Last Wednesday and Thursday, the faculty of USF sent President Judy Genshaft and others working for the university system the message that the silencing of free speech will not be tolerated. The Faculty Senate voted Wednesday not to support the firing of Professor Sami Al-Arian, and Thursday, the faculty union voted to fully support Al-Arian should he decide to file legal action against the university. The faculty should be applauded for their willingness to speak out for a fellow professor and to protect their rights to academic freedom.
The professors of USF understand and support the value of freedom of speech and different ideas. After Al-Arian appeared on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor in late September, he was placed on paid leave for what Genshaft said was his and his students’ safety. However, the reasons for firing Al-Arian were even more ridiculous and unsupported.
The faculty union does not think Genshaft and the Board of Trustees were justified in the firing of Al-Arian and will seek to support Al-Arian in any way they can to show Genshaft that academic freedom is worth a great deal.
Al-Arian’s firing sent the message to tenured professors that they could be fired at any time for saying something with which either Genshaft, the BOT or any number of interested parties disagreed.
Instead, this generates an environment of fear and intimidation, which goes against everything a university should stand for. It is a poorly masked form of censorship that should not be condoned.
The faculty has done the university a favor by exemplifying the enterprise of education by showing students it involves both popular and unpopular ideas and the free exchange of those ideas.
In doing so, they have also shown students how to be courageous and to stand for what they believe in, just as good teachers and mentors are meant to do.