AAUP condemns South Florida

By Gus Bode

The American Association of University Professors criticized the University of South Florida Saturday for firing SIUC alum Sami Al-Arian, a Palestinian professor charged with funding Middle-Eastern terrorism operations.

The AAUP described the university’s actions as “grave departures from Association-supported standards,” according to an article in the Chronicle for Higher Education. It did not, however, formally censure the university for violating principles of academic freedom and tenure.

The AAUP is a nonprofit organization that promotes academic freedom by supporting tenure, academic due process and standards of quality in higher education.

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Al-Arian, a 1978 graduate in computer engineering from SIUC, was fired after being one of eight men arrested Feb. 20 on federal charges of racketeering and conspiracy for his alleged connection to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

According to the charges, Al-Arian used the university and two non-profit organizations, World Islamic Studies Enterprise and the Islamic Committee for Palestine, to raise money for the Islamic Jihad.

The president of the university, Judy L. Genschaft, said in a press conference after Al-Arian was charged that he was fired for using the university for “improper, non-educational purposes.” She also said he had repeatedly abused his position and was using the concept of academic freedom as an excuse for his actions.

The Academic Freedom Act, created by the AAUP, states “institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.”

Shortly after he was charged, Al-Arian was fired, citing breach of contract and insubordination, not academic freedom since his public comments were not related to his specialty in computer engineering.

Before his termination, Al-Arian was on paid leave for allegedly using inappropriate behavior and disrupting the university. The university filed a motion in federal court for declaratory judgment, which would have ruled he had violated the faculty’s collective-bargaining agreement, but it was denied.

Al-Arian filed a grievance shortly after he was fired that claimed the university did not follow due process, which allows him to have a pre-termination hearing.

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AAUP condemned the university for firing him without “demonstrable cause,” for trying to justify the dismissal through the federal courts and for not having a hearing before he was let go. It added that the actions taken were based entirely on political issues and not legitimate academic concerns.

Reporter Valerie N. Donnals can be reached at [email protected]

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