Professor Dr. Al-Arian fired from South Florida University of the United States of America, due to his political activities.


   January 7, 2002    

 Dear Colleague:   

 Welcome back to a new semester. I thank you for your efforts to help our University fulfill our mission of teaching, research and service during this very difficult academic year. The faculty's response to the challenges of recent months, particularly the issues relating to Dr. Sami Al-Arian, says much about the character of this University. Since the fall term there have been significant developments in regard to Dr.Al-Arian, and I want to take this opportunity to update you.

 Dr. Al-Arian is an associate professor of computer science. As you know, Dr. Al-Arian's political activities and association with men who were later  revealed to be terrorists have been a matter of intense controversy for Dr.  Al-Arian and the University for a number of years, generating widespread suspicion and constant questions about the credibility of  this fine institution. After terrorists attacked America on September 11, 2001, questioning about Dr. Al-Arian's activities reached new levels of intensity.  On September 26, Dr. Al-Arian chose to appear on national television and  talk about his associations and political causes. In the months since, the  long series of national telecasts and other media coverage and the  continuing activities of Dr. Al-Arian have stimulated intense and dangerous  reactions for the University.   This very extraordinary situation has tested the very soul of the  University, forcing us to think seriously about some of our most fundamental  and deeply held principles. One is the principle that a faculty member may  freely express his or her opinion. Another is the University's obligation to  ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff and the effective operation  of the University. This debate has been wrenching for me and for every  constituency of the University. We find that opinion is divided among  faculty, staff, students, trustees, alumni and other groups with an interest  in USF. I think it's important to explain the factors that Provost Stamps  and I considered as we deliberated to find the right balance between these  two core principles.

 The accusations against Dr. Al-Arian are not new. They are the same ones  that were being made in the period of 1994-96. The FBI has thoroughly  investigated Dr. Al-Arian. In the past decade, the FBI has not filed charges  against him, has not exonerated him and has consistently denied the  University's requests for information, telling us that the FBI's file on Dr.  Al-Arian remains open.

   On September 27, the first death threat against Dr. Al-Arian to be received  at USF forced closure of the Computer Science Department Office. Late that  day, on the advice of the University Police, the Provost and the Dean of  Engineering, I decided to place Dr. Al-Arian on paid leave pending  investigation of the threats to the safety of him and others working and  studying at USF. At that time, the Dean of Engineering and the Provost met  with Dr. Al-Arian, explaining to him that he was being placed on leave with  pay, that he was not to come to campus until the leave was lifted, and that  in expressing his personal opinions outside his field of expertise, he was  obligated to make clear that they are his own and not USF's views. We had  the hope and expectation that Dr. Al-Arian would soon be able to return to  his faculty duties. But that was not the case.

   Due to continuing misleading broadcasts and news reports and Dr. Al-Arian's  manner of pursuing his political agenda, every time we assessed the  situation, law enforcement advised it was not safe for him to return to  campus. During this trying period, as Dr. Al-Arian has continued to promote  his political views, he has not been diligent in making it clear that he is  not speaking as a representative of USF. On at least one occasion after his  meeting with the Provost and Dean, he came to campus to meet with students,  forcing the University to place this requirement in writing. As the semester  progressed, we recognized that Dr. Al-Arian was not fulfilling his  responsibilities under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. As reluctant as  I am to take any action that might be misconstrued as a breach of academic  freedom or freedom of expression, I recognized the University's  responsibility to balance a professor's right to expression against the  obligation to protect the safety and well-being of the academic community.

   The strain this situation has placed upon the capacity of the University to  function has become more and more intense. Due to safety concerns in the  College of Engineering, a number of faculty and students are fearful to be  in the building after business hours. There has been substantial disruption  in operations throughout the University as we have diverted resources into  the response to this situation. Federal and state officials have questioned  USF's ability to conduct the anti-bioterrorism research for which the  University receives substantial federal funding, and in light of this  controversy, federal agencies have raised concern about our research in  other areas. This issue has seriously strained our relations with many of  our alumni and others whose annual giving helps support University programs.  Many students and parents of current and prospective students have expressed  strong concern about whether USF campuses are safe. Not only has the past  semester been disrupted due to this controversy, our files showed that 15  percent of Dr. Al-Arian's time on the USF faculty has been on paid leave due  to issues related to personal political activities, and for which he bears  some responsibility. This fact is not simply an indicator of past behavior,  but is predictive of prospects for the future.

