In his brief given to the Office of General Counsel, university lawyer Thomas Gonzalez makes a compelling case based on case law that there is justification for the firing of USF professor Al-Arian because of three different principles. One is that his statements have caused considerable disruption to the daily operations of the university. Two is Al-Arian hasn’t followed proper USF procedure before or after his leave of absence to “indicate where appropriate that one (Al-Arian) is not an institutional representative.” Lastly he violated his agreement with USF when he appeared on campus in October.
You can say that our Board of Trustees rushed to judgment. You can say that President Genshaft took the easy way out. You can say they both violated every tenet of academic freedom. But the Supreme Court has ensured the right of public employers to dismiss employees if “any injury (the) speech could cause to the State, as an employer” is substantial enough.
The reality is that Al-Arian’s statements have been extremely harmful to donations, not to mention our reputation to the general public and the operations of the university. His statements (which he made and yet didn’t disassociate himself as a representative of the university) have caused hundreds of documented lost man-hours and thousands of dollars.
Theoretically, universities and academic institutions should be impervious to outside pressures and popular opinion. People with different views should be welcomed into a community of ideas where the free exchange of knowledge and thought runs unfettered. But those universities have to exist in the real world.And in the real world Sami Al-Arian also returned to campus after agreeing not to until an investigation into his dealings and the potential security ramifications of his continued presence could be completed.
I’m not saying Al-Arian broke any laws or anything besides his agreement with USF (which, despite his denials, he did agree to), but when the eyes of an entire campus are on you, why would you do something so bold and illogical?
The university isn’t free from blame here either. Firing Al-Arian on the last possible day before Christmas break under cover of holiday distractions was smart politically but wayward morally. A debate about this issue needed to take place under the full specter of a campus in its normal day-to-day activity.
I didn’t read about Al-Arian’s dismissal in this paper, but rather the St. Petersburg Times. That’s because The Oracle didn’t publish the week Al-Arian was fired because no one was here. Highly controversial decisions like this one shouldn’t be made in the same way American presidents make recess appointments while Congress is out of session. Cover of darkness isn’t the way to make people believe in the integrity of what you are doing.This has been a sad chapter in our history as an institution. There was and is no good resolution. Keeping Al-Arian would have sullied our reputation to the general public, strained many overburdened university departments and hurt us financially. Firing him can be perceived as a blow to our commitment to the tenets of academic freedom and will be harmful to the general reputation of academia here.
Neither side has conducted itself properly under the microscope, and whatever the final result is, it will have negative consequences. Let’s learn from this and work to never let it happen again.
- Collin Sherwin is a senior majoring in political firstname.lastname@example.org