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AAUP says USF court case will have no effect

The American Association of University Professors, the body that has for months threatened to censure USF because of the administration’s handling of the case of professor Sami Al-Arian, released a statement concerning the case at its semi-annual meeting on Nov. 2.

The statement was released in response to USF’s August decision to take Al-Arian’s case before a judge. The move, according to the administration, was made in an effort to determine the First Amendment ramifications of firing the controversial professor.

The AAUP’s response was issued by a group committee known as “Committee A,” and is meant to clarify whether and to what extent a legal decision will affect the group’s vote to censure.

The AAUP’s statement uses wording meant to distinguish “Constitutional law,” which would describe a court ruling in the case from its own decision process.

“This extraordinary action (of taking the case to court) is predicated in part on the administration’s expressed concern that it will be censured by the AAUP,” the statement said. “Censure by the Association is imposed as a sanction for violations of its policies, which define principles of academic freedom. It is important to stress, however, that the constitutional and professional definitions of academic freedom are separate and distinct.”

The AAUP goes further, saying that academic freedom in the form that it will rule on when considering censure has evolved from its own policies, and not from the Constitution. The ruling on censorship, the group said, will come only if it feels its policies have been broken. Therefore, a judge’s determination is moot.

“Because the AAUP imposes censure based on its determination that AAUP policies have been violated, and not on whether an administration’s conduct violated the First Amendment, a court’s determination of First Amendment rights does not control the imposition of censure,” the statement said.

USF’s legal filing in the case did mention the AAUP. It said, in part, that the suit was an attempt to determine the legal ramifications of the Al-Arian case in response to the threat from the AAUP.

Michael Reich, media relations director for USF, said at this point the university is worried only about Al-Arian’s First Amendment rights, and not about AAUP censorship.

“Right now, we are completely focused on addressing the Constitutional issues of the case, and that’s it,” Reich said. “So we’ll address all other issues after we’ve addressed those.

“So as far as the AAUP is concerned in the things they’ve raised in their press release, we’ll address all other issues after we’ve addressed the (Constitutional) issues.”

The clashing timetable for the university’s lawsuit and for the AAUP’s decision may make the current banter between the two groups ultimately unnecessary.

R.B. Friedlander, general counsel for USF, has said that the court process may move well into 2003 or 2004. AAUP Assistant General Secretary Jordan Kurland said that the AAUP will not wait on a court decision.

In fact, according to Kurland, the investigating committee will issue their opinion, which, after being edited and refined, should be brought before the national meeting in early June 2003. At that point, a vote of whether to censure will be held. It is only at this national meeting that such a vote may occur.

If censured, USF would have to wait another year to have the censure label removed. For that to occur, Kurland said, USF would have to present evidence that it acted correctly or would have to issue some sort of apology and reinstate Al-Arian.