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Faculty questions USF lawyers on Al-Arian

On Wednesday, USF faculty members had their turn to ask questions about the Sami Al-Arian case, and they fired away.
Where has the money to pay for the Al-Arian case come from, they asked.
Are comments from Board of Trustees Chairman Dick Beard appropriate?
How will the Jan. 7 cutoff date for the current collective bargaining agreement affect Al-Arian and the rest of the faculty?
Has USF President Judy Genshaft engaged in delay and circumvention tactics?
And standing before the Faculty Senate on the receiving end of those questions were interim general council R.B. Friedlander and Bruce Rogow, USF attorney for the Al-Arian case.
Rogow began his appearance before the Senate by explaining the current situation surrounding the Al-Arian case.
Rogow said the case, with its discussion of First Amendment rights and academic freedom, is important in deciding whether to fire Al-Arian. He said, however, he understands the concerns of faculty and students.
ìItís true litigation is not inexpensive,î Rogow said. ì(But) thatís the posture of the case now.î
Rogow said USF is currently working to prepare its arguments against Al-Arianís motion to move the case to federal court.
Faculty Senate vice president Susan Greenbaum asked Rogow about the appropriateness of comments made by Beard in which he called the possibility that the case may leave the state court ìa trapî for Al-Arian.
Rogow said he had nothing to do with what Beard said.
ìWhat Mr. Beard said were his remarks,î Rogow said. ìItís not a trap. It was never meant to be a trap.
ìItís something I distance myself from.î
Faculty members were also concerned about the threat of censure by the American Association of University Professors. One senator suggested the universityís lawsuit was more about the AAUP than Al-Arian.
Rogow said the AAUP is a concern, but its actions do not change anything.
ìThe threat of censure by the AAUP was one of the things that drove the lawsuit,î Rogow said. ìThis was really an attempt to show good faith.î
Further questions included such concerns as possible talks between USF and the U.S. Justice Department and the relevance of academic freedom. The main collective concern for the senators, however, seemed to be the faculty collective bargaining agreement.
The current agreement ends Jan. 7, at which time employment power will transfer from the Florida Board of Education to the BOT. If there is no new agreement, the faculty is concerned that it will have to work without protection.
History professor Fraser Ottanelli pointed out that without a collective bargaining agreement, there are no longer provisions for appeals and arbitration and no longer a set standard of academic freedom.
ìIf there is no contract, there is no reason to go to state or federal court,î Ottanelli said.
Rogow said he had not thought of the matter in that light. Friedlander said, because of the AAUP, there would still be the need to determine First Amendment ramifications in court.
ìThat threat would still be there,î Friedlander said.
Faculty members also expressed concern that if Al-Arian were to lose the case, the definition of academic freedom and what it protects could be greatly changed.
Professor Elizabeth Bird, a faculty senator-at-large, said that she has yet to be convinced of why Genshaft chose to bring suit against Al-Arian. She said if the BOT and Genshaft were sure that Al-Arian should be fired, they should have delivered a message of intent and allowed the arbitration process guaranteed in faculty contracts to begin.
ì(Genshaftís decision) seemed clearly a delaying tactic,î Bird said.
Rogow reiterated before he left the podium that the case was not about free speech, but about conduct. Friedlander told the faculty that money to pay for the currently $54,000 legal bill has been taken from a fund held by the general counsel. She said the university plans for the extra money, realizing there will be a certain amount of legal fees each year.
After Rogow and Friedlander departed, faculty union president, Roy Weatherford, made his remarks.
Weatherford has long expressed his disapproval of the universityís handling of the Al-Arian affair.
Weatherford said he disagreed with Rogowís comments and with the idea of the case going to court.
ìI was very surprised to hear the universityís attorney say that the issues raised in the lawsuit are those that arise in the collective bargaining agreement, because the collective bargaining agreement itself explicitly states that no rights arising out of this agreement shall be adjudicated in the courts. The only resolution shall be through the grievance process and binding arbitration,î Weatherford said.
Weatherford said this arbitration was the only way to settle the case under the current collective bargaining agreement. He said the course of action in such a case was decided upon when the agreement was negotiated.
ìThe reason they and we agreed to do it this way is because the courts are so damn expensive,î Weatherford said. ìThis way we can reach a relatively neutral decision of which side is correct, and get on with the business of the university.î
Weatherford told the Senate that union funds would not be used to help in Al-Arianís defense. The reason, he said, is because Al-Arian did not join the union until he had gotten into trouble.
He said, however, the union will continue to be a watchdog for faculty rights.
ìWe are intervening to defend the contract and the rights of the faculty in general, including the troubling precedent of the university suing its own faculty,î Weatherford said. ìFaculty across the nation are facing an entirely new tool of oppression, and our national affiliates are very concerned about that.î
Weatherford said the union would continue to politely work with Genshaft in any way possible. He offered an apology to the administration for scheduling a lecture by Sheldon Grebstein, who endured a case similar to Al-Arianís at USF in the 1960s, during the same time as Genshaftís annual fall address.
ìWe are not trying to raise the level of confrontation at this university yet,î Weatherford said.