Censure of USF warranted

It seems USF has hit a road-block in its negotiation and is now almost certainly facing academic censure from the American Association of University Professors, an action which will undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on the university. Regretably, USF deserves to be censured, as its actions have clearly violated the rules set out by the AAUP, not to mention common fairness, and jeopardized the rights of academic free speech of all faculty members in the future.

No matter how serious the indictment against Sami Al-Arian is, and no matter how the court will decide, his elongated suspension with pay and eventual dismissal were not consistent with AAUP standards.

The claim by USF officials that the indictment vindicates its dismissal doesn’t hold up, as university officials also claim they had no prior knowledge of the content of the indictment.

The university’s statement that “in the future, there will be formal consultation (with faculty)” does not help the matter, as a path has already been taken and a bad precedent created.

The mere fact that Al-Arian did not have a chance to defend himself in the 14 months that he was on paid leave should be reason enough alone to censure USF. Al-Arian repeatedly requested to talk to the president and board members, but not only was he refused such a hearing, he was not even allowed on campus.

Even after the grievance was filed on Jan. 6, it took the maximum time allowed, a month, for the university to recognize the grievance and schedule a meeting. In addition, the university added 3 months to the process by rejecting the shorter route to move toward arbitration. These are only two examples of how the process could have been expedited.

As the AAUP also states in its report that was issued last week, “The principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ ought to be observed.” This is especially true at universities, where new ideas and free speech, no matter how controversial, should be encouraged without fear of being fired.

And even though Al-Arian may be convicted, his dismissal will not be justified as USF clearly violated due process and skipped steps that should have been taken.

Errors were made and the damage has been done. In the light of probable censure, university officials must now attempt to rework their procedures so they mirror more closely policies the AAUP has maintained for nearly eight decades.

Another case like this could send a burgeoning university to a premature grave.