If USF President Judy Genshaft finalizes Sami Al-Arian’s termination, the tenured professor said Monday he’s prepared to contest her decision. And he doesn’t think he’ll lose.
“America is the only place you can fight back,” Al-Arian said during a news conference at the Islamic Community of Tampa’s compound. “And better yet, you can win … and we will win.”
Al-Arian’s quest to keep his job has garnered national attention. During the early post-Sept. 11 days, after Al-Arian appeared on Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor, USF faculty leaders were concerned Genshaft had placed Al-Arian on paid leave for more than the security reasons she cited. They feared academic freedom was being jeopardized because of political views and alleged terrorist connections discussed when Al-Arian went on the show.
Just last week, USF’s Faculty Senate voted to not support Genshaft’s decision to fire Al-Arian, a 44-year-old computer science professor, and the faculty union voted to support him in a legal battle to retain his job.
For now, Al-Arian must wait on Genshaft to make a decision. She forwarded Al-Arian’s response to the university’s attorneys’ office and the Office of Academic Affairs. There is no guideline that mandates when Genshaft must respond. But Robert F. McKee, Al-Arian’s attorney, doesn’t think the wait will be long.
“I expect (a decision) before the end of the week,” he said.
In a statement issued Monday after receiving a formal response from Al-Arian concerning his termination, the president said, “I will carefully weigh all aspects of his response, just as I have weighed all of the facts of this case up to this point. After I have taken sufficient time to review the case, I will make a final determination.”
McKee sent Provost David Stamps a letter Monday refuting allegations that Al-Arian disrupted the campus and violated parts of the faculty collective bargaining agreement because he appeared on The O’Reilly Factor in September. Also in the letter, McKee called for the Board of Trustees to reconvene so that Al-Arian may present his side, something the professor said he wasn’t allowed to do when the BOT met in December and recommended that Genshaft fire him.
“I feel that the American morals that I’ve gotten to practice and respect have been betrayed,” Al-Arian said, one of those morals being due process.
Tom Gonzalez, an outside attorney hired by USF, said Monday that due process was never violated by not allowing Al-Arian to go before the BOT. He said it wasn’t an issue until Genshaft sent Al-Arian a letter of intent on Dec. 19 to fire him.
“Sometimes I wonder who is advising him,” Gonzalez said. “No.1, the Board didn’t make this decision. It took its action that in no way bound the university president … He is in his due process … The notice of intent is what begins the due process.”
Eric Vickers, executive director for the American Muslim Council, called what has happened to Al-Arian “a bigotry and prejudice being perpetrated on the entire Muslim community.” He said that Genshaft “doesn’t have the moral courage or moral certainty to stand for what’s right.”
And with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday approaching, Vickers said it’s a shame to witness what’s going on at USF.
“If King stood for nothing else, he stood for moral consciousness,” he said.
Ray Busch, director of government affairs for the American Muslim Council, said a case like Al-Arian’s puts American character on trial – internationally and domestically.
“What we are seeing is vigilantism. A media circus,” he said.It’s comments like those made by Vickers and Busch that has Gonzalez wanting a resolution as quickly as possible.
“A lot of people are talking about this in terms of issues that have nothing to do with this case,” Gonzalez said. “Terms like racism … I don’t know that people ought to be throwing a word like racism around.”
Gonzalez isn’t the only one who has said Al-Arian’s case has escalated to unexpected places.
Roy Weatherford, president for USF’s faculty union, said Monday that Genshaft told the union in October that placing Al-Arian on paid leave was only temporary.
“We asked President Genshaft the specific question: ‘Is it your intention to return Dr. Al-Arian to the classroom?'” Weatherford said. “And she said, ‘Yes, it is.’ So we took her at her word and thought that this would not proceed forward to termination.”
If Genshaft does terminate Al-Arian, step one is for Al-Arian to file a formal grievance with the university, allowing Genshaft the chance to change her mind about firing him. Should she stick by her decision, Al-Arian would then file a grievance with the Florida Board of Education. And if the FBOE supports Genshaft, then arbitration begins. It would be up to USF to prove they fired Al-Arian for the right reasons. Whatever decision comes from the arbitration is final.
McKee said if Al-Arian had chosen to file a law suit against the university, instead of filing a grievance, then he would have to prove the university wrong in its reasons to fire him.
“That’s more difficult,” McKee said.
Weatherford said if both parties agree, steps one and two will be bypassed.
“It’s unlikely the same administration that fired him will say, ‘Oh, we made a mistake. We take it back,'” Weatherford said.He said starting arbitration right away will save time.
Weatherford joined the faculty union in 1972 when he came to USF. He called what is happening with Al-Arian a “disaster for the state university system.”
He said the recent change in the governing system from a statewide Board of Regents to local Boards of Trustees makes the universities operating largely under business leaders – much like USF – run like a “7-11, where they can hire and fire people” at will instead of like an institution of higher learning.
When asked what he would say if given the chance to speak privately with Genshaft, Al-Arian said he’d tell her the facts, many of which she doesn’t know, he said.
“It seems she’s acting out of pressure,” Al-Arian said.Reports printed on the subject have begun suggesting that Al-Arian’s presence at USF would mean less money to the university’s foundation because donors would begin withholding gifts if Al-Arian is allowed to stay.
To that, Weatherford said, “We will not sell our principles for an endowment.”
- Contact Kevin Grahamat firstname.lastname@example.org