Civil attorney Robert McKee was given the unenviable task Wednesday of breaking the news to his client, Sami Al-Arian, that his employment at USF had been terminated.
Al-Arian’s reaction was not one of surprise, McKee said.
“He’s completely engaged in the process of helping his criminal defense team prepare,” McKee said. “He wasn’t surprised.”
Also not surprising was Al-Arian’s order for McKee to file a grievance against the university.
McKee said during a Thursday news conference that with Al-Arian’s impending criminal trial for charges of terrorist activities, he is not sure how long the grievance process will take. He said, however, that he believes the university has not been completely honest.
“As this situation with USF dragged on, it became apparent to us that USF was waiting on federal law enforcement to do something … before they were going to act one way or another. If Dr. Al-Arian had not been indicted, obviously, he would still be on paid leave,” McKee said. “(The indictment) was the ultimate trump card. They were praying for this event, at least from a public relations perspective.”
McKee said USF President Judy Genshaft probably had contact with the justice department during the past years and was aware of what was happening in the investigation.
“They obviously were privy to information that was not made available to us, so we have reason to believe they put the brakes on it indefinitely,” McKee said. “For example, (U.S.) Sen. (Bob) Graham was in town last year. He did not stop by to give us a briefing as to what the national security records revealed about Dr. Al-Arian that he was privy to, but he did spend some time with Dr. Genshaft and brought her up to speed.”
USF media relations director Michael Reich said the university used nothing to make its decision about Al-Arian that wasn’t available to the general public, and that the investigation was not discussed at Genshaft’s meeting with Graham.
But McKee said that in 2002, he began to suspect that USF was receiving information.
“We got a hint when they filed the lawsuit in August, they were working on new and improved charges,” McKee said. “Those new and improved charges dovetailed nicely with what was in the indictment.”
McKee said everyone involved should remember that Al-Arian has yet to be convicted of a crime. He said Al-Arian is working hard with defense attorneys right now and is readying for the impending court battle.
During Genshaft’s Wednesday press conference, when she announced Al-Arian’s termination, she demonstrated the university’s reasoning by producing a receipt from a conference by the Islamic Concern Project, one of Al-Arian’s alleged front operations for terrorist activities. On that receipt, Al-Arian had identified himself as a professor from USF, thus improperly using the university for personal gain.
McKee said that was not enough reason for termination.
“If that’s it, I don’t think so,” McKee said. “The receipt is 10 years old. It’s one incident that assumes the justice department’s ability to prove that ICP was somehow tied into funding or supporting terrorists. That hasn’t been proven. It’s been alleged, but it hasn’t been proven.”
McKee said he feels the fairest move for the university would have been to place Al-Arian on unpaid leave until his legal troubles are cleared up.
“Obviously, if he is convicted of any of these very serious charges, the employment matter becomes moot,” McKee said. “So there would be no potential downside for the university.”
If he is cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, McKee said the university should reinstate him immediately.
According to McKee, the grievance will now be filed under the USF Board of Trustees’ employment rules. That, he said, now leaves the faculty union “out of the loop.”
“The collective bargaining agreement has expired. We’re stuck with the new procedure that has been put in place by the Board of Trustees,” McKee said.
McKee said he now has 30 days to file the grievance. After that, he said, the timetable becomes questionable. Either way, McKee said, the Al-Arian saga will go on for quite some time.
“The final chapter to this drama hasn’t been written yet,” McKee said.