The faculty union on Thursday voted to fully support Sami Al-Arian should he choose to file a grievance against the university. The union is also lobbying for full legal and financial support from the United Faculty of Florida, of which it is a chapter.
Tom Auxter, president for UFF, will attend a UFF statewide meeting Saturday and Sunday, in which a steering committee will decide the amount of financial and legal support that will be afforded to Al-Arian.
Al-Arian was fired Dec. 19 following an emergency meeting of the Board of Trustees.
The tenured professor, who has been linked to terrorism and investigated by the FBI but never charged with a crime, received a letter of intent to terminate shortly after the Dec. 19 meeting.
In addition to courtroom and monetary backing, if the steering committee decides to fully support Al-Arian, another measure of support will be through the publications of UFF’s three affiliates: The Florida Education Association, the National Education Association and the American Federation for Teachers.
Auxter expects – with the support of the steering committee – that all three affiliates will publicize UFF’s support of Al-Arian in their various publications – possibly reaching three million educators nationwide, he said.
Why he was fired, USF President Judy Genshaft has said, has nothing to do with the controversial comments he has made supporting the Palestinian plight, but because he has caused a disruption to the university and has created an environment of fear on campus.
A statement released by the union shortly after the meeting outlined the six motions that were passed, including the union’s objection to Genshaft taking action without consulting it and the Faculty Senate.
The Senate voted Wednesday to not support Genshaft’s decision.
The union also passed a motion that said it supports the actions of former USF adviser to the provost, Elizabeth Bird, who resigned in protest of Genshaft’s decision.
Roy Weatherford, president for USF’s faculty union, said Genshaft’s reasons for firing Al-Arian were not valid. Instead, he said, the reasons given by the president masked the real reason he was fired: Al-Arian’s political beliefs don’t sit well with the Board of Trustees.
“There were no genuine reasons (for firing Al-Arian),” Weatherford said. The reasons Genshaft outlined were “a pretext to try to achieve a veneer of legitimacy.”
Weatherford said the safety aspect of Genshaft’s justification for firing Al-Arian is not an issue because the way USF is structured, a professor is not limited to the traditional classroom setting.
“It’s not a legitimate issue,” he said. “This university and Legislature have invested millions of dollars … to teach classes from any place on the globe.”
Al-Arian was present at the meeting but would not comment to the media. Weatherford said Al-Arian addressed the union but did not engage in “constructive debate.”
Weatherford acknowledged that most do not agree with Al-Arian’s political viewpoints, saying that he himself disagrees with most of what the tenured professor has said. But the issues at hand are not the politics of Al-Arian but the inappropriate actions taken by Genshaft, Weatherford said.
If the allegations that Al-Arian has ties to terrorism are true, Weatherford, a veteran of the military, said: “They can line him up against a wall and shoot him for all I care. But no one has proven that.”
The meeting was held at CDB’s Pizza just off campus on Fowler Ave. and was not open to the public or media.
During the meeting, one union member emerged from behind the closed doors and spoke to reporters. He said he was “terrified” of what the administration could do to a union member who spoke out against it, and, therefore, spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“There is a vindictive attitude in this administration,” the 4th-year professor said.
He also said that because of the decision made by the president to fire Al-Arian, he is looking for another job.
Auxter said the decision of how much support UFF will provide Al-Arian will be reached no later than noon on Sunday. On Monday, Al-Arian will hold a press conference at the Islamic school where he teaches.
- Contact Ryan Meehan at email@example.com