Jani Syed was working closely with Sami Al-Arian to complete three research papers. Those papers were to be published in technical journals before Syed, a graduate student studying computer engineering, could take a qualifying exam and be accepted into the Ph.D. program.
But when Al-Arian was removed from the university, Syed said his studies and life were both greatly interrupted.
“One year is gone for me,” Syed said. “I couldn’t take the qualifiers (qualifying exams), and now I’m a Ph.D. candidate, not a Ph.D. student.”
Were it not for Genshaft putting Al-Arian on paid leave, Syed said he would have completed his Ph.D. a year earlier than he plans to now.
Saleeth Lulu, also a graduate student, was enrolled in Al-Arian’s advanced digital systems class during Fall 2001.Lulu said he was disappointed to see the university lose such an “excellent” professor.
“There is no doubt he is a good teacher. I took the class because Dr. Al-Arian was the professor,” Lulu said.
“He is very strong in the subject. Sometimes you can ask professors a question and get no answers, but he always knows.
He is very confident in what he does. He doesn’t stop. He practically runs, and students have to tell him to stop, they’ve had enough for the day.”
Lulu and his classmates signed a petition, which was submitted to the graduate program director, the dean for the College of Engineering and the chairperson for the Computer Science Department, asking for Al-Arian to be allowed to teach.
“He is a very good teacher,” student Rajender Manteena said. “I took the class just for him. It’s a very important course.”
Manteena said he was expecting to receive an A in the course but instead earned a C. He says it is a result of Al-Arian’s dismissal and replacement.
Manteena also said he thinks the university could have done a better job listening to students and taking their concerns into consideration.
Michael Reich, director for media relations at USF, said he realizes students under Al-Arian’s direction may have experienced some disturbance when the professor was removed, but he said the university went to great measures to minimize it.
“Dr. Al-Arian’s students most likely experienced disruption. It is precisely this kind of disruption that led us to where we are today,” Reich said. “But we have tried to minimize the disruption to Dr. Al-Arian’s students and the rest of the students at USF.”
Reich also said it should be kept in mind that Al-Arian was aware of the outcome his actions could possibly cause.
“It’s also important to consider this,” Reich said. “Dr. Al-Arian knew the impact his actions had on the learning environment. By removing him from his teaching responsibilities, we minimized the disruption he could cause in the future.”
Reich said both Al-Arian’s graduate and undergraduate students were consulted regarding Al-Arian’s dismissal.
“We talked with the students and presented them with their options,” Reich said.
Reich said graduate students could choose to graduate with a master’s degree minus a thesis, a degree that many engineering students earn or to continue their thesis work with another adviser.”We have a number of qualified advisers, any one of whom could serve as an adviser,” he said.
Lulu said he doesn’t mean to insult or offend Dr. M. R. Varanasi, the professor who finished teaching Al-Arian’s advanced digital systems course, but the class had trouble adjusting to the change.
“Al-Arian was certainly better,” Lulu said. “The class was disrupted.”
Varanasi declined to discuss this topic.
Lulu was also working with Al-Arian to complete a thesis. He said he had been working with the professor for several months.When Al-Arian was placed on paid leave, Lulu said he was told he could continue working with Al-Arian but that decision was reversed soon after.
Lulu has since changed his degree plan.
Rather than earning a masters of computer science degree, he will graduate with the masters of computer engineering degree.
“I don’t know whom to find fault with,” Lulu said. “But it’s very disappointing.”
Though Lulu, who will graduate this semester, is not happy his studies were affected by the events of last semester, he said he thinks the university and the College of Engineering did their best to work with, not against, him.
“The department made it easy for me,” Lulu said. “They understood this situation and treated this case as an exceptional one.”
Contact Rachel Pleasant at firstname.lastname@example.org