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Al-Arian demands USF restore his standing

The controversial professor demands that his faculty rights be restored and that his ban from campus be rescinded.

By ANITA KUMAR, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 7, 2003


TAMPA -- Fresh from a victory in federal court last month, professor Sami Al-Arian has gone on the offensive.

In an unexpected move Monday, Al-Arian filed a grievance against the University of South Florida, accusing president Judy Genshaft of discriminating against him based on his religion and ethnicity.

"It is clear that their tactic is delay, delay, delay," Al-Arian said. "I'm not going to play that game."

The move triggers a series of reviews that eventually could end with arbitration. But the process is unlikely to end the debate over Al-Arian's future.

Genshaft still must decide whether to fire Al-Arian, which she threatened to do a year ago after his controversial appearance on national television after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

She wanted U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew to tell her whether firing Al-Arian would violate his constitutional rights, but the judge ruled in December that her involvement in the case "would not be a wise and practical use of judicial resources."

The university has until Jan. 16 to decide whether to appeal Bucklew's decision.

"It has become evident to us that there is a state of paralysis that has set in at the university, that they are in no hurry to get this thing resolved," said Robert McKee, Al-Arian's attorney. "We've decided to go on the offensive."

Al-Arian's grievance contends that Genshaft broke the union contract by disciplining him without just cause and violated his right to academic freedom and nondiscrimination.

Genshaft has placed Al-Arian on mandatory administrative leave and banned him from the campus. The grievance demands she rescind both actions and restore his full rights and responsibilities as a member of the USF faculty.

USF officials, however, contend that Al-Arian was never disciplined. The leave and campus ban were imposed to ensure safety after the school received a dozen death threats, they say.

USF officials declined to comment Monday except to say that the school will proceed with the first step of the grievance process as outlined in the collective bargaining agreement.

That requires a hearing at the university in about a week. After that, Genshaft decides whether or not to reinstate Al-Arian.

Al-Arian can appeal Genshaft