On Dec. 19, Professor Sami Al-Arian was fired from the university after being on paid leave for two and a half months. The firing of Al-Arian sparked interest within the Faculty Senate, and on Wednesday it will have an emergency meeting to discuss the situation. Al-Arian received a letter from Provost David Stamps during the winter break saying he was being terminated from the university. Al-Arian was given 10 days to respond to the letter.
Gregory Paveza, president for the Faculty Senate, said the issue with Al-Arian is important because it deals with critical issues to the academic life of the university and with the academic freedom of the faculty.
“It (academic freedom) involves the right for faculty members to have a critical voice on academic dismissals,” Paveza said.
Paveza told the St. Petersburg Times he was upset that Al-Arian would be fired during the winter break when faculty and students were away. Also, the day after Al-Arian was fired, Paveza sent an e-mail to President Judy Genshaft saying he was upset at the procedure and that the faculty members did not get a chance to have their voices heard. Later, Paveza sent e-mails to the senate members saying that the situation with Al-Arian was too important to wait until the next meeting and deserved special attention.
Paveza said that as of now, he wishes he knew how the whole senate felt on the issue.
“From all the e-mails and the voicemails I have received, I would say it is closely divided between the members,” Paveza said.
Al-Arian’s case has been discussed numerous times before in the Faculty Senate while Al-Arian had been placed on paid leave. After several discussions, the senate adopted a resolution and supported Genshaft on her decision to place Al-Arian on paid leave for security reasons.
Roy Weatherford, president for the Faculty Union, found a grievance policy that says action taken by the administration after Dec. 15 must start on Jan. 2, making Al-Arian’s 10 day deadline Mon. Jan. 14 instead of Dec. 29.
“I called President Genshaft and other faculty members and explained the policy. And because Al-Arian was fired during break, it was hard for everyone to get together,” Weatherford said.
Weatherford said that as president for the faculty union he will do what the members want to do.
“I think the faculty disapproves on the timing and the grounds on which Professor Al-Arian was dismissed,” Weatherford said.Some senators agree with Paveza and expect the meeting to be split.
Senate member Joan Christie, an associate professor for anesthesiology, said it should be interesting to hear and clarify the issues and the thought process behind the situation.
“I think that the meeting will go in lots of different directions, and the faculty leadership will probably not agree on anything,” Christie said. “Although, I don’t know that anything we say will have an impact.”
Christie said she doesn’t know much about Al-Arian’s decision-making behavior, and she hopes to learn more from the information given at the meeting.
“It will be interesting, though, to see how the student body will react to it all,” Christie said.
Senate member Amy Graves, a professor in epidemiology-biostatic, said some senators are in agreement on the issue of academic freedom, but what it all comes down to is a personal opinion that in the end may override the issue of academic freedom.
Yet, Graves said she supports the President’s decision.