Two separate articles in The Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times Sunday reiterated how serious the Sami Al-Arian issue is for USF and the rest of the academic world. The fact that the American Association of University Professors has yet to make a decision regarding USF, and Genshaft has yet to make a decision regarding Al-Arian, emphasizes what a precarious position the university is in. What must be understood is that the black mark of censure is worse than losing some donations. The university must act in the best interest of its students and faculty, and in this case, it means keeping Al-Arian and avoiding censure.
In an article in Sunday’s Tampa Tribune, the AAUP announced that it agrees with the investigators who visited the school in March. The investigators found that the treatment of Professor Al-Arian could be construed as an impingement of academic freedom and that the university does not have sufficient grounds to terminate him. Such an act could lead to censure by the AAUP, which is supposed to make a decision sometime this summer. Genshaft and the university maintain though that the decision to fire Al-Arian will be based on a breach of contract and the safety of the campus. The issue of campus safety could easily be compensated for by keeping Al-Arian as a professor for a distance learning course. Another factor is the impact any decision will have on the academic world. USF could well be setting a precedent for how the AAUP and other universities treat professors who are controversial.
To lose funding, especially in the current economy, is not a good thing for any university. However, the censure will affect students in their futures and could have an impact on graduate school admission, financial aid and job opportunities. The role of the university is to prepare students for a career and the real world. Genshaft and USF should do so by swallowing their pride and working through a rough situation. Firing Al-Arian may be the easy step, but the repercussions would cause more difficulties than it is worth.