A USF professor who has been in a spotlight of intense scrutiny since being flooded with renewed allegations that he has links to terrorism was fired Dec. 19.
Sami Al-Arian, a USF computer science and engineering professor placed on paid leave in late September following an appearance on a political talk show that resulted in death threats, was hand-delivered a letter of intent to terminate just hours after the Board of Trustees recommended that President Judy Genshaft fire him.
But Genshaft’s decision to terminate the tenured professor has met opposition from USF’s faculty union.
Harry Vanden, a faculty senator, union member and USF professor, said he was surprised by the way the administration handled the case, saying that it was odd for a tenured professor to be fired.
“The only reason (to fire a tenured professor) is moral turpitude: abusing a student sexually or complete incompetence,” Vanden said. “There are very few grounds, and when it’s done, it’s a very careful and deliberate process.”
Vanden described the events that played out during the break as a “horror story.” He said the timing of the Dec. 19 emergency BOT meeting, the fact that Al-Arian wasn’t allowed to defend himself and the faculty was not represented or allowed to speak at the meeting, violates due process.
“The only people they invited, essentially, were their own witnesses,” Vanden said. “Due process and a fair hearing was thrown to the wind.”
Vanden said the American Association of University Professors is looking into the matter to determine if they will take action.
On Dec. 28, 12 members of the faculty union met and compiled six pages of information reacting to Al-Arian’s termination. The packet was mailed to the home of every USF faculty member.
Among the pages was a letter written by Roy Weatherford, president for the faculty union. In the letter, Weatherford said the faculty union would file a grievance on behalf of Al-Arian if Al-Arian requested it to do so. He also called the BOT a “creature of the governor” that intends to run USF “like a business rather than like a real university.”
Another document found in the packet separated myth from fact in the case. Among the myths cited was that Al-Arian was fired in a fair way that respected due process.
According to the document, Al-Arian was given no notice of the Dec. 19 meeting, he had no opportunity to address the board, Genshaft nor any board members communicated with him during the process, and the university violated the United Faculty of Florida/Board of Regents Collective Bargaining agreement and failed to follow AAUP guidelines that call for a hearing when dismissing a faculty member.
Al-Arian could not be reached for comment.
Michael Reich, spokesman for USF, said the allegation that Al-Arian is being denied due process is absurd.
“To say he has been denied due process is not only wrong but premature,” Reich said.
Reich said Al-Arian’s due process began on Dec. 19 when Genshaft decided to terminate him. Al-Arian was informed of the president’s action to terminate and was given ten days to respond. Because the decision was rendered over the holidays, that period was extended to Jan. 14, giving Al-Arian and his lawyers what Reich said is ample time to formulate a rebuttal.
And the reasoning behind why Al-Arian wasn’t called to attend the meeting of the BOT Dec. 19 was because, Reich said, the meeting was called only to review what lawyerThomas Gonzalez had found in his investigation. It was only after Gonzalez expressed to the BOT that Genshaft could have grounds for firing the professor that it voted to recommend that Genshaft do just that.
Reich said Al-Arian has not yet officially been terminated. After he responds, the president will review his defense and then render a final decision.
One of the reasons for termination Genshaft cited in a Dec. 19 statement was the disruption that Al-Arian has caused the university.
“The controversy over Dr. Al-Arian is consuming resources of many divisions of the university … and it will continue to do as long as the current arrangement continues,” Genshaft said in the statement. “After much thought, I have come to the sad conclusion that if Dr. Al-Arian remains an employee of the university, the certainty of prolonged disruption of the university and the continuing threat to our students, faculty and staff is profoundly real.”
Reich said disruptions directly resulting from Al-Arian include the death threat delivered to the Computer Science building Sept. 27, the university being flooded with phone calls and the climate of fear created on campus.
“This is not about academic freedom, this is about somebody who has created an environment of fear,” Reich said.
For the rest of the faculty, Vanden said he thinks that regardless about how they feel about Al-Arian, most would agree that the process utilized to fire him was flawed.
“There is some divergence of opinion, but I think what you’ll see is that most faculty are horrified by the way he was fired,” Vanden said.
Vanden said the best possible scenario would be for Al-Arian to be reinstated. If the university still wishes to pursue his termination, Vanden said the university needs to do so in a more fair and formal matter.
“If they wish to terminate, convene a legitimate process that gives him the right to defend himself and also incorporates the faculty,” Vanden said.