USF union files grievance for Al-Arian
Published: Tuesday, January 7, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 6, 2003 at 11:49 p.m.
TAMPA - The University of South Florida's faculty union filed a grievance Monday for a Palestinian professor accused of terrorist ties, saying the school's president lacked just cause when she banned him from campus.
The grievance, filed on behalf of computer science professor Sami Al-Arian, says that USF President Judy Genshaft violated the school's union contract by disciplining him without just cause. The grievance also says the school violated Al-Arian's right to academic freedom and violated the policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of ethnicity and religious affiliation.
"We've received it and we're looking at it and we'll decide how to handle it," USF spokesman Michael Reich said. He declined further comment.
Genshaft placed Al-Arian on forced leave and banned him from campus shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and his subsequent appearance on Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor." He was quizzed about links to known terrorists and asked about tapes from the late 1980s and early 1990s in which he said "Death to Israel" in Arabic.
The university says that hurt the school's fund-raising efforts and resulted in threats being made against the school.
Al-Arian said he was told he would soon be back on campus.
"I was assured that this was for safety and security, primarily for my own safety and security, that I was not under any investigation and that soon this thing would be over. I have not done anything to alter the situation," Al-Arian said at a news conference Monday.
In December 2001, at the urging of university trustees, Genshaft said Al-Arian should be fired from his $67,500-a-year job, citing a breach of contract and saying his presence on campus was disruptive and a safety threat.
"Dr. Al-Arian has been collecting his salary on the taxpayer's dime for over 15 months," said his attorney, Robert McKee. "He wants to go back to work, he wants to earn that money. It's time to end the charade. Put him back to work. Let him teach."
The university claims the professor raised money for terrorist groups, brought terrorists into the United States, and founded organizations that support terrorism.
The school also filed suit in August, citing the terrorist allegations and seeking to have the courts decide the free speech issues.
USF had wanted U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew to rule that its plan to fire Al-Arian would not violate his constitutional rights, but the judge said her involvement in the case "would not be a wise and practical use of judicial resources."
The firing decision now lies with USF, whose officials were still contemplating the next move.
"Their tactic of delay is designed to break Dr. Al-Arian's spirit and his bank account," said Mark Klisch, the vice president and grievance chairman of the union.
Al-Arian and his brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, founded the World and Islam Studies Enterprises, a now-defunct Islamic think tank at USF that was raided by the FBI in 1995. Al-Arian also founded the Islamic Concern Project Inc. in 1988.
Al-Arian has lived in the United States since 1975. He has never been charged with a crime and has consistently denied any connection to terrorists. In February, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa said Al-Arian has been under federal investigation, but has refused to elaborate.
The grievance demands that Genshaft rescind Al-Arian's mandatory administrative leave and banishment from the USF campus and restores his full rights and responsibilities as a member of the USF faculty. It was timed before the expiration of the faculty's current contract, which expires Tuesday.
Roy Weatherford, head of the USF chapter of United Faculty of Florida, said that it could take up to five months for the grievance to go to an independent arbitrator. He said the union has requested that it go directly to arbitration, which the university has declined.
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