Aletho News

ΑΛΗΘΩΣ

Settlement Reached in Case of Professor Fired for “Uncivil” Tweets

Center for Constitutional Rights | November 12, 2015

Chicago Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel Loevy & Loevy announced the settlement of Professor Steven Salaita’s case against the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) for firing him from his tenured position over his personal tweets criticizing the Israeli government’s assault on Gaza in 2014. Professor Salaita sued UIUC, the university Board of Trustees and high-level administrators for violating his First Amendment right to free speech and for breach of contract. Salaita’s firing became a flashpoint for debates over academic freedom, free speech, and the repression of Palestinian rights advocacy. In exchange for Professor Salaita’s agreement to release his claims, the university has agreed to pay $875,000.

“This settlement is a vindication for me, but more importantly, it is a victory for academic freedom and the First Amendment,” said Professor Salaita. “The petitions, demonstrations, and investigations, as well as the legal case, have reinvigorated American higher education as a place of critical thinking and rigorous debate, and I am deeply grateful to all who have spoken out.”

Professor Salaita’s firing prompted student walkouts; the cancellation of more than three dozen scheduled talks and conferences at the school; further pledges to boycott UIUC by more than 5,000 academics; a vote of no confidence in the university administration by 16 UIUC academic departments; and public condemnation by prominent academic organizations, including the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the Modern Language Association, and the Society of American Law Teachers. In April, the AAUP released a scathing report on Salaita’s termination and, in June, voted to censure the UIUC for its actions. In August, a federal judge rejected the university’s argument that Professor Salaita had not actually been hired, despite a contract and his impending family move to the university, writing, “If the Court accepts the University’s argument, the entire American academic hiring process as it now operates would cease to exist.”

Within hours of the court’s decision, Chancellor Phyllis Wise, who sent Professor Salaita the letter notifying him of his termination a year prior, resigned from the UIUC. The following day, the university revealed that administrators had been using personal email accounts in an attempt to avoid publicly releasing their correspondence. In one email released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Chancellor Wise admitted that she was not only using her private email because of the litigation, but was deleting her messages after sending. Provost Ilesanmi Adesida resigned a few weeks later. Prior FOIA productions had revealed that wealthy UIUC donors had threatened to withhold funding unless Professor Salaita was terminated.

“Professor Salaita’s case galvanized champions of academic freedom and Palestinian rights activists alike, making clear that punishing speech―even speech that dares to criticize Israeli government atrocities―will not be tolerated. It resulted in widespread condemnation of the university’s actions and a federal court decision finding he had a contract and his tweets were protected by the First Amendment. Professor Salaita has in fact won―and this settlement permits him to move on and refocus on his work as a premier scholar and an excellent teacher,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Deputy Legal Director Maria LaHood.

In July 2014, after his contract with the university had been signed, Professor Salaita tweeted a number of strongly worded messages from his private account expressing his outrage and dismay at the Israeli government’s attacks in Gaza, which killed more than 500 children. Professor Salaita’s firing is part of a broader crackdown on activism for Palestinian rights that includes event cancellations, baseless legal complaints such as the ongoing case in Washington against Olympia Food Co-op board members for boycotting Israeli goods, administrative disciplinary actions, false and inflammatory accusations of terrorism and antisemitism, and legislation to prohibit boycotts of Israeli goods and institutions. The Center for Constitutional Rights co-authored a report this fall with the organization Palestine Legal on the widespread attempts to silence U.S. activists critical of Israel’s policies, called “The Palestine Exception to Free Speech”.

“Make no mistake: the size of this settlement is an implicit admission of the strength of Professor Salaita’s constitutional and contractual claims,” said Anand Swaminathan of Loevy & Loevy. “He has scored a major victory for those who care about free speech and academic freedom. In the future, university administrators will have to think twice before they choose the interests of wealthy donors and alumni over upholding their constitutional obligations. This legal victory could not have been possible without the support of a large and committed movement of activists and academics.”

For more information on the case, visit CCR’s Salaita v. Kennedy case page.

Loevy & Loevy is one of the nation’s largest and most successful civil rights law firms, dedicated to seeking justice for those whose civil rights have been violated and for whistleblowers. Our willingness to take hard cases to trial and win them has yielded a nationally recognized reputation for success in the courtroom. We only take cases we passionately believe in, we forge close bonds with our clients, and we are proud to have achieved outstanding results for them with truly uncommon consistency. Visit us at http://www.loevy.com.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

November 12, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Full Spectrum Dominance, War Crimes | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Chicago Tribune Sues Mayor Emanuel for Refusing to Release Private Emails About Corrupt Red Light System

By Joshua Brown | PINAC | October 30, 2015

The Chicago Tribune is suing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for not complying with public records requests after the mayor refused to release communications about city business conducted through private emails and text messages.

The lawsuit states that the mayor uses private phones and private emails to conduct city business as a way to avoid the public release of his city related correspondences and activity.

The Chicago Tribune seeks to receive emails and electronic communications pertaining to a controversial red light camera system in Chicago, a system mired in controversy and corruption.

The yellow lights were timed shorter with an intended outcome to catch more people running red lights, resulting in more traffic ticket money for the city, according to an investigative report by the Tribune last year.

More than $500 million was generated from the Chicago red light traffic system, the largest in the nation, according to the lawsuit filed last month, which can be read here.

City officials boasted the red light system would make intersections and driving safer, but an uptick in injury-related crashes occurred as a result of the red light system because of the shorter duration of yellow lights.

Because of these crashes, 50 of the cameras were removed at 25 intersections within the city.

