Just hours before Sami Al-Arian was to be indicted on charges of racketeering and murder, his most staunch opponents addressed the media and Board of Trustees on Thursday afternoon.
BOT Chairman Dick Beard said before the Board’s regular meeting that he had not read the indictment but was pleased that it now appears the controversy that has plagued the university for more than a year is coming to an end.
Beard and his Board recommended on Dec. 19, 2001, that USF President Judy Genshaft fire the controversial professor.
Beard has been criticized in the past for speaking harshly of Al-Arian, calling him a “terrorist” and “cancer,” but Thursday’s arrest, he said, proved that the Board made the right decision.
“A year and a half ago, we all had a sense that this man should not be at this university,” Beard said.
Genshaft also came under fire when she moved to fire Al-Arian just hours after the Board’s recommendation in 2001. Many accused her of trying to squelch Al-Arian’s free speech.
The American Association of University Professors has vowed to censure USF should Genshaft follow through with Al-Arian’s termination.
Genshaft has also been criticized for waiting so long to render a decision. It was widely expected that in August, just a week before the beginning of the fall semester at USF, she would either fire or reinstate the tenured professor. However, she did neither and instead requested that a state judge make a declaratory judgment.
Genshaft has maintained during the course of the controversy that keeping Al-Arian off campus was a safety issue, and despite pressure from the AAUP, the issue is not about academic freedom.
At Thursday’s meeting, she said the situation has not only been taxing on her personally but has also caused a major disruption at the university,
“I was not particularly surprised by this,” Genshaft said. “There had been rumors that something like this might happen for quite some time.”
Thursday morning’s events do not necessarily mean Al-Arian will be fired.
“The arrest itself does not change our course,” Genshaft said.
She added that she will continue to act in the best interest of the university.
Beard said she’s been doing that all along.
“The president at this university has handled this as well as it could be handled,” Beard said.