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Genshaft decides not to decide

The case against controversial USF professor Sami Al-Arian took an unexpected turn Wednesday. President Judy Genshaft has opted to render no decision on whether to fire Al-Arian and instead will leave it up to a state judge to decide.

The Board of Trustees has filed a complaint for declaratory relief, in which it will ask a state judge to determine if Al-Arian’s rights would be violated should the university move to fire him.

The ruling will be binding.

But that ruling could be a long way away.

School officials expect to have a better idea of when, and if, the case will be heard within 60 to 90 days. A final ruling could take years.

Genshaft said in a news conference Wednesday that it was her responsibility as a president to ensure the university was abiding by the principles of academic freedom. Seeking a third party to decide is just another step to ensure Al-Arian rights are not violated, she said.

“She’s an educator, not an investigator,” said R.B. Friedlander, USF’s interim general counsel. “She’s not a court.”

Genshaft said she would make no further comments regarding the matter.

The decision to not decide and instead leave it up to a judge is risky, BOT Chairman Dick Beard said at the news conference. But it’s a risk worth taking. If the university loses the case and the judge orders it to rehire Al-Arian, “It would be a hard life to live,” Beard said. “That’s not something we want to do.”

Al-Arian is not commenting, but in a news release preceding the Wednesday news conference, his group, the Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace, called the charges unsubstantiated.