Redflex Traffic Systems was the vendor that created the system along with former Chicago city official John Bills. It was quickly discovered that Bills and Redflex CEO David Kidwell were involved in a $2 million bribery scheme to implement the red light system in Chicago.

Kidwell and Bills were both relieved of their duties.

It is common for officials to use personal email to skirt Freedom of Information Act requests.

Recently, Phyllis Wise who is the Chancellor of The University of Illinois used personal emails to avoid Freedom of Information Act requests.

The Chancellor has since resigned from the university. Additionally, it was brought to light that Hillary Clinton used private emails to conduct official government business too.

This is the second time the Chicago Tribune has sued Mayor Emanuel; in June 2015 suit was filed regarding the non-disclosure of emails of a multi-million-dollar no-bid Chicago Public Schools contract. That suit is pending.

According to Chicago Tribune Editor Gerould Kern:

“We are seeking the release of public records on matters of great interest to citizens, but the city refuses to divulge them. Regrettably, the city’s denial is part of a pattern of resistance to releasing public documents covered by the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. We are compelled, therefore, to go to court for the second time in three months to force the city’s compliance.”

But Mayor Emanuel said he has done nothing wrong:

“We always comply and work through all of the Freedom of Information (requests) in the most responsive way possible. I have a practice that my political and personal stays on my private email, and city business is on the government, and that’s the way I operate.”

Written communications by government officials relating to city or government business are subject to Freedom of Information Act requests, including electronic communications.

October 30, 2015 Posted by | Corruption, Deception | , , , | 1 Comment

Steven Salaita, Palestine and Free Speech

steven-salatia

By Margaret Kimberley | Black Agenda Report | August 12, 2015

Steven Salaita is a renowned academic in the field of Native American Studies. That is why the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) hired him in 2013 as a tenured associate professor in the American Indian Studies Program. Salaita resigned from his previous position and had every reason to believe that he was on his way to Illinois. However he was terminated on August 1, 2014.

In the summer of 2014 Israel was in the midst of a murderous campaign in Gaza which killed more than 2,000 people, including 500 children. Steven Salaita is a Palestinian-American and like millions of people he vented anger and outrage as the horrific war crime continued. His posts on twitter garnered the attention of the administration and donors at the University of Illinois and he was fired before he even began working.

From the beginning Salaita waged a courageous fight to prove that he was in fact already an employee and to see that the university paid a price for mocking academic freedom, ruining his career and upending his personal life. He has succeeded in some of those efforts. The university experienced nearly universal condemnation and was censured by the American Association of University Professors for violating the principles of academic freedom. In addition, prominent persons such as Cornel West are boycotting the University of Illinois and have cancelled appearances in support of Salaita’s struggle.

UIUC has been on the losing end of the court battle, with one judge ordering the university to release emails related to the case and another ruling that Salaita’s lawsuit can proceed. That decision renders as patently false the university’s claim that he was not yet an employee. Salaita is enjoying legal victories and has secured a temporary position at the American University in Beirut, but his difficult experience points out that in America speech isn’t so free if powerful interests are taken to task.

Criticism of Israel is the third rail in American life. Politicians dutifully toe the line and either praise Israel without question or say nothing and hope to be unnoticed. Even local elected officials who have no role in foreign policy secure campaign funds and protection from political challengers if they support Zionism. They may face defeat should they do otherwise.

The Salaita case shows the insidious nature of the censorship that is imposed from without which inevitably creates self-censorship for millions of people. Even as Israel wages a very public campaign against congressional approval of the P5+1 nuclear energy agreement with Iran, the president still gives words of support to a country which boldly and blatantly interferes with his policy agenda.

Not only did president Obama praise Israel even after he was publicly humiliated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he claimed an equivalence between that country’s apartheid system and the black American struggle for freedom. Among the many shameful things he has said in his political life that is among the worst.

Taking on Israel in a public forum is a daunting task. The rules may be unwritten but they are real and Salaita’s experience is not lost on others. There is no other issue that engenders so much fear, silence and acquiescence. So great was the fear of retribution that the university’s trustees and administration made a decision which they should have known would come back to haunt them. Such incompetence only happens in an institution operating in a state of corrosive group think, outside pressure and systemic rot.

The university has spent more than $843,000 in public money to defend its losing cause. The soon to be former chancellor and other staff tried to hide their dirty work by using personal email addresses and not just in regards to the Salaita case. This inherently unethical behavior was meant to thwart any search for public information but shoes have begun to drop as more wrong doing comes to light. Chancellor Phyllis Wise, who orchestrated the firing, recently resigned but she will still have a $300,000 faculty salary and receive a $400,000 golden parachute.

When Salaita chose to fight for his right to work and to speak freely he revealed a lot more about the rotten state of academia and its connections with wealthy donors. Even public institutions are beholden to big money and live in fear of losing favor and funding. In an era of triumphant neo-liberalism everything is a commodity, including higher education.

Salaita could have condemned any country other than Israel using the same language and would not have lost his job. Such is the power of Zionism and its defenders. They have what amounts to a gangster protection racket, enforced not with guns but with money and positions for those who go along. Those who don’t are made to suffer.

The right to speak freely does not extend to everyone in this country, but then again it never did. Because of people like Steven Salaita some of that injustice is out in the open for all to see. American politicians, the corporate media, and big universities may still genuflect in Israel’s direction but that obedience shouldn’t extend to every citizen. Salaita is fighting not just for himself, but for true democracy for everyone.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She can be reached via Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.

August 12, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment