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Censure could be weeks away

Recent word from the American Association of University Professors could indicate a change in philosophy regarding the case of former USF professor and alleged terrorist Sami Al-Arian.Despite a lengthy report handed down by the AAUP, which will be published in its May-June issue of Academe, that alleges USF violated Al-Arian’s rights in six different ways, the group’s Associate General Secretary Jordan Kurland said Friday a censure is in no way guaranteed.

“I simply don’t see this as a slam dunk,” Kurland said.

On May 30 and 31, AAUP representatives, who have authored reports this year regarding academic freedom issues at schools across the country, will meet to discuss their findings.

One other school, East Texas Baptist University, also faces censure. The group will also discuss the status of four other schools, including New York University, that are aiming to have censure from previous years removed.

The committee, Kurland said, will evaluate all the cases and make recommendations for each case to the several hundred AAUP representatives ,who will vote whether to impose or remove censure at its June 14 annual meeting.

On average, no more than two universities receive the AAUP black mark each year. Such a sanction could inhibit the university from attracting or retaining faculty.

An AAUP censure would, in effect, be the pronouncement to the rest of the country that Florida is “a bozo state” when it comes to higher education, faculty union president Roy Weatherford said Sunday.

Weatherford said USF’s handling of Al-Arian is representative of how Florida universities operate.

“(University presidents) are inclined to run universities how Gov. Bush thinks they should be run. That is like businesses,” Weatherford said.

And because of that mentality, Florida has a poor reputation in education nationwide.

The businesslike approach to higher education was, perhaps, started by USF when it hired former state senator Betty Castor, who Weatherford said turned out to be a great president but had little academic experience.

Florida State University’s president T.K. Wetherell, former Florida Speaker of the House, and Florida Atlantic University recently hired former Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan as its new president. Hiring political insiders to run universities is not conducive, Weatherford said, to maintaining a strong academic environment.

An AAUP censure, Weatherford said, would only prove that USF is following this trend.

In the AAUP report, USF President Judy Genshaft and Provost S. David Stamps were given an opportunity to respond to the allegations.

“The dispute has always been clear-cut: Dr. Al-Arian has maintained he was raising monies to help orphans,” the university’s response read. “The university believed he was using university resources to make orphans.”

But Weatherford said the indictment shouldn’t have any bearing on the AAUP’s decision.

“He may be guilty, but he has not been convicted. Even if he is guilty as hell, it was the wrong thing to do,” Weatherford said. “It’s a mistake to think procedural and judicial injustices can be overlooked if it turns out the individual is guilty because then we’re abandoning justice for efficiency.”

USF systematically denied all wrongdoing in the report and reiterated that Al-Arian was not fired for his speech but for his conduct.

Weatherford said he felt firsthand the effects the Al-Arian situation has had on USF. Weatherford, a philosophy professor, said his department, after a long search, thought it found a good match for an open associate professor position it was looking to fill. The candidate, however, declined, he said, citing the handling of the Al-Arian case as one of the reasons.

The best faculty, Weatherford said, are the ones who are so coveted. They have the ability to be picky when it comes to choosing employment. A censured institution could prevent USF from garnering those types, he said.

Kurland agrees.

“Certainly, it would be more than a faculty concern than a student concern,” Kurland said. But sometimes, he added, “Students are just furious at the people running the place, and they would certainly support slapping a censure on the administration there.”

While the AAUP, which for decades has been widely recognized as the purveyor of pedagogical standards and faculty rights, could certainly affect USF professors with a vote to censure, students, too, could be affected.

Last April, a representative from the Phi Beta Kappa Honors Society said a censure could prevent USF from earning the prestigious distinction.

The society honors universities who excel in liberal arts education. Once a school is inducted, any student who meets certain standards put in place by the school’s chapter graduates with the distinction.

Faculty began expressing their concern in February 2002. One professor sent a letter to Genshaft that month, outlining why he thought a censure would be crippling to USF’s chances of winning the distinction.

“The institutional handling of the tenure situation in relation to Professor Al-Arian continues to worry us because we believe that it may adversely affect our application for a chapter,” the letter, signed by anthropology professor Alvin Wolfe, read.

When asked last year about the faculty’s concern, Genshaft said she wasn’t worried. AAUP and Phi Beta Kappa were two “very different” organizations.

Stamps has been allotting a faculty group $3,000 a year to work on the complex application for Phi Beta Kappa, which often exceeds 100 pages. The application is due in November, but the society will not vote on induction until 2006.

Last year, Nan Coppock-Bland, director of chapter relations, said some censured institutions have “applied over and over” and were not inducted until the censure was removed.

If USF is not inducted in 2006, the next opportunity doesn’t come until 2009.

Hundreds of AAUP representatives will vote on June 14 whether to censure USF. Kurland said, sometimes votes are postponed and revisited the following year. USF requested that the committee reevaluate the situation in light of the indictment and that the AAUP table the report until the trial concludes.