The Faculty Senate executive committee passed a resolution Wednesday supporting President Judy Genshaft for placing Professor Sami Al-Arian on paid leave.
And representatives from the faculty union, United Faculty of Florida, are meeting today with Genshaft to talk more about Al-Arian’s situation and what it may mean to USF professors in terms of academic freedom.
Genshaft announced her decision Sept. 28 to place Al-Arian on leave, saying it was for his safety and the safety of the USF community.
Al-Arian had received at least one death threat after appearing on The O’Reilly Factor Sept. 26. Show host Bill O’Reilly questioned Al-Arian about Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, who once worked with Al-Arian at USF and is now leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and drilled him on whether USF had terrorist ties.
Gregory Paveza, president for the Faculty Senate, said the resolution also supports Genshaft in her concern for safety and convening a task force on campus safety and security, it condemns any death threats against the president, Al-Arian and others in the USF community and it said that “in all of this, we must be sure that academic freedom is not impinged upon.”
The Faculty Senate’s increased focus on academic freedom has come because of Al-Arian’s O’Reilly interview. Some faculty members have said they want to make sure Al-Arian’s leave has nothing to do with what he said on the show.
But at least one USF professor has stepped forward in saying the Faculty Senate is focusing on the wrong issue.
“I am reassuring you that the overwhelming majority feels this has nothing to do with academic freedom,” said Samuel Bulmash, a professor for the College of Business Administration, adding that he doesn’t want to appear as if the faculty is divided on this issue.
He said Al-Arian should have been dealt with more severely by the president.
“Her putting him on paid leave is outrageous,” Bulmash said. “She should have fired him. Al-Arian was giving us a bad name. People in Tampa think that this is the view of the faculty. It’s unfortunate that USF has attracted a few faculty like Al-Arian that have given us a bad name, and they use our freedom of speech to say things with bad views.”
Bulmash said he’s been at USF for 16 years, and he’s never been afraid to speak out on an issue. But when it comes to talking about Al-Arian, it’s different.
“Although a lot of faculty are afraid to come to the open and talk, they feel the way I do,” Bulmash said. “The faculty should not feel threatened now by students if they retaliate by this thing. We should not live in fear, and I think what this guy is doing is promoting fear.”
Paveza said the media have given reasons that make it seem as if Al-Arian was placed on leave for things other than safety concerns. But the university’s top priority is to ensure that staff and students are out of harm’s way, he said.
Paveza said there’s no doubt that the situation surrounding Al-Arian is about academic freedom.
“The Faculty Senate executive committee thought this entire thing is about the issue,” he said.
And Bulmash should understand that, Paveza said, by the mere fact that he has an opposing view.
“(Academic freedom) merits discussion – especially in times of stress,” Paveza said. “It’s my personal view that anybody who threatens anyone because of their views needs to be dealt with in the harshest.”
Paveza said he didn’t know what Genshaft’s timeline was for determining when its safe for Al-Arian to return to the classroom.
“Does anyone think the time is yet? I don’t think so,” he said. “The threat is still too real.”
Paveza said the university should not be solely focused on one issue and that there needs to be some concentration on USF’s budget with a recent call for cuts.
“When we get to talking about the budget and budget cuts, I’m sure that topic will be as hot as this one,” he said.
Meanwhile, the resolution passed at Wednesday’s executive committee meeting will be brought before the general Faculty Senate next Wednesday.