Dear President Genshaft,
The USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida membership meeting on January 10, 2002, adopted the enclosed Resolution.
The delay between your action and our response was of course a result of the manipulative timing of the Board of Trustees meeting - it should not be construed as indicating any lack of conviction or resolve on our behalf.
The Resolution basically expresses our view that your action and that of the BOT were not consistent with the collective bargaining agreement and the ideals of the academy.
The content of your action - the firing of a tenured professor because of how other people reacted to his political activity - is morally outrageous and establishes a dangerous new precedent that, if allowed to stand, can only have an intimidating effect on our faculty and a destructive effect on our university's academic reputation.
The manner in which this action was conducted, through a semi-clandestine meeting which was scheduled when as much as possible of the university community was absent and in which no opposing views were allowed to be expressed may be appropriate for a corporate takeover or a political star chamber, but it is repugnant to the spirit of open and collegial university governance.
The fundamentally political nature of this act is manifestly apparent in the fact that almost every one of the faculty senators who spoke in support of the (failed) resolution to support your action did so based on their disagreement with and distaste for Professor al-Arian's ideas and statements. They, at least, were intellectually honest in making the straightforward claim that such ideas do not deserve protection, which is the true point of principle at issue in this matter. Not one of them, so far as I recall, argued that Professor al-Arian should be dismissed for the trumped-up and precedentially dangerous reasons to which you cling.
The pretextual reasons given were unanimously shallow or offensive or both. The placing of concern for safety and security over the pursuit of truth and the free exchange of ideas insults the memory of academics who willingly risked genuine threats and violence in pursuit of noble ideals in the past. Making academic decisions based on corporate bottom line concerns of financial support and efficient operation demeans us all. And firing faculty because trustees are tired of being insulted is characteristic of the worst academic institutions - the ones that really are run like a business-not the kind of university we would like to build.
To the contrary, we recognize and applaud the action of Professor Elizabeth Bird in resigning her administrative post rather than being complicitous in such an act. Her resignation is symbolic not only of the high principles we profess, but also of the fact - apparently incomprehensible to the trustees - that the most valuable and accomplished academics not only profess these ideals, they actually live by them, even when it hurts their bottom line. Such faculty will not choose as their preferred employer a president who caves in to political pressure to fire unpopular faculty.
Finally, our Resolution calls upon our affiliates to provide resources and assistance in support of our efforts to protect academic freedom. It is becoming increasingly apparent that this struggle will be in part political. When your name was inserted in the presidential selection process after most of the screening was done it was rumored to be political; when the Governor destroyed the Board of Regents and replaced them with a herd of corporate supporters we were concerned; when the Board assured us at their first meeting that they had no interest in micro-managing our university we were hopeful; when you told the union in consultation that it was your intention to return Professor al-Arian to the classroom we were reassured; when the Board in its fourth meeting recommended his dismissal and you immediately concurred we were betrayed.
I am not the kind of person who enjoys insulting and demeaning other individuals, and I certainly take no pleasure in criticizing the university that has been my intellectual home for thirty years. I have tried to be cooperative in our organizational activities, polite in my discussions with you and the board, and moderate in my public criticism. But now the members of the union that legally and democratically represents the faculty and professional employees of USF have democratically resolved to oppose you and the Board on this action, and I will do so as energetically and effectively as I can. It is my hope that you will not allow this significant disagreement to disrupt the process of negotiation and consultation. In particular, I hope that you and the Governor and the Legislature do not choose to punish the people we represent for taking a principled stand against this reprehensible action. It is not the faculty that misbehaved; it is not the faculty that should be punished.
I urge you to rethink your position before you become irrevocably committed to a course that is manifestly repugnant to the academic profession and the world community.
Roy C. Weatherford, Ph.D.