That’s how much Sami Al-Arian said the legal battle between himself and USF will cost.
In fact, he said Tuesday, USF president Judy Genshaft’s decision to take him to court rather than allow the case to go into arbitration is an effort to run him out of money.
“They are trying to bankrupt me through the court system,” Al-Arian said. “They’re trying to make me feel the pinch.”
Al-Arian said the university has engaged in “deep-pocket” tactics. He also said he feels his rights were circumvented when the university chose not to enter into arbitration. For those reasons, Al-Arian said, he called on a judge Monday to dismiss the lawsuit.
“Arbitration is my option, not theirs,” Al-Arian said. “If I choose to go to arbitration, then they have to follow the procedure. It’s my right to choose which venue.”
USF media relations director Michael Reich disagreed with Al-Arian. He said the process that will allow the case to go to arbitration cannot begin unless Genshaft decides to fire the professor, which she has not yet done.
Reich said the university’s decision to take Al-Arian to court was not meant to circumvent his rights but to determine the constitutional implications of a case that involves academic freedom and free speech.
“What we’re trying to do is to resolve the constitutional issues before a final decision,” Reich said. “Instead of circumventing his rights, it’s a step over and above due process.”
Al-Arian insisted that the university has done nothing but eliminate his due process.
“It’s totally unfair,” he said.
The university now has 10 business days to respond to Al-Arian’s request. In addition to calling for a dismissal, Al-Arian said he is seeking to have the case moved out of the circuit court and into federal court.
“It’s not really a state case,” Al-Arian said. “We’re talking about constitutional matters.”
Reich said there is no benefit or drawback to the case moving to federal court. He said, however, he feels the circuit court has jurisdiction.
Dick Beard, chairman of the USF Board of Trustees, said Al-Arian’s current legal maneuverings were expected. Beard echoed Reich’s assertion that Al-Arian has not lost his right to arbitration.
“We would proceed through the process (that includes arbitration) if the president decides to fire him,” Beard said. “We cannot make action against him without going through the process the union requires.”
Beard said whether the proceeding will be held in circuit or federal court does not make any difference. He did, however, confirm that he said “something similar” to a statement attributed to him in the St. Petersburg Times that said Beard wanted the case moved to federal court because the judge will likely be more conservative and side with the university.
Beard, who has in the past called Al-Arian a terrorist and a cancer, answered to a statement the professor made in early September.
Al-Arian said he would not engage in Beard’s name-calling, but that Beard “is not an academic.”
Beard said such a statement does not affect him.
“No, nothing bothers me that Al-Arian says,” Beard said. “He told the courts that he didn’t know that somebody who’s not a U.S. citizen can’t vote. I’m not confident anything he says is correct.”
Al-Arian, for his part, said he is tired of the various ways the university has tried to solve a case that is now almost a year old. He said he wants the issue resolved.
“The fair way to settle the case is for the administration to drop its high-handed tactics and allow me back to teach,” Al-Arian said.