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AAUP says university botched up due process

An official from the American Association of University Professors said Wednesday that the arrest and indictment of Sami Al-Arian doesn’t excuse the poor way it says the university has handled the situation since September 2001.

Associate Secretary Jonathan Knight said the group, which aims to protect faculty rights, caught wind early Wednesday afternoon of USF President Judy Genshaft’s decision to fire the controversial professor.

“We haven’t seen the statement by the administration as to the basis for the dismissal, but judging by the administration’s reported actions and reasons for those actions, it is something with which we find ourselves very much concerned,” Knight said.

With the firing of Al-Arian, it now appears likely the AAUP will censure USF when it convenes for its annual meeting in June.

“We have a situation where the administration believes, on the basis of the indictment, that this man is guilty of some very serious crimes,” Knight said. “I don’t take away anything from the administration’s belief, but in this country, on these campuses, we ask that administrations not act unilaterally and that (they) subject (their) beliefs to due process.”

But university spokesman Michael Reich says USF has followed due process the whole way through.

“We’ve consulted, we’ve debated, we’ve sought guidance from the courts,” Reich said.

About this time last year, Genshaft, fresh off a recommendation from the Board of Trustees, seemed poised to make a decision on the fate of the computer science and engineering professor. The AAUP contacted her and asked her to wait so it could send three representatives to campus to investigate. She agreed. Nevertheless, the AAUP, Reich says, continues to assert that Genshaft has acted improperly.

Knight said what was improper about USF’s handling of the case was that it didn’t afford Al-Arian a hearing with a faculty body or the BOT, as stipulated in the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

Reich said, however, that the university followed the guidelines of the now-expired collective bargaining agreement. And while the BOT is considering adopting the AAUP statement of principles, it hasn’t yet.

“The AAUP has made it clear that they think that tenure entitles you to a job for life even if you support terrorism,” Reich said. “That’s an extremist view, and we disagree with it.”

What’s at issue with the AAUP is not so much an issue of academic freedom but more of an issue of due process. The procedure, or lack thereof, Knight said, is flawed on many levels.

“To dismiss the person because he has been indicted, seems to us to turn the due process upside down,” he said. “They sentence the person, and then later have some hearing on the matter.”

But the university isn’t sentencing anybody, Reich said. Genshaft made it clear Wednesday that the final decision to fire Al-Arian had less to do with the 120-page indictment and more to do with his abuse of his position at the university.

Specifically, Reich cited a receipt for a hotel room that the university copied and attached to a media packet distributed during Genshaft’s statements.

The document shows that Al-Arian’s Islamic Concern Project, one of the organizations under scrutiny in the government’s indictment, reserved some hotel rooms in Chicago in 1990. The rooms are registered under ICP. The contact information, however, is “7 UNIV OF S FLORIDA, COMPUTER SCI. & ENG.” That, Reich says is a clear example of Al-Arian abusing his position.

Regardless of the charges levied against Al-Arian, Knight said the AAUP has made it clear from the get-go what its expectations were of the university in this situation.

“We have taken the position all along, if you’re going to impose drastic sanctions on a faculty member, there should be a hearing on the campus with a faculty committee,” he said. “With this administration, as with any administration, you want to make sure, particulary in times of crisis, that your commitment to due process is unwavering.”