By Grace Agostin
If the decision is made to reinstate controversial professor Sami Al-Arian, the process would simply require updating his annual contract with the university, said faculty union president, Roy Weatherford. But according to the American Association of University Professors, the chances of Al-Arian teaching at USF again are unlikely.
“The paperwork itself shouldn’t be too serious,” Weatherford said, “because he’s still receiving his salary.”
Jordan Kurland, assistant general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, said Al-Arian could be assigned academic responsibilities once the reinstatement is confirmed.
“The process would be no different than from a professor returning from a leave of absence,” Kurland said. “Depending on the time in the semester, it might not be feasible to reinstate him right away.”
If Al-Arian were to be offered back his position during the middle of the semester, Weatherford said Al-Arian might be assigned a research position or a distance learning course since the courses will already be in session.
Since USF President Judy Genshaft cited campus safety as a reason for dismissing Al-Arian, recommendations were made to the Board of Trustees that Al-Arian could be reinstated to teach a distance learning course.
But Kurland said the university should have the right motives if they want to reinstate Al-Arian, who is a tenured computer science and engineering professor, to instruct Web courses.
“If there is a real danger to have him on campus, then that would be realistic,” Kurland said.
But indirectly banning a professor from campus, Kurland said, would be a violation of the tenured professor’s rights.
“But simply because his politics are unpopular, or for something in his personal life that doesn’t have a negative effect in his teaching, I think that would be an inappropriate reason to keep him from ever looking a student in the face again,” Kurland said.
But the possibility that Genshaft will reinstate Al-Arian seems like a stretch for the university to take, Kurland said.
“If Al-Arian is reinstated as a tenured professor, that is hard for me to imagine,” Kurland said. “I don’t know how likely it seems to me based on the statements that were made over the summer. I think the Board of Trustees are going to resist reinstatement in any way possible.”
Kurland added that the decision of whether to reinstate Al-Arian could affect the AAUP’s decision to censure the university.
“If the professor were reinstated before censure is imposed, it would lead to not imposing the censure,” Kurland said. “But for the board to voluntarily reinstate him, that would take a complete changing of their views.”
Contact Grace Agostinat firstname.lastname@example.org
By Rob Brannon
Senior Staff Writer
If USF President Judy Genshaft decides to officially fire Sami Al-Arian, the case will move from the courtroom and the media into the murky world of the collective bargaining agreement, full of its legal jargon, where it could be lost for several months.
Roy Weatherford, head of USF’s faculty union, said the arduous process legally began when Genshaft made clear her intent to dismiss Al-Arian.
Weatherford said once Genshaft sends a letter of dismissal, Al-Arian has 30 days to file a grievance. The administration, in turn, has 30 days to respond to the grievance, at which time there is a “step one” ruling.
“And then things get messy,” Weatherford said.
Weatherford said after the step-one process, the collective bargaining agreement states that a step-two- hearing should be conducted by the Board of Regents. The only problem is the Board of Regents no longer exists.
Weatherford said if the action were to begin today, step two would probably be handled by the Florida Board of Education.
Following a step-two resolution, Weatherford said Al-Arian may request binding arbitration. The arbitrator must be agreed on by both Al-Arian and the administration, and the decision would be legally binding for both sides.
But there may be yet another twist to this scenario. Weatherford said as of Jan. 7, 2003, the official employer, and therefore enforcer in this case, will no longer be the Board of Education. Instead, Weatherford said, that role will shift to the USF Board of Trustees, making it both “the employer and the legislative body.”
That would mean, Weatherford said, that step two, as well as Al-Arian’s request for arbitration, would be handled by the BOT. Weatherford said the possible judge and jury role of the BOT may be dangerous.
“I think it’s a terrible idea,” Weatherford said. “It’s clearly outrageously slanted toward management.”
But, should the process begin after Jan. 7, another issue may come to the forefront. The BOT, which may be handling Al-Arian’s appeals, has clearly stated its anti-Al-Arian policy. Board chairman Dick Beard has called Al-Arian a “cancer” and “a terrorist.”
Michael Reich, media relations director for the university, said the Jan. 7 change will play no part in the timing of Genshaft’s decision.
“I don’t think that’s a consideration at all,” Genshaft said. “Her course of action is to hear from the court and move forward from there.”
And what about the AAUP?
The American Association of University Professors has for months said USF may be censured for the threats to academic freedom and tenure presented by the Al-Arian case.
AAUP Assistant General Secretary Jordan Kurland said the group is moving forward with its investigation.
“The AAUP is not simply waiting to see what could happen in the courts, which could take a very long time,” Kurland said. “We are rather in the process of preparing a report.”
Kurland said USF could be censured during the AAUP’s annual meeting in June.
“In our judgment, the suspension has already gone on much too long,” Kurland said. “We appreciate it’s a paid suspension, but if a university administration can suspend a professor and continue his salary, (it could do so for) the rest of his life.
“That would be not a welcomed development as far as the AAUP is concerned.”
Contact Rob Brannonat email@example.com
By Stefanie Green
On Aug. 21, USF President Judy Genshaft announced that she was going to take the case of USF professor Sami Al-Arian to a state judge, in order to ensure “Al-Arian’s rights are not violated.”
However, the decision has opened a door for Al-Arian and his legal team to take the matter to federal court. This would mean that the main issue at hand would be the First Amendment right of free speech and academic freedom.
Steven Tauber, a USF political science professor, said the state and federal courts are separate entities. Moving from state to federal court can mean different jurisdiction for the case, but for Al-Arian, his First Amendment rights are what are at stake, he said.
“There is a federal issue at stake (in this case),” Tauber said.
Jurisdiction means the authority of a court to hear and determine a controversy as well as its authority to bind the parties in the action, according to the West’s Encyclopedia of American Law.
Tauber said he thinks the reason why Al-Arian and his legal team want the case to be in front of a federal judge, instead of a state judge, is that federal judges are appointed and not elected.
“Federal judges serve a term of good behavior or as along as they want, and in the state of Florida judges are elected,” he said. “On a constitutional issue (like Al-Arian’s) a state judge might be swayed to go with the public opinion. A federal judge will not.”
The USF Board of Trustees filed a complaint for declaratory relief in the Hillsborough Circuit Court following Genshaft’s announcement. If Al-Arian proceeds with seeking the decision in federal court, it would go to the Middle District Court of Florida, Tauber said. If the case were appealed it would go before the Appeals Court of the 11th Circuit, which includes Florida, Georgia and Alabama. However, the case could very well be appealed higher to the U. S. Supreme Court.
“If the case gets as high as the Supreme Court, the court decides whether or not to hear the case,” Tauber said. “So it may or may not (get that far).”
The Supreme Court receives about 7,000 appeals each year and picks about 100 of them to openly argue and decide by signed opinions.
Tauber said the main reason why Al-Arian’s case would fall under a state court would be because it is a state employment issue. Usually a state judge would make a decision, and then the lawyers of the defendant would appeal to the intermediate appeals court. The outcome there would determine if the state supreme court would hear the case before it would go to the Middle District Court.
“It is very unusual for a case to skip over the state court and go right to federal court without a dispute over a controversy in a situation,” Tauber said.
Trying to decide where the case will start is the main goal, Tauber said.
“If the case starts at the state level, the team would have to appeal more times to higher courts before reaching the federal level,” he said. “But time varies and depends on the issue and which are more significant.”
Tauber added that questions like the one posed against Al-Arian would be an issue, that the court system would try to expedite.
“If this wasn’t a First Amendment issue then it would be out of the jurisdiction of the federal court,” Tauber said.
Contact Stefanie Greenat firstname.lastname@example.org