Genshaft: Al-Arian a complex decision

Sami Al-Arian appeared on The O’Reilly Factor television show on Sept. 26, 2001.

He was subsequently suspended from teaching on Sept. 28, and on Dec. 19, an emergency meeting of the USF Board of Trustees was called, after which Al-Arian was placed on administrative leave.

Since December, USF President Judy Genshaft has faced the problem of deciding what to do about Al-Arian. She could either fire Al-Arian, incurring the wrath of the American Association of University Professors, which has sternly threatened to censure USF, or she could reinstate Al-Arian and face disgruntled students and community members who feel he is a danger to the university.

During the past several months, Genshaft has remained mostly silent on the subject, with most media inquiries going through Media Relations Director Michael Reich.

But on Tuesday, following the announcement of USF-St. Petersburg’s interim Campus Executive Officer Ralph Wilcox, Genshaft answered questions about Al-Arian.

When asked why she has not yet released a decision, Genshaft, who has said for months she will announce her choice in August, responded with a laugh.

“It’s a very complicated case,” Genshaft said. “One we always continue to get new information on, as we did last weekend in The Tampa Tribune.”

Genshaft referred to a Sunday article in The Tampa Tribune that cited unnamed sources in the Israeli secret service that linked Al-Arian to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a militant terrorist organization.

Reich commented on the Tribune’s article on Sunday. He said the article did not change the situation surrounding Genshaft’s decision.

“They’ve connected him with Islamic Jihad for a long time,” Reich said Sunday. “This was maybe in a different context, which is irrelevant, I guess.”

Genshaft and Reich, who was also present Tuesday, both said they are constantly weighing new information on Al-Arian in order to make the most appropriate decision.

“It’s a very serious case,” Genshaft said.

Critics of Genshaft have pointed out the fact that the decision to place Al-Arian on administrative leave came in late December, and the current timetable puts the decision on his firing in August. Both of these dates fall during periods in which class is not in session, and few students and faculty are on campus. In addition, both decisions fall during times when The Oracle does not publish.

Genshaft said the timing of her decision in no way is meant to coincide with a lack of student and faculty presence on campus.

“Oh, no, no, no,” Genshaft said. “But that’s an interesting interpretation.”

Genshaft said the timing of her decisions revolves around particular times in the academic calendar, during which most important decisions are made.

“The reason why a decision (in August) is important is because it is the beginning of an academic year,” Genshaft said. “You make your changes in the summer, and, if you have to make any midyear changes, you make them in December because that’s the semester system.”

Genshaft called upon a similar defense for her controversial decision to announce the resignation Bill Heller following 10 years of service as USF-St. Petersburg’s CEO. Genshaft said Heller, who, as later revealed, was forced from the CEO job, had planned to leave the position anyway, and the summer was a logical time to make the move.

Genshaft’s announcement on Heller came about a week into the month of June. Reich has long stated, and Genshaft confirmed, that she feels she needs the extra two months to make the decision on Al-Arian.

“I just need more information,” Genshaft said. “I’m still working on the case.”