The Board of Trustees and USF President Judy Genshaft’s decision to fire tenured professor Dr. Sami Al-Arian can be summed up in one simple word: reprehensible.
In blitzkrieg fashion, the BOT pumped out a recommendation to fire the computer science and engineering professor hired 15 years ago. Never once in that time were any accusations against Al-Arian substantiated, despite attempts to circumstantially attach him to the terrorist organizations.
Al-Arian was vindicated of any such actions by a federal judge in 1998.
But then Al-Arian appeared on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, not exactly a bastion for unbiased, fair commentary. The simple fact is that O’Reilly, who had obviously planned the interview well in advance, maliciously attacked him. Al-Arian had no foil to the attacks of O’Reilly, who actually had the nerve to say that if he were the CIA, he would, “follow you (Al-Arian) wherever you went.”
That seems to be all that people heard.
Sweepingly, Al-Arian was placed on paid leave. Genshaft never publicly said he was a terrorist or linked to terrorism. She didn’t really say much of anything but her claim that she put Al-Arian on leave to affirm the security of the campus.
It took Genshaft and the BOT nearly three months to say what they wanted to all along: We don’t want Sami Al-Arian at USF because when people say his name, the first thing they think of is terrorism. They just needed justification from a lone lawyer investigating the situation to go about what they wanted to all along.
USF spokesman Michael Reich’s statement that Al-Arian was not invited to the very meeting that determined his future at USF because the BOT was only going to hear the findings of the lawyer is laughable. It’s too much of a coincidence that the BOT spontaneously decided to recommend termination for Al-Arian and to have Genshaft affirm the recommendation only a few hours later.
It was only after Al-Arian received word that he was to be terminated that anyone was able to defend him. By then it was too late.
On what grounds does the BOT and Genshaft have for firing Al-Arian? Firing a tenured professor is not like taking out the trash, which is what they have tried to make it. The process is deliberate and thorough and spans more than a few hours on a day when the entire school is off on holiday.
The grounds presented for firing Al-Arian do not justify the actions of the BOT and Genshaft. It would be one thing if there were actual evidence of Al-Arian being involved with terrorism, but there is none. Behind the death threats and the Bill O’Reillys of the world lies simply conjecture, hearsay and misinformation.
No matter what the BOT and Genshaft say, the simple fact is that Sami Al-Arian did nothing wrong. He spoke his mind, views that I personally don’t agree with. But that gives me no right to presume that my views supersede his. Nor does it give USF the right to fire Al-Arian.
In an Oct. 15 column in The Oracle, Genshaft herself stated “the fact is there are no currently known grounds for firing Dr. Al-Arian.”
How this statement is any different today and justifies the firing of Al-Arian, an innocent man who simply spoke his mind, from what it meant in October is beyond me.
- Joe Roma is majoring in political science.