Al-Arian grievance will take months

The USF faculty union is pushing for answers, but they may not receive them as quickly as they want.

The faculty union filed a grievance Monday on behalf of Sami Al-Arian based on what it calls discrimination and a violation of academic freedom. It is still waiting for the administration to acknowledge the grievance with a meeting.

USF now has 30 days to meet with the union, but faculty union president Roy Weatherford said it will take at least six months for an arbitrator to decide whether Al-Arian’s rights have been violated.

But that is only if the case moves straight to arbitration as the faculty union requested.

The university’s plan is to start with Step 1, which requires a series of meetings that could add another three months to the grievance process.

Weatherford said he wants to skip the first two steps to avoid an outcome that they already expect.

“There is very little chance that the university will change its position and admit that they have done wrong,” Weatherford said. “It’s very hard for management to admit they are wrong.”

Media relations director Michael Reich said it isn’t possible for the university to be wrong when it hasn’t made a final decision.

“He’s speculating, but we haven’t taken an action yet,” Reich said.

Even if Genshaft decides to fire Al-Arian before the arbitration process is complete, the grievance process will continue and Al-Arian will most likely file another grievance against the university.

Besides wanting to settle the dispute, Weatherford said both the faculty union and USF could save some aggravation by moving toward arbitration.

“It just seems more efficient,” Weatherford said. “It will save more time and money … and the university can go on with business.”

While an independent, outside entity will be selected as the arbitrator, Weatherford said the university can proceed with business as usual.

But it will cost the faculty union and USF $5,000 each to have an arbitrator.

“(It) sounds like a lot of money, but if you compare it to what USF is spending on lawyers each week, it’s not that much,” Weatherford said.

But USF’s lawyers aren’t paid on a weekly basis, Reich said.

“We spend money on lawyers when they’re doing work,” Reich said. “So it’s not necessarily every week. Our main concern is doing the right thing for USF, not just in the short run but in the long run.”

Selecting an arbitrator will be done through an elimination process. The arbitrator will be chosen from a list of about 12 people provided through the union’s contract.

Although the collective bargaining agreement expired Tuesday, Weatherford said because the Board of Trustees hasn’t adopted a new contract, the old one takes precedence.

The American Arbitration Association will provide a list of potential arbitrators. From there, the board and faculty union will have a chance to eliminate names from the list, and the last person left will be selected.

“It’s a very small advantage because so many names are involved,” Weatherford said.

But the process allows the faculty and administration to both have a fair chance, Weatherford said. If either side feels threatened by a potential arbitrator, there is the opportunity to remove them.

To determine who will be given the first opportunity to strike a name off the list, the contract states it will be done by the flip of a coin.

At the end of the grievance process, even if the union finds the arbitrator’s decision is unfair, the case will have come to a resolution as it is.

At least from the practical point, Weatherford said.

“From morale and a political point (the union), may continue to protest that the university has violated academic freedom,” Weatherford said.

But Reich said the issue is not about academic freedom.

“I would say that is absolutely ludicrous,” Reich said. “We have said all along this wasn’t about academic freedom.”