Saturday, the American Association of University Professors decided not to censure USF for firing Sami Al-Arian, instead opting to condemn the actions that led to it. Yet, USF’s administration still does not appear to be getting the message.
The AAUP is an influential and respected group among professors. This condemnation, while not as grave as the censure that was looming, will definitely influence professors considering coming to USF, now branded as a university that doesn’t respect free speech or faculty rights. It could also prevent some from staying around.
Faculty union president Roy Weatherford was quoted by the St. Petersburg Times as saying, “Nobody who loves USF can be happy today,” which succinctly sums up the situation USF currently faces.
President Judy Genshaft attempted to downplay the significance of the condemnation in her official statement Saturday: “It is important to keep in mind that this is just the perspective of one advocacy group.” But faculty regards the AAUP as one of the most important groups in the country. More than 40,000 make up the group that has maintained the gold standard in academic practice for more than 85 years.
Statements by Genshaft, such as, “I cannot fathom how the AAUP can look at the same set of facts we looked at and come to the conclusion to condemn us,” show how the administration simply does not, or will not understand that the ends do not justify the means in this case.
USF was condemned, not for firing Al-Arian, but for the way in which it fired him.
When Al-Arian was arrested, he had already been on paid leave for 17 months based solely on his appearance on The O’Reilly Factor.
The USF administration has also repeatedly claimed that they had no prior knowledge of the charges brought up against Al-Arian until the indictment was published. Therefore, Genshaft terming her actions “the right decision, at the right time, for the right reasons” does not stand up to scrutiny. USF saw the indictment as an easy way out of a predicament of its own making, but the administration’s abandonment of its original case against Al-Arian seems indicative of a hasty decision gone wrong.
Concessions have been made to include faculty hearings if a similar case ever arises. Professor input on new faculty rules is also a good start.
But unless the administration changes its stance and admits that errors were made in the process of firing Al-Arian, its claims of championing academic freedom will be undermined by this self-inflicted blemish.