Al-Arian’s lawyer says USF violated professor’s rights

YBOR CITY — The USF faculty union filed a grievance against USF Monday in the first step toward a legal attempt to demand that President Judy Genshaft reinstate controversial professor Sami Al-Arian.

Genshaft placed Al-Arian on paid leave in 2001.

At a news conference held at the office of Al-Arian’s attorney, Robert McKee, and faculty union president Roy Weatherford once again criticized the Board of Trustees, this time requesting that Genshaft rescind Al-Arian’s job no matter what the cost for the faculty union may be.

The grievance outlines five violations the USF administration has made to the collective bargaining agreement and requests to meet with the Board today to discuss the grievance.

Among the violations listed in the agreement, which expires today, are claims that Genshaft has violated disciplinary action, academic freedom and nondiscrimination.

The first violation states that “The president’s decision to continue to bar Professor Al-Arian from the USF campus represents a repeated disciplinary action against him.”

“We filed (the grievance) challenging that the university reinforce the right for Al-Arian to keep teaching and restore his duties at the university,” McKee said.

However, the university denied that challenge when informed of the grievance before the 4 p.m. conference and refused to meet with Al-Arian’s attorney and the Board immediately. Now, Genshaft has 30 days to appear at an internal hearing with the faculty union and Al-Arian, McKee said.

Because the grievance process is confidential according to Florida Statutes, media relations director Michael Reich released a statement via e-mail saying that it would be “inappropriate for Genshaft to comment on this or any other grievance.”

As for the university’s plan to respond to the grievance, Reich said, “We have received Dr. Al-Arian’s grievance. We will proceed with the first step of the grievance process, as outlined in the collective bargaining agreement.”

Although the collective bargaining agreement ends today, Reich said Step 1 is included in the emergency rules that will now take effect.

If Genshaft follows through and fires Al-Arian, she or a representative will have to meet with Al-Arian and his representative no sooner than seven days and no later than 15 days after the firing. At that meeting, Al-Arian will be given the opportunity to present evidence in support of his grievance, and a faculty union representative or a legal counsel will discuss the grievance.

It is unknown when any hearing will be held with the board, McKee said, but the next step is to bring the grievance to the arbitrator.

“We don’t have any problem going into circuit court ourselves,” McKee said. “They don’t have all the time in the world.”

McKee questioned why the grievance wasn’t filed earlier. He said the Board has been given every opportunity to restore Al-Arian to his position as a computer science and engineering professor, but an offer was never made.

Weatherford also made it clear at the conference that the faculty is fed up with the situation, and no amount of legal action could cause him or the faculty to surrender to the Board of Trustees.

“We’re not giving up … We have had four different presidents before (Genshaft), and everyone had more concern than her. We will still be here after Dr. Genshaft is gone,” he said.

Weatherford said that it is the faculty and students who should be at the heart of the university’s concerns, not corporate decisions.

“The corporate raiders that (Gov. Jeb Bush) appointed have lied every step,” Weatherford said. “They lied when they told Dr. Al-Arian that he was not suspended and they lied about the threats to the university.”

Al-Arian echoed Weatherford’s comments when he said he was not under the impression that the board’s dismissal was permanent.

“Since I was put on paid leave, I was assured that this was for safety and security reasons,” Al-Arian said. “I have not said anything or done anything to alter the situation.”

Following Al-Arian’s Sept. 26, 2001 appearance on The O’Reilly Factor, Genshaft said that Al-Arian was being removed from the university for his and the students’ safety, claiming that USF received hundreds of death threats.

Genshaft has widely expressed that it was the disruption on the campus and not Al-Arian’s comments that called for his removal.

Al-Arian said he believes the Board’s attempt to fire him is based on a matter of political opinion.

Weatherford said Genshaft’s decision to ban Al-Arian from campus was just the beginning of the Board’s “long-term plan to destroy the university.”

And, he said, the BOT’s decision to allow the collective bargaining agreement to expire today is an attempt to break up the faculty union. The faculty union has been concerned about the safety of its jobs because of the emergency rules that are now in place for 90 days as a temporary replacement of the disciplinary rules listed in the collective bargaining agreement.

The board’s decision to create these rules allowing the collective bargaining agreement to expire was made Nov. 21.

But Reich said the Board had no intentions to silence or harm the faculty union’s rights. The university, Reich said, had no authority for the renewal of the collective bargaining agreement, which he said is the state agency’s responsibility.