August arrives, controversies boil over

August is a quiet time at USF.

As students step away from campus to enjoy the fleeting weeks of summer, The Oracle will follow suit, beginning its annual break today.

But students and The Oracle both leave behind several breaking stories, some of which have national and even global ramifications. While August is a slow month for students, it promises to be filled with momentous and, at times, controversial decisions from administrative officials and judges.

Below is a list of the stories that will make news beyond the campus perimeter this August and the decisions that could be made.
Genshaft and Al-Arian: What will she decide?

The fate of controversial professor Sami Al-Arian has been a topic of discussion at USF since his Sept. 26, 2001 appearance on The O’Reilly Factor television show. With principles of academic freedom and the First Amendment called into question, the case has garnered national and even some international attention.

Al-Arian has been accused of being a member of the terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He has been accused of anti-American sentiment and even of contributing to the attacks of Sept. 11.

Al-Arian has not, however, been charged with any crime. He was placed on paid leave two days after his television appearance because of 12 alleged death threats.

USF President Judy Genshaft is faced with the difficult decision of whether to fire the professor. It has been almost a year since the ordeal began, but Genshaft has promised for months that her decision will come sometime in August. That, in and of itself, has been controversial. Some detractors have accused Genshaft of delaying until students were no longer on campus and The Oracle on its publication break.

But Genshaft’s challenge is daunting. If she fires Al-Arian, she will face protests, a possible lawsuit and a probable censure by The American Association of University Professors. If she reinstates the professor, enrollment may suffer as safety becomes an issue and protest is again a distinct possibility.Either way, at long last, the answer should come soon.
Board of Trustees decides on budgets, tuition increase

The USF Board of Trustees will hold its regularly scheduled quarterly meeting on Aug. 22.

The key item on the agenda will be a tuition-increase plan for nonresident graduate and undergraduate students. The board decided in an emergency conference call on June 21 to increase tuition for the fall semester. The emergency meeting was called because, had the topic been held for the regular August meeting, there would not have been time to implement an increase in time for the fall.

The upcoming vote will decide whether the increase, which is as much as 18 percent, will continue beyond the fall semester to include the entire 2002-2003 school year.

It is possible the only vote against the motion will come from student body president Mike Griffin, who has been quoted as saying the increase is too high.

Also on the board’s agenda will be the discussion and approval of USF’s 2003-2004 legislative budget requestion. Board Chairman Dick Beard canceled a conference call on July 15 after the state granted an extension.
Al-Najjar: Could he soon be free?

Mazen Al-Najjar, former USF adjunct professor and brother-in-law of Sami Al-Arian, marked a milestone in June as he spent his 1,500 day in jail.

Al-Najjar has been in and out of prison for more than five years. He was first arrested in 1997 and held until December 2000 on secret governmental evidence. He was released after a judge ruled his rights were violated when the government did not provide its evidence.

In November 2001, Al-Najjar found himself in prison again, arrested by Immigration and Naturalization Services to await deportation. No country would accept him, however, and he remains behind bars in Sumter County.

His lawyers argued, under a relatively new law, Al-Najjar could not be held for deportation beyond six months unless the government could prove he posed a danger to society. The six-month deadline passed in May, and the summer has been marked with legal briefs and a prison protest.

According to his lawyer, Al-Najjar’s case is being considered by Judge Joan Leonard, who has ruled in his favor in the past. Sami Al-Arian said last week a decision on Al-Najjar’s fate could come at any time.
John Loftus: Will his lawsuit stick?

John Loftus used to be known as a attorney with connections inside the beltway. He was also known as head of the Florida Holocaust Museum.

But now, he no longer holds that position and is known by many simply as the man who sued Sami Al-Arian.

Loftus filed his infamous lawsuit in May but saw a judge throw it out in June. The reason for the judge’s dismissal was because Loftus could not prove how he was personally injured by Al-Arian.

The judge did, however, grant Loftus a 20-day refiling period, and the suit re-emerged on July 1.

Loftus’ suit utilizes evidence he claims came directly from Israeli intelligence sources that finger Al-Arian as the second-in-command of the Jihad behind Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, who is yet another controversial former USF adjunct professor. Loftus claims a further connection of Al-Arian to the attacks of Sept. 11.

Al-Arian has that Loftus is a lunatic and “needs to be treated mentally.”

Loftus has said he feels his case is now solid. He said the next move in the court process could happen soon.
After months of decisions, August will see transitions.

New faces in high places have been the order of the day this summer. August marks the changeover of some key administrative positions.

William Dalton, a 52-year-old multiple myeloma specialist, will take over as the H. Lee Moffitt Center’s new director on Aug 1. This is Dalton’s second stint at Moffitt. He leaves the University of Arizona, where he served as dean of the medical school.

Dalton replaces John Ruckdeschel, whose contract was not renewed after 10 years in the position.

Bill Heller was forced into resignation from his position of USF-St. Petersburg’s campus executive officer in June after 10 years. The incident marked yet another controversy for Genshaft, and, at a late June public appearance at the St. Petersburg campus, she became noticeably upset after being questioned by a student about trust.

As August arrives, Heller will be replaced by Ralph Wilcox. Wilcox has been an American Council on Education Fellow for the last year, working in Genshaft’s office. He takes over as interim CEO, and the search for Heller’s permanent replacement will begin immediately.

Students returning to campus dining rooms on August 26 may not realize it, but their food will no longer come from Marriott.

In June, Aramark won the bidding war to provide dining services to USF for the next five years. The contract is estimated to be worth about $14 million.

The food provider begins its service on August 16.
Anything’s possible during the next month

For those who keep a constant finger on the pulse of politics and the administration at USF, August promises to be an exciting month. Anything could happen. From decisions on Al-Arian and Al-Najjar to a Loftus lawsuit, monumental revelations are at hand.

But at the same time, nothing could happen. There are no guarantees that Genshaft or any of the judges involved will deliver as promised.

It seems the only things students can take for granted are that on August 26 Dalton will head Moffitt, Wilcox will head St. Petersburg, and Aramark will serve dinner.