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476 days later, Al-Arian returns

Sami Al-Arian lives near USF. His wife and daughter have spent time on campus.

The fact that Al-Arian often drives past USF has made the year and a half that has passed since he was forced to leave university property all the more frustrating.

And there are the little nuisances. Al-Arian said he cannot take a usual shortcut because it will take him through campus.

But, Al-Arian’s near 480-day exile from USF will come to an end Friday afternoon. The professor will come onto campus to participate in a grievance hearing scheduled for Friday afternoon in Phyllis P. Marshall Center, Room 129.

Al-Arian said he is excited about his visit to USF, even though it is for only one afternoon.

“I really have a very good feeling about it,” Al-Arian said. “It was frustrating for a long time, but I’m very thrilled to come back.”

The grievance proceeding was forced on the university as a result of a legal maneuver by the faculty union and Al-Arian’s attorney. On Jan. 6, one day before the collective bargaining agreement expired, union president Roy Weatherford filed a grievance on behalf of Al-Arian.

With that move coming before the bargaining deadline, the university was forced to follow a grievance procedure laid out in the old agreement.

Last week, USF chose not to appeal a December ruling by federal judge Susan Bucklew that dismissed the case the university built against Al-Arian. That move paved the way for Friday’s proceeding.

Al-Arian, who has never been charged with a crime but is accused of having terrorist connections, was placed on paid leave following a Sept. 26, 2001, appearance on The O’Reilly Factor television show and a subsequent string of death threats. Other than a lot of legal cat-and-mouse games, not much has happened in the case since then.

Al-Arian said he is “not very optimistic, but always hopeful” that the university will rule in his favor. He said the main reason he does not believe a surprising about-face will happen is because of USF President Judy Genshaft. Al-Arian said he is unsure how the president, who has never met with him but has yet to officially fire him, will react during the proceeding.

“Unfortunately, the way (the grievance process) is set up, the president will have to make a decision, and I’m not sure she’ll make the right decision this time,” Al-Arian said. “I’m not sure how courageous she is to (act in my favor).”

Genshaft said little about the Al-Arian case Wednesday.

“Right now, the situation is such (that we are) in the grievance process,” she said.

The case of Al-Arian could come to an abrupt end Friday or continue to drag on until arbitration, which may lie several months down the road.

Even with the odds stacked against him, Al-Arian said he looks for a quick solution.

“I’m hopeful that this will be a happy ending to a very drawn-out process that was full of frustration for me and sadness in a way,” Al-Arian said. “I’m hoping we’re coming to an end to this sorrowful (time) in the history of USF.”

Weatherford, for his part, said he will probably not attend the proceedings Friday. Instead, the faculty union will be represented by vice president Mark Klisch.

Weatherford said he is treating the proceeding as a normal grievance process even though the issues have “a great importance for the faculty and union.”

“This, in particular event, is a grievance filed by an individual,” Weatherford said. “It’s not in and of itself a problem that is as major as the dismissal charge is.”

Weatherford has in the past said he does not care what happens to Al-Arian. Instead, he said he is concerned with possible infringements on faculty rights that have stemmed from the case.

But the Al-Arian affair has yet another twist. It has become part of the debate surrounding collective bargaining at USF. Weatherford said the university and the union both understand that the grievance should occur in the manner provided for in the collective bargaining agreement, though they do not agree on how they reached that conclusion.

Weatherford said the union feels the terms of the agreement are still in effect, while the administration believes since the Al-Arian case began its grievance process under the agreement, it is handled under those rules.

Michael Reich, media relations director for USF, said the grievance process is provided for in the 16 temporary emergency rules that have replaced the collective bargaining agreement, and thus the Al-Arian case can be handled under that format.

“I don’t think that makes a difference, but they think this makes a difference,” Weatherford said.

Either way, Friday is an early step in the process.

Al-Arian, for his part, may not simply come onto campus to participate in the meeting. He may arrive to a hero’s welcome and make his way to the meeting room in triumph.

A “March for Justice” has been planned for 2:45 p.m. Friday. Students and faculty want to meet Al-Arian at the main Fowler Avenue entrance to USF and escort him toward the Administration Building.

Al-Arian said he is not sure he will participate in the march. The group will also rally outside of the meeting room to show their support for Al-Arian.

Genshaft was hit yet again Wednesday with the controversy that has largely defined her presidency. As she arrived for a Faculty Senate meeting, a leaflet had been placed on each of the senators’ tables, advertising the March for Justice and featuring an image of Al-Arian in front of an American flag.

Genshaft was asked after the meeting about her opinion on Al-Arian’s possible decision to march onto campus.

“I just know (we’re in) the grievance process and we’re going to follow the proper procedure of the grievance process,” Genshaft responded.