USF President Judy Genshaft spent Sept. 11 walking around campus and talking to students. She attended memorial services and participated in a flag-lowering ceremony.
But as she walked toward the education building in the midst of a light drizzle, she made it clear that the incident involving John Esposito was on her mind, and that she disagreed with the actions of the Georgetown professor.
Esposito, who USF religious studies professor Darrell Fasching called one of the top two or three experts on Islam in the world, made news because of an e-mail in which he canceled an Oct. 17 speaking engagement at USF. In the e-mail, Esposito spoke of the “unfortunate decision of your president” concerning the Sami Al-Arian case.
On Tuesday, Esposito responded to questions about his decision in a second e-mail.
“I canceled because of professor Sami Al-Arian’s firing and the clear violation of his academic freedom as noted by the (American Association of University Professors) and its threat to censure USF,” Esposito said.
Genshaft characterized Esposito’s statements as a case of misinformation. She said that, in fact, Al-Arian has not been fired but placed on administrative leave.
“It’s unfortunate that (Esposito) didn’t understand the facts of this situation, which is that professor Al-Arian is not fired,” Genshaft said. “Obviously, he doesn’t understand the situation and the case very well.”
“His decision wasn’t based on factual information, which is unfortunate.”
Al-Arian does continue to receive his full salary. He was placed on administrative leave Sept. 28, 2001, because of a string of death threats that followed his appearance on The O’Reilly Factor television show.
The USF Board of Trustees recommended to Genshaft that she fire Al-Arian. Genshaft, however, chose to allow the courts to decide.
Esposito, who could not be reached to respond to Genshaft’s comments, said in his initial e-mail that he could not visit a university that “so clearly disregards/violates the academic freedom of one of its professors.”
Esposito has also echoed the concerns of the AAUP, which stated that a tenured university professor, such as Al-Arian, cannot be dismissed because of comments he made on a television program. That, Esposito and the AAUP said, would be a violation of his academic freedom and worthy of possible censure.
In response, Genshaft said again that she doesn’t feel Esposito understands the nature of Al-Arian’s case.
“This is a place where (visitors) can have any kind of civil discourse they like, so it’s too bad if he misunderstood the facts of the situation,” Genshaft said.
Fasching said the possibility exists that Esposito’s cancellation will affect other scholars who may consider speaking or applying for positions at USF.
Genshaft, when asked how the situation may reflect the university nationally, said she is not concerned.
“That’s his choice,” Genshaft said. “It’s an open university with complete academic freedom, so that’s his own choice and his own misinformation.”