Editorial: AAUP can offer insight to Genshaft

USF President Judy Genshaft will speak today with the American Association of University Professors, likely discussing her intent to fire tenured professor Sami Al-Arian. Genshaft should pay close attention to whatever counsel she may receive from the AAUP and allow it to weigh heavily in her decision concerning Al-Arian.

The AAUP is known for developing principles and ensuring a proper work relationship between administrators and faculty in the higher education arena. USF has been censured once by the AAUP for a former president’s handling of a controversial faculty member. It’s up to Genshaft to make sure USF isn’t censured again. If it is, USF will be one of 10 universities in AAUP’s history to be censured twice.

Censures are a form of academic blacklisting that stains a university’s record by nationally embarrassing the school and making it difficult to both retain and recruit faculty. It also makes it difficult to woo certain organizations to start chapters on campus. For instance, the well-known national honor society Phi Beta Kappa will not start a new chapter at a censured school, and in fact, USF has been trying for 30 years to do that.

Issues of student safety and university embarrassment have been addressed concerning Al-Arian’s September appearance on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor.

USF gets death threats each semester, even without the recent Al-Arian controversy. Genshaft said in the St. Petersburg Times on Jan. 16, “There have been more death threats in this last semester than any semester in this institution’s history.”

Does someone only get fired when the university reaches its quota of death threats?

Receiving another censure will create a great deal of problems at USF, more than if Genshaft had reprimanded Al-Arian in another manner and allowed the immediate media coverage to blow over. Instead, Genshaft has dragged it out and keeps the situation in the daily news. Genshaft must be careful in her approach to Al-Arian’s case before she does what she has accused him of – horribly embarrassing and harming the university’s reputation.