Interest in USF high despite Al-Arian case

When USF president Judy Genshaft placed Sami Al-Arian on administrative leave in September, she said it was done with campus safety and security in mind.

But the question remained: Would the concerns about safety and the ousting of a tenured professor hurt the university in the recruitment of new students and faculty?

Dewey Holleman, director for admissions, said the dismissal has so far not been a problem in recruiting new students.

“I wouldn’t say that it’s been a factor,” he said.

Holleman said he has received some questions from high school students about the nature of the case. He said those questions came most frequently right after Al-Arian’s dismissal and have waned over the months now that television coverage has eased.

“High school students said they wanted to know what the deal is,” he said. “Initially, when we were responding, we would tell the students that this is a computer science professor on campus. We kind of say the same thing that the president was saying.”

Holleman said the main goal in his response to such questions is to reiterate to potential students that USF is a safe place to study.

“We want to make sure they knew the primary concern was the safety of the campus so they would feel comfortable in applying here and know that it was a safe place to be,” he said. “Any parents that would ask that question at a college fair, their main concern was the safety of the campus and that they send their students to a place that’s safe to be in and safe to live in.”

Holleman said while he has been questioned by some students, it is not a common occurance. He said specific questions about Al-Arian come only once in awhile.

“We didn’t get as much as I thought we would get, if that’s any indication,” he said.

Holleman said an early indicator that the Al-Arian case has had little effect is a 15-percent increase in applications seen this year. As for determining the long term effects the case will have on enrollment, Holleman said it’s still too early to tell.

“We really won’t know until the fall numbers come in if it had any affect at all,” he said. “But there is nothing to suggest that it will effect enrollment.”

While potential students may only be showing mild interest in the case, faculty from USF and across the country expressed great concern. The questions of academic freedom and tenure have been a hot topic of discussion nationwide. Indicative of this was Al-Arian’s online chat in February. Professors from as far away as Chicago and California voiced their opinion on the professor.

USF Provost David Stamps said he has interviewed for openings in dean positions and has not felt any effect from the applicants.

“From my perspective, no, there hasn’t been anything that’s affected it negatively,” Stamps said.

In particular, Stamps said, he has interviewed three applicants for dean for the College of Education. He said the Al-Arian case was not a concern in any of the interviews.

“None of them have even mentioned it,” he said.

While Stamps is hiring deans, there may not be a problem in recruiting faculty. With budget cuts and freezes on new hirings, many departments are not currently recruiting. As for those that are, Stamps said no deans have mentioned any questions arising about Al-Arian in the hiring process.

“I haven’t heard anything from deans that have stated that that’s been a problem,” he said.

Contact Rob Brannonat