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The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Steven Salaita, U of I professor denied job offer, speaks at DePaul

People from all different types of backgrounds packed a room in O’Connell Hall on Thursday to hear Steven Salaita speak. (Christian Ianniello / The DePaulia)

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Controversial professor Steven Salaita spoke at DePaul last week regarding the issues of academic freedom of speech as well as his views on the conflict between Israel and Palestine, on the final leg of his Chicagoland college speaking tour.

The controversy surrounding Salaita regards the tweets he posted during summer that focused on Israel’s policy in Gaza. Some people took them as being anti-Semitic, and it ultimately led to his job offer in the American Indian studies department at University of Illinois being revoked.

Students, activists, and people of all ages interested or affected by the conflict in the Middle East, as well as academic freedom, packed the small room in O’Connell Hall. Many in the overflow crowd had to sit on the ground given the lack of available seats.

A DePaul Students for Justice in Palestine member appropriately started off Salaita’s introduction with a disclaimer from the university stating, “We welcome open exchange of ideas with this program, but we also have expectations that such exchanges will be conducted appropriately and finally the views expressed here are not necessarily the views expressed by DePaul University,” which got a few chuckles from the crowd.

Salaita began his talk addressing the problem of academic freedom.

“The board decided I was anti-Semitic in 10 minutes when the hiring process took well over six months,” Salaita said.  “Board members have zero evaluations on my teaching skills … let alone how to compose a solid footnote.”

This type of story is not unique to DePaul. In 2005, Professor Norman Finkelstein got into a public disagreement regarding Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2005, which led to DePaul denying his tenure bid.

“A great surprise would be if Mr. Finkelstein came to speak also because he too got vilified for saying his views on Palestine,” said John Dworkin, a man who has attended all four of Salaita’s speaking tours.

Civility was a word that Salaita consistently acknowledged.

“They got Norman Finkelstein on collegiality, which in my case has upgraded to civility,” Salaita said, getting laughter from the crowd.

Salaita continued to speak about tone and how “the very act of criticism is considered collegial. It does not matter if you say pretty please.” Salaita talked about his use of “civility” in his tweets about Israel. “Nothing affected me more than the ice cream freezers,” Salaita said.

He connected his nostalgia of ice cream freezers storing sweets to make children happy, to ice cream freezers in Gaza storing the deceased bodies of children. He concluded his speech with a gruesome image painted in the audiences’ heads and where it all began, “thus I tweeted.”

The issue of academic censorship seems to be prevalent at DePaul according to an anonymous SJP member.

“One time a professor told me there was no basis in writing the occupy West Bank because it is a contested phrase” said the SJP member. “(And) after divestment, I realized a lot of students don’t believe in human rights for Palestinians.”

Posting political views on social media websites such as Twitter is a controversial topic, which started the problems for Salaita, affecting DePaul students as well.

“I am going through a problem now because I will be traveling to the West Bank in December and I have to filter what I say online. I am nervous and hope I will be able to cross,” said the SJP member.

Salaita is currently filing a lawsuit against U of I in an effort to get his job back, not to tweet brash ideas, but because he “deeply misses being in a classroom, a place where everyone has space to speak,” Salaita said.

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  • S

    StephenGOct 24, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    I am not a licensed attorney in Illinois, but it would appear that Steven Salaita’s odds of obtaining a preliminary injunction forcing the university to complete the employment process and take him on as a faculty member pending the resolution of any lawsuit are long indeed.

    Temporary injunctions requiring an employer to accept an employee back to work are exceedingly rare in Illinois. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals – the district where Salaita federal court lawsuit will be filed – has noted that although preliminary injunctions are available in employment cases, it has never granted one. Hetreed v. Allstate Insurance Co., 135 F.3d 1155 (7th Cir. 1998) (affirming denial of preliminary injunction returning plaintiff to work).

    Moreover, Salaita will most likely be required to complete the administrative process with the EEOC, and obtain a “right to sue letter”, before even being allowed to seek federal court injunctive relief.

    The Seventh Circuit leans toward the line of cases fro other federal circuits holding that a plaintiff may not seek preliminary relief before obtaining a right-to-sue letter. In Berg v. LaCrosse Cooler Co., 13 F.E.P.Cas. (BNA) 783, 784 (W.D.Wis. 1976), appeal dismissed, 548 F.2d 211 (7th Cir. 1977), the district court held that a plaintiff in an employment discrimination action was not entitled to seek a preliminary injunction forcing her employer to reinstate her to her former job when she had not exhausted the requisite administrative channels or obtained a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC.

    When Berg appealed to the Seventh Circuit, the court declined to address the issue of whether a district court has jurisdiction to grant private preliminary relief in a Title VII suit before administrative procedures have been exhausted because the underlying action had become moot. However, the court noted that it had previously ruled that to secure jurisdiction in a Title VII action, a plaintiff must follow the administrative procedures prescribed by Title VII, among them “the filing of a charge and receipt of a right-to-sue notice from the EEOC.” (Berg, supra, 548 F.2d at p, 212.; See also Fields v. Village of Skokie, 502 F.Supp. 456 (N.D.Ill. 1980).

    Even if Salaita obtains a right to sue letter from the EEOC, he faces an uphill battle in qualifying for preliminary injunctive relief. In the Seventh Circuit, to prevail on a motion for preliminary injunction in a discrimination case, the moving party must meet the same tests applied in other injunction cases. The moving party must establish (a) some likelihood of prevailing on the merits and (b) that in the absence of the injunction he or she will suffer irreparable harm for which there is no adequate remedy at law. After these hurdles are cleared, the court balances the harms to the parties and the public interest. Roth v. Lutheran General Hospital, 57 F.3d 1446 (7th Cir. 1995).

    Of these elements, establishing irreparable harm is Salita’s biggest hurdle; it is not easy to prove in Illinois. (See Cox v. City of Chicago, 868 F.2d 217, 223 (7th Cir. 1989) (delay in promotion does not constitute irreparable harm); Ekanem v. Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County, 589 F.2d 316 (7th Cir. 1978); Washington v. Walker, 529 F.2d 1062 (7th Cir. 1976); Theodore v. Elmhurst College, 421 F.Supp. 355 (N.D.Ill. 1976); Adams v. City of Chicago, 135 F.3d 1150 (7th Cir. 1998). In Roth v. Lutheran General Hospital, 57 F.3d 1446 (7th Cir. 1995), in affirming the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction that would have compelled a hospital to admit the plaintiff into its medical residency program, the Seventh Circuit observed that the plaintiff’s inability to attend a residency program of his choosing was not irreparable harm.

    Procedure and remedies aside, I am personally highly offended by Mr. Saliata’s unabashed anti-Semitism, and I am not rooting for him to win his case, nor am I rooting for him to find a platform for his extremist views at any national university.

  • A

    ArafatOct 15, 2014 at 8:38 am

    Funny thing. The non-Muslims attending this event would likely have no rights – no freedom of speech, religion (this includes atheism), sexual orientation, etc…- under most every Islamic nation extant.

    These non-Muslims, apparently unbeknownst even to themselves, are siding with those who would do them harm if given the chance.

  • C

    Chuck WilenskyOct 13, 2014 at 4:57 am

    How can you consider it a “firing” or him getting his job “back” when he was never hired. The University rescinded a contingent offer. Unfortunately this happens, to many people. I do not understand how he was qualified to teach in Native American Studies, with a background in English and subjects of Palestinians. My wife and I discussed this, her having a parent that is Athabascan, how he is qualified to discuss her culture and people.

    Why is he speaking here? This is disgusting.