A year ago today, USF President Judy Genshaft wasnÃt even thinking about Sami Al-Arian.
Now, the problematic professor and his plight against USF consume her.
In an interview Monday, Genshaft said during the past year, she has spent more than 50 percent of her time working on the case.
And that hurts.
Ã¬ItÃs not just me, though. ItÃs my whole administration.Ã® Genshaft said. Ã¬Some days itÃs all IÃm doing.Ã®
And even when she leaves the university or the state for conferences or conventions Ã³ no matter where she goes Ã³ the story never lags far behind.
Ã¬IÃm always explaining and defending the university on this situation,Ã® she said.
But thatÃs too bad, Al-Arian says. Genshaft brought this on herself. He thinks this situation could have been taken care of months ago. Had she afforded him the chance to talk with her, one on one, he says heÃs positive he could have persuaded her not to pursue his termination.
Genshaft and Al-Arian have never met in person, though Al-Arian says he requested on two occasions during the last year that they convene.
Ã¬Fifty percent of her time? If she works 40 hours a week, thatÃs 1,000 hours, right? And she canÃt spend a half hour to talk to me?Ã® Al-Arian asked.
Genshaft has said in the past that because Al-Arian has yet to be fired, his due process has not yet begun. A meeting with the professor wouldnÃt be appropriate.
Al-Arian, too, has had to make sacrifices over the past year, though he says he spends far less than 50 percent of his time working on his case.
But with all that has plagued him since the infamous interview on The OÃReilly Factor, this past year has been the most peaceful, spiritually, of his life.
Ã¬I am totally at ease, really,Ã® he said. Ã¬I donÃt lose sleep over this.Ã®
Al-Arian, who will make nearly $70,000 this year without setting foot in a classroom, has spent about $20,000 on legal fees.
HeÃs also taken his case on the road, speaking at universities throughout the country three to four times a month.
As far as heÃs concerned, heÃs won in the court of public opinion.
Ã¬All the reactions are extremely favorable,Ã® Al-Arian said. Ã¬I think people are generally rooting for me.Ã®
Negative responses are few and far between, he says, and never to his face.
Ã¬All the negative reaction has been from behind closed doors, in e-mails or letters to the editor,Ã® he said. Ã¬I never see the faces of these people.Ã®
One face he does know, however, is Board of Trustees Chairman Dick Beard.
Since last Sept. 26, Genshaft has been cautious with her words. Beard, on the other hand, calls it how he sees it.
Ã¬In most places in America, if youÃre not wanted in your job, you go find another job,Ã® he said Monday. Ã¬ThatÃs what IÃd do.Ã®
Beard says that Al-Arian is using academic freedom as a front for covert activities and, in the past, Beard has called him a terrorist and a Ã¬cancer.Ã®
He said the university is not moving to fire Al-Arian based on what he said, rather it is based on the disruption his actions caused on campus.
Since returning to USF in 1998 after spending two years on paid leave pending a federal investigation that turned up no charges, Al-Arian was back on campus Ã¬doing whatever he doesÃ® while the FBI was looking elsewhere, Beard said.
After the Sept. 11 Attacks, Beard said Ã¬his activities in the Middle East became much more important to the United States.Ã®
Al-Arian denies any connections to terrorism and has never been charged with a crime.
Some believe this case could drag on for years, which does not bode well for USF from a public relations standpoint.
Genshaft acknowledges that Al-Arian is bad publicity for the university. And she knows that as long as the case lingers on, it wonÃt go away. But USF isnÃt just Sami Al-ArianÃs university, she says. ItÃs Jacqueline CattaniÃs and Robin MurphyÃs and Mark GoldmanÃs.
All three professors have garnered USF national attention. Cattani, for heading up USFÃs Center for Biodefense; Murphy, for her agile, rubble-parsing robots; and Goldman, for his award-winning alcohol research.
ThatÃs the kind of good publicity Genshaft says sheÃs counting on to maintain USFÃs reputation as a first-class research institution.
Some sympathize with Genshaft saying sheÃs inherited two scandals Ã³ this and the Jerry Ann Winters suit that was recently settled.
And while she wishes the Al-Arian problem was fixed prior to her arrival at USF more than two years ago, she says problems like todayÃs come with the territory.
Ã¬ItÃs one of those challenges that you take on as president,Ã® she said.
Still, the situation remains frustrating.
Ã¬With all the time weÃve spent, itÃs just lost opportunities that we could have used to advance this university,Ã® she said.