   As the fall progressed and we were planning for the Spring Semester,  Engineering Dean Louis Martin-Vega advised that the certainty of disruption  in the College of Engineering if Dr. Al-Arian returned made it impossible  for Dr. Al-Arian to resume faculty duties this academic year. Also in the  fall, in consultation with several trustees, we retained an external  employment attorney to conduct a legal review of the situation. The review  was completed the week after fall commencement. Trustees requested an  end-of-semester review of the situation, and on December 18, Chairman Dick  Beard called an emergency meeting of the Board of Trustees for December 19.  The Chairman explained that the meeting was called immediately on receipt of  counsel Thomas Gonzalez's report so that the University could come to some  decision about the employment status of Dr. Al-Arian in time to minimize the  impact on the Spring Semester.

   At that meeting, Dean Martin-Vega, the University Police and I reported on  the many disruptions that have been visited upon the institution as a result  of Dr. Al-Arian's private activities, and I outlined options for the  University. Mr. Gonzalez made his report to the board, advising them that  the substantial disruption did constitute cause for action against Dr.  Al-Arian. The Board engaged in lengthy debate in which trustees weighed Dr.  Al-Arian's political and expression rights against the University's  obligation to provide a safe environment for work and study and to operate   efficiently. The Board then adopted a resolution recommending that I begin  the process of terminating Dr. Al-Arian's employment. Afterward, I held many  conversations, and found that professors, deans, vice presidents, the  Provost, students, trustees and others shared my anguish about this  situation. At the end of the day, after Provost Stamps and I reviewed the  record and my conversations, we determined that we agreed with the  conclusions of the Board and others with whom we had consulted. We directed  the University to inform Dr. Al-Arian of the intention to terminate his  employment under the provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The  Collective Bargaining Agreement includes significant safeguards for academic  freedom and the rights of faculty - in particular, the grievance procedures.  However the process ends, we will at last have a resolution to this  nightmarish situation that has hung over the University for nearly a decade.

   All of us who accept the responsibilities of university leadership  understand our professors sometimes spark controversy in their research and  teaching. If this were about the freedom accorded faculty in their research  and teaching, we would be honor-bound to fight to protect academic freedom.  But a different issue has brought us together. We are dealing with a most  extraordinary situation. These unique issues have required us to determine  how much disruption the University must endure because of the manner in  which a professor exercises his right to express political and social views  that are outside the scope of his employment. By virtue of his academic  credentials and appointment to the position of Associate Professor of  Computer Science, Dr. Al-Arian has full standing to speak as a USF employee  - whether inside the classroom or out -- on issues of computer science. As a  member of this faculty, he has standing to speak as a USF professor about  governance of the University. It is his right to be identified as a USF  employee as a matter of fact.

   But just as we have the sacred obligation to uphold academic freedom and to  respect employees' rights to express opinions as individuals, we also have a  covenant with the people of Florida that the University will not use our  governmental authority to advance any political position unless the  University itself is a party to political issues that affect the capacity of  the institution to fulfill our mission.

   So as we examined the record and considered the many discussions we have had  on this matter, we came to the conclusion that the Board's recommendation  was in the best interest of the University - that Dr. Al-Arian's attitude  toward his responsibilities to the University guarantee disruption will  continue so long as he is on the faculty. The University notified Dr.  Al-Arian of the intent to terminate employment on December 19. He has until  January 12 to respond. After that point, he has the option of pursuing a  grievance as outlined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

   This has not been an easy decision. It has many ramifications for our  university as we move forward. But I could see no better resolution. Of the  options available to us, I am convinced that the one we chose is in the best  interest of the University.  I understand  that many on the faculty have  concerns about this, and I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this  with you. If you would like to see more detailed information, it is  available on the President's web page:  <

   Again, this has been a very difficult decision and one that has not been  made lightly. This is a unique case. It is not about academic freedom, but  the ability of our university to operate with the security and efficiency  that are essential for USF to fulfill its mission. As your president, I know  this is the right decision for moving this forward in our region, the state  and the nation. I appreciate your work to make the University of South  Florida all it can be.

                                   Sincerely yours,

                                    Judy Genshaft


                                   South Florida University