State

University of Illinois wrongly revoked job offer over Israel tweets, professors group says

CHAMPAIGN — A report from a national professors group says the University of Illinois wrongly rescinded a job offer for a professor after he made critical and profane comments about Israel on Twitter.

Steven Salaita had been offered a position at the school's Champaign-Urbana campus to teach American Indian studies, but the offer was withdrawn last year. The report released Tuesday by the American Association of University Professors says the school violated principals of academic freedom, as well as Salaita's due process rights as a faculty member.

The report also says the situation with Salaita has "cast a pall of uncertainty" over the degree of academic freedom at the University of Illinois.

Henry Reichman, who chaired the association's committee issuing the report, told the Chicago Tribune that the content of Salaita's comments isn't the focal point, but rather his freedom to say them.

"In effect, we believe that statements on social media are no different than other forms of extramural expression," said Reichman, professor emeritus of history at California State University at East Bay. "It may not be particularly wise to make these kind of comments, but you have the right to do so."

School spokeswoman Robin Kaler told The (Champaign) News-Gazette that the university had responded to a request from the professors group to comment on draft report, but did not hear back. The school said in a statement that it's "surprised and disappointed" by the report, and that Salaita was never an employee.

Salaita accepted a job offer from the school in September 2013 to start teaching the next fall, and he quit his job at Virginia Tech. But the job offer was revoked after he made a series of posts criticizing Israel in a conflict in Gaza last summer.

Salaita has sued the school, saying it violated his right to free speech and damaged his career. The school has asked that the case be dismissed, and says he wasn't an employee because the Board of Trustees hadn't yet approved his hire.

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