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Academic freedom is like the Kardashians – just a tabloid matter, U. of Illinois says to evade scrutiny

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign all but hired a virulently anti-Israel academic last summer. It revoked his offer after his viciously anti-Israel tweets came to light.

Now the school is arguing that the process by which it decided to dump Steven Salaita – which appeared to involve donor pressure – is not a matter of public interest.

The Daily Illini reports that the school lost its legal battle to shield “thousands of documents dealing with the professor’s hiring decision” requested by Salaita under the Freedom of Information Act.

UI’s lawyer argued that the case was a “public curiosity,” basically a matter of gossip:

“There is a huge difference between public interest and publicity or curiosity,” [Charles] Schmadeke said. “Public interest means that a profound public policy exists while this does not exist in regards to a University professor.”

Schmadeke said only the media was covering stories in regards to Salaita’s case and that no one else of importance was discussing it.

In rebuttal, [Salaita lawyer Anand] Swaminathan said that Salaita was not the same as the Kardashians. The media may be writing stories about the Kardashians, he said, but that was because of their name and celebrity status. Swaminathan said Salaita became popular in the media because of his story and case, and the public wanted to know more about it, which is why releasing the documents had such a high public interest.

Certainly academic freedom groups are paying attention to the case – the American Association of University Professors is voting this summer on whether to censure the school for violating “academic freedoms of the faculty” by dumping Salaita at the last minute.

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IMAGE: Steven Salaita/Facebook

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg Piper served as associate editor of The College Fix from 2014 to 2021.