In Monday’s Senatorial debate between Betty Castor, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate and USF’s former president, and Republican candidate Mel Martinez, The Oracle was featured prominently. The problem was, however, that an ad used by Martinez quoted The Oracle out of context. We would like to hereby set the record straight.
During the first 15 minutes of the debate, moderator Tim Russert asked the candidates about the commercials they are running. Commercials for both campaigns largely feature the way Castor handled a situation that arose when former USF professor Sami Al-Arian was said to have ties to terrorism through fundraising efforts while Castor was president of USF.
In one commercial, Martinez quotes an article titled “Castor submits response to USF/WISE link” that was published in The Oracle in June 1995 (it is reprinted in its entirety on Page 5) and portrays Castor as though she knowingly decided to do nothing about Al-Arian even though there were suspicions about him.
The article, however, clearly states that Castor put Al-Arian on paid leave while he was investigated and only reinstated him after he was cleared by the FBI (mentioned in the article as “law enforcement”) once she was assured “no illegal activities” had occurred and “no threat to safety existed.”
Al-Arian was a tenured professor at the time, and even if Castor would have liked to take harsher steps against him she did not have the legal option of doing so.
When USF President Judy Genshaft had to handle the situation under similar circumstances, she acted in the same fashion. The official stance taken by Genshaft at the time was that Al-Arian was put on paid leave because threats had been made against him and she feared for the security of students. Only after he was officially indicted — which never occurred on Castor’s watch — was Al–Arian officially fired.
But even when Genshaft officially terminated Al-Arian’s employment at USF, she said the decision took nearly a year and a half to complete because of the consultation the university needed to make. It seems that if there had not been a formal indictment, Genshaft would have been forced to reinstate him in the same fashion Castor was.
Like Russert, we would like to question the validity of the Al-Arian case as far as the Senatorial race is concerned. Involving his name in an increasingly negative campaign not only detracts from other issues but may also jeopardize a fair trial for Al-Arian, a man who, after all, is still considered innocent until proven guilty.
Until an official verdict is passed, it seems counterproductive to continue discussion of the matter, and both campaigns would be better off if they agreed to stop running commercials featuring Al-Arian.