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USF won’t contest ruling

USF will not appeal a federal judge’s ruling that threw out the university’s request for a declaratory judgment regarding the case of controversial professor Sami Al-Arian.

Late last year, Al-Arian’s lawyers moved to have the case dismissed, and on Dec. 13, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bucklew did just that, leaving the university in the same position it was in August when it took its case to court in an effort to seek outside counsel.

Bucklew said the court was not the proper venue for the case, which garnered national attention in September 2001, when Al-Arian was placed on paid leave following death threats sparked by an appearance on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor.

University spokesman Michael Reich said there is no timetable for when USF President Judy Genshaft will render a decision on the professor’s fate.

In August, the university filed a motion to have the case heard in state court. It wanted to see if it had grounds for firing Al-Arian or if it would be violating academic freedom in doing so.

“Where that puts us is back where we were before we filed a motion for the declaratory judgment,” Reich said.

He added that while nothing stands in the way of Genshaft making a decision, she will probably wait until it becomes clearer how the structure of faculty governance under the control of the new Board of Governors will play out.

“I think we’re going to take a little time to see the lay of the land,” Reich said.

Genshaft was in Tallahassee Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

Al-Arian said Thursday night the university’s decision to not appeal was the first good decision it’s made in a long time. It’s also a decision, he said, that makes sense.

“It would have been a waste of resources and a waste of goods,” Al-Arian said.

He said he believes now he won’t be fired because he says he thinks Genshaft has the foresight to see that he would win in arbitration and be reinstated anyway.

Also, he said, the threat of an American Association of University Professors’ censure is something he doesn’t expect Genshaft to take lightly. AAUP, which lays the foundation for academic freedom in higher education, made it clear in 2002 it would censure USF should Genshaft fire Al-Arian.

Early in 2002, Genshaft said she would not act on the Dec. 19, 2001 recommendation from the Board of Trustees that she fire Al-Arian. Instead, she said she would postpone her decision so representatives from the AAUP could visit the campus to conduct interviews with faculty and administrators.

Genshaft has maintained from day one, that the Al-Arian controversy has nothing to do with squelching the professor’s rights and everything to do with maintaining campus safety.