It was a case the USF administration let linger for 18 months.
And, during that time, it was a case Sami Al-Arian tried to fight.
Wednesday, USF President Judy Genshaft made the long -awaited decision and fired the controversial computer science engineering professor.
Genshaft addressed dozens of media representatives in the Special Events Center to state that USF would end Al-Arian’s 17-year career at the university.
“We have determined that the University of South Florida must sever all ties to Sami Al-Arian once and for all,” Genshaft said. “Dr. Al-Arian has repeatedly abused his position at the university. No longer will he be able to hide behind the shield of academic freedom.”
Two days after his appearance on The O’Reilly Factor, Genshaft placed Al-Arian on paid leave Sept. 28, 2001.
Wednesday morning, a notice was delivered to Al-Arian, stating the basis for termination was activities Al-Arian conducted outside the classroom that created a conflict of interest with USF.
In addition, the notice outlines activities included in the 120-page indictment, which accuses Al-Arian of funneling money through the university to terrorists and identifies him as the North American leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Al-Arian was arrested Thursday for charges tied to terrorism, including conspiracy to murder and racketeering.
However, Genshaft said the reason for termination comes from employment relationship issues, though items from the indictment were outlined in the termination letter.
“The indictment is a confirmation of the thoughts that we’ve had all along and it is insightful to us but … we are about policies and procedures of the university,” Genshaft said. “We are not about criminal law. I must make very clear that this is an employment relationship, not a criminal law issue.”
Al-Arian’s wife, Nahla, said the intention for firing her husband is not an issue of employment relationship. Instead, she said, the university is using Al-Arian’s arrest to quickly end his career at USF.
“They’re liars. The indictment came because of (USF administration) and because of their corporate initiative that ruined the university,” Mrs. Al-Arian said. “It was expected. The whole thing was designed to help (Genshaft) out.”
R.B. Friedlander, interim general counsel for USF, said the depth of outside activities is supported in the indictment, but that is not the main concern in the termination.
“What’s unique in a university setting is not the fact of the outside activities themselves, but what they were,” Friedlander said.
And in Al-Arian’s case, Friedlander said the outside activities were non-academic in nature.
Among the activities listed in the termination is Al-Arian’s alleged use of World and Islam Studies Enterprise, a Middle Eastern think tank founded by Al-Arian and affiliated with USF, to “conceal the activities of the PIJ and its terrorist goals.”
“He has misused the university’s name, reputation, resources and personnel,” Genshaft said.
Al-Arian has received $67,500 per year since he was put on paid leave. The Board of Trustees recommended firing Al-Arian on Dec. 19, 2001, but Genshaft asked the courts to help with the decision. The case, however, was thrown out.
Genshaft said the decision took nearly a year and a half to complete because of the consultation the university needed to make.
Friedlander said Al-Arian was placed on administrative leave in order to follow the collective bargaining agreement, while allowing the university to look into Al-Arian’s case.
Should Al-Arian decide to file a grievance against his termination, faculty union president Roy Weatherford said the union will support him.
Al-Arian’s attorney, Robert F. McKee, met with Al-Arian Wednesday, but would not release a statement. McKee will hold a press conference Thursday morning in response to the termination.
“The burden of proof is on the university … to show there is legal justification in the dismissal,” Weatherford said.
However, Weatherford said if a grievance is filed, the decision may not come for several months because the procedure will follow the guidelines listed in the collective bargaining agreement.
USF would have 30 days to respond, which would then be followed by a series of meetings before an arbitrator could be selected to hear the grievance.
During the time of Al-Arian’s suspension, Genshaft said USF administration has extensively consulted with students, faculty and staff.
“We have always been thoughtful and deliberative about this process,” Genshaft said.
Weatherford said Genshaft, however, has not thoroughly communicated with faculty about Al-Arian’s status.
“The president has not kept us informed at all,” Weatherford said. “What they did was stall until … they would follow him out with the indictment and no further consultation.”
Genshaft said the university has also consulted with the American Association of University Professors during the past year because of the organization’s threat to censure USF for violation of academic freedom.
“We have always cooperated fully with the AAUP and will continue to do so,” Genshaft said. “They have their job to do, and we have ours, and we’re moving forward in the best interest of the university.”
Weatherford sees things differently.
“I’m sorry to hear her say that because that is the right-wing rhetoric that endangers civil rights,” Weatherford said. “If, in fact, bad people use our rights as a shield, the solution is not to abolish everyone’s rights by breaking the contract.”
Genshaft said academic freedom will continue to be one of USF’s core values.
“The values of academic freedom are critical and fundamental to any university,” Genshaft said. “We will keep the principles of academic freedom open and clear, but we also have to be aware of the abuse of it.”