal and Legal Opinion
Even though there was a petition that had been signed by 1,300 people, a petition that swayed the board of trustees vote, not every member of the university's alumni association supported Dr. Salaita's termination (Flanagin, 2014). Indeed as Pauline Park, who was of the university's doctoral class of 1994 noted, that if the decision to revoke Dr. Salaita's appointment was due to the remarks he posted on his twitter handle on Israel's atrocities on the Gaza strip then that would be amount to a violation of his 1st amendment rights (Flanagin, 2014).
She wrote this in a letter to the university's student paper and the American Association of University Professors. The association had also previously, in its 1940 statement on the principles of faculty freedom and tenure, declared that academic staff should be free of institutional censorship when they write or speak as citizens (Flanagin, 2014).
Pauline Parks opinion is one that is shared by quite a large proportion of the university's student body. Another student, one Stephanie Youssef, wrote in the university's paper that in spite of the fact that the institution's administration claimed to uphold the rights of academic freedom, the actions it had taken against the professor were nothing short of censorship (Flanagin, 2014).
She added that the path taken to a censored university community is a slippery one, since defining what a member of faculty or a student might find offensive or inflammatory is a matter of opinion. Likewise a group of Jewish students and faculty members at the university gathered to perform a special tashlich ritual to protest against the termination of Dr. Salaita's appointment (Flanagin, 2014).
According to reports filed by Samantha Brotman for Mondoweiss, a group of about 30 people of Jewish origin gathered on a bridge at sunset in the university's main campus. Most of them wore stickers over their mouths emblazoned with the letter I that was placed depicted sideways so as to reflect the university's…
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