The Truth about Sami Al-Arian's Firing

Myth: Sami Al-Arian was fired in a fair way that respected due process.

Fact: Sami Al-Arian was given no notice of the Board meeting on 12/19/2001.
Fact: He had no opportunity to address the Board or face his accusers.
Fact: Neither President Genshaft nor any representative of the Board of Trustees has communicated with Sami Al-Arian during the whole controversy.

Fact: The university failed to demonstrate sufficient grounds for dismissing a tenured professor under the UFF/BOR Collective Bargaining Agreement and failed to follow the guidelines that the American Association of University Professors has established for faculty dismissal proceedings, which describe a hearing process in front of faculty.

Myth: The Board of Trustees had to call an emergency meeting.

Fact: No reason was ever presented for failure to observe at least 24 hours’ reasonable notice time, or for the necessity of holding this meeting during Semester Break.

Myth: Sami Al-Arian and his views are so odious and the position of the university and country so sensitive that he deserves no due process rights.

Fact: Many faculty were fired without due process during World War I with precisely this argument. Dr. Al-Arian's firing is not an exception but part of the historical pattern of encroachments on academic freedom.

Fact: The Trustees were told they were legally obligated to disregard the content of Dr. Al-Arian’s speech. An employer may not take action against an employee because of what he or she is, or out of dislike.

Fact: President Genshaft herself stated in a Tribune column (10/14/01) that Al-Arian could not be fired for political reasons because extensive investigations leading to his reinstatement in 1998 found no “wrongdoing,” and no authority had brought new allegations or information. That is still the case.

Fact: Dr. Al-Arian’s public life, especially during his recent leave, has been mild compared to perceptions generated by the media and sustained in popular belief.

Myth: Academic freedom does not cover "extramural utterances."

Fact: The UFF/BOR Collective Bargaining Agreement provides that activities outside the scope of employment can be grounds for discipline only if they adversely affect the legitimate interests of the university or Board. The 1940 AAUP Statement on Academic Freedom lists comments as a citizen and resident as part (c) of academic freedom. Neither requires faculty constantly to issue disclaimers when no reasonable person would believe they are speaking for the university.

Myth: The contract and the AAUP guidelines cited by President Genshaft required that faculty member Sami Al-Arian make clear that he was not speaking for the university.

Fact: The contract only describes a responsibility to “indicate when appropriate that one is not an institutional representative.” The 1997 AAUP Statement on Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications explicitly states that faculty may "usually identify one's professorial position in off-campus communications."

Fact: In any case, Sami Al-Arian has never said before, on or after September 26, 2001, that he was speaking for USF. His only public speaking appearance after that date has been at Amnesty International Human Rights Day, when he addressed issues relating to civil and human rights.

Myth: Dr. Al-Arian violated the terms of his leave by appearing on campus on one occasion after he had been placed on leave.

Fact: The paid leave notification letter of September 27th does not stipulate avoiding the campus as a condition of the leave, nor, according to Dr. Al-Arian, did his interview of that date with the Provost and Engineering Dean. Nor was this condition known to Dr. Al-Arian until he received a letter of “final warning” on October 8. He has not set foot on campus since.

Myth: There is no way that Sami Al-Arian could fulfill his duties while off-campus.

Fact: Dr. Al-Arian requested scheduling alternatives or nontraditional teaching arrangements (such as closed-circuit TV hookups that would allow him to teach from home), and USF ignored him.

Fact: When Dr. Al-Arian asked about his graduate students in the 9/27 interview, he was given to understand that he could meet with them on nights and weekends as had been done during his earlier paid leave. However, within days after 9/27, without notifying the professor, his graduate students were advised not to contact him. A master’s student was promised graduation without completion of the thesis.

Myth: The security costs have been too high as a result of Dr. Al-Arian's statements. USF cannot afford to keep him on.

Fact: There have been no individual death threats since early October, according to USF Police Sgt. Klingebiel's answers at the 12/19/01 Board of Trustees meeting.
Fact: Local law enforcement put more effort into finding the one mentally-ill student who threatened USF with a single letter in 1996 than they have into arrest-ing and punishing the domestic terrorists who threatened the university this fall.
Fact: By firing Dr. Al-Arian, the university is encouraging extremists who think they can change USF policy by threatening it.

Myth: Sami Al-Arian disrupted the university and prevented it from carrying out its mission.

Fact: Those who threatened the university and its employees are responsible for the disruption, not Dr. Al-Arian. The firing of Dr. Al-Arian sets a precedent that faculty can be punished for the misdeeds of others.

Myth: Sami Al-Arian had to be fired because donors had complained.

Fact: By firing Dr. Al-Arian, the university is encouraging those who think they can change USF policy with money to continue demanding that they determine academic policy.

Fact: Virtually every charitable operation has suffered a decline in donations since the events of September 11. Some small private schools dependent on donations are being forced to close because of this trend. To blame USF’s decline in donations entirely on Dr. Al-Arian’s notoriety is post hoc.

Myth: Dr. Genshaft was acting solely on her judg-ment of the best interests of the university. This will have no effect on other faculty.

Fact: Dr. Genshaft was acting under intense political pressure from Board members, from state legislators, and from the governor. Because she caved in on the case of Dr. Al-Arian, she will be hard-pressed to use tenure in the future to protect other faculty members.

Myth: Dr. Al-Arian had to be fired because he had no consideration for the difficulties his actions had created for administrators.

Fact: Administrators are hired to make faculty work possible, not the other way around.
Fact: The university presented no evidence about Dr. Al-Arian's lack of consideration. Only vague assertions were made at the 12/19/2001 meeting.

Myth: You need to agree with everything Al-Arian says in order to defend him

Fact: Academic freedom means that faculty defend the rights of colleagues with whose views they often disagree or may even find abhorrent. The point of being at a university is welcoming a free and open discussion.

Myth: If we only shut up, the university community will heal.

Fact: If we shut up, top-notch faculty and students will go elsewhere to speak freely and try exciting things. The firing of Dr. Al-Arian has tarnished the reputation of the university for a very long time.
Fact: 12/19/2001 set another precedent for meetings on university policy without consideration of alternatives or faculty voices.

The AAUP statement on academic freedom in 1940 (during the beginnings of World War II) remains the standard definition (and is available, along with other statements on academic freedom, at <>). See also the UFF website <>.