(JTA) — A professor whose job offer at the University of Illinois was rescinded following anti-Israel tweets demanded that the offer be reinstated.
Steven Salaita, making his first public remarks since losing the appointment, said at a news conference Tuesday that the university’s decision last month to take back its offer of a tenured position in its American Indian studies program caused him personal hardship and represented a threat to academic freedom.
Salaita’s attorney on Tuesday threatened a lawsuit if the offer is not reinstated, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“Professor Salaita, of course, is prepared to pursue legal remedies,” Anand Swminathan told the Tribune. “He will ask a court to require the university to complete the employment process and reinstate him.
“Professor Salaita’s goal is not to go down that road, but he is prepared to do so.”
The university in Champaign-Urbana revoked the offer after objections emerged from a number of corners — including major university donors — about Salaita’s strongly worded tweets criticizing Israel’s military actions in Gaza. The school called the tweets “uncivil.”
Salaita countered at the news conference on the Illinois campus, “My comments were not made in a classroom or on campus; they were made through my personal Twitter account. The university’s policing and judgment of those messages places any faculty member at risk of termination if university administrators deem the tone or content of his or her speech ‘uncivil’ without regard to the forum or medium in which the speech is made.”
In response to Salaita’s remarks, the university’s associate chancellor for public affairs, Robin Kaler, said the university stood by its decision not to hire Salaita.
His appointment had not been approved by the university’s board of trustees, normally a pro-forma step. Chancellor Phyllis Wise informed Salaita that she would not submit his appointment to the board.
At the news conference, which was held following a student walkout by his supporters, Salaita also spoke of how he had resigned his tenured position at Virginia Tech in order to take the job at Illinois. His wife also had resigned at Virginia Tech and they gave up their house in Virginia.
“As a result, my family has no income, no health insurance and no home of our own,” he said.