President Judy Genshaft said Tuesday that the recommendation to fire Sami Al-Arian is an issue that took a tremendous toll on USF. At Tuesday’s Board of Trustees meeting, Genshaft and the trustees reviewed the principles of academic freedom and tenure, which is a document listing the rights professors are entitled to inside and outside the classroom.
It’s an issue that has received attention because of USF Professor Sami Al-Arian.
On Dec. 19, Genshaft sent a letter of intent to Al-Arian notifying him of termination. She said he has disrupted the campus since appearing on The O’Reilly Factor on Sept. 26. Al-Arian responded saying he will fight to keep his job. And USF’s faculty union has agreed to help Al-Arian should a legal battle take place.
The American Association of University Professors, which ensures faculty rights are protected, developed the document to support academic freedom.
The BOT also agreed on a recommendation to the Florida Legislature from the Florida Board of Education that will give the trustees authority to negotiate the collective bargaining agreement contract. The contract is procedures that the board must follow when disciplining or terminating a professor.
Some of the procedures include determining the just cause for the professor’s violation and actions the institution must follow in notifying the professor of termination.
Jack Wheat, special assistant to the president, said the negotiation would allow the BOT to consider incorporating academic freedom and tenure principles under the AAUP to be adopted by the collective bargaining agreement so that procedures can be followed without contradictions.
For example, the collective bargaining agreement states, terminating a tenured professor for a just cause an employee has to be given written notice of termination at least six months in advance of the effective date. However, if it is determined that the employee’s actions affect the functioning of university or jeopardizes safety, the employee may be given less than six months notice, according to the agreement.
The AAUP principles state before terminating a professor, if possible, the dismissal should be considered by both a faculty committee and the governing board of the institution.
Wheat said the recommendation should be determined during this legislative session but the changes would not take place until July 2003 because that is when the present contract for the collective bargaining agreement expires. Now the board is required by law to follow the collective bargaining agreement for Al-Arian’s case.
“Once you get to the procedures you are bound to go by the law,” Wheat said. “The set of procedures at this point are bound by the collective bargaining agreement.”
Wheat said academic freedom rights are defined in the collective bargaining agreement but the definition in AAUP is more detailed. Wheat said the contract is not as explicit because the university and employees know about the academic freedom rights.
Wheat said the processes in the AAUP and collective bargaining agreement are in conflict with each other when dealing with terminating a professor.
“We are investigating to see how quickly the situation can be reviewed,” Wheat said, “and to incorporate the AAUP procedures.”If the BOT has the ability to negotiate the contract then the board will see which of the AAUP procedures are compatible with the collective bargaining agreement.
Roy Weatherford, president for USF’s faculty union, said the AAUP defends academic freedom and it should be easy to merge its principles with the collective bargaining agreement contract.
“The contract must prevail AAUP,” Weatherford said. “Then decide from AAUP what steps to follow.”
Weatherford said employees have the right to due process to prevent injustice.
“We are not against disciplining,” Weatherford said. “It’s injustice.”
Genshaft said she realizes the full range of opinions and concerns that have arisen from the situation. And having the ability to adopt the AAUP principles would help concerned faculty feel better about the situation.
“It’s an ongoing issue for us,” Genshaft said. “But the point is to have discussions of the future of the university, not just Al-Arian.”Genshaft said she has not sent a final letter of decision on the Al-Arian case yet because she wants to seek as much consultation as possible by meeting with students, faculty and staff.
Trustee chairman Richard Beard said that the board knew the decision to recommend Al-Arian to be fired was going to be difficult, but the board will continue to support Genshaft.He told the president: “We knew going in this wasn’t going to be an easy situation. We will support you in whatever decision it is.”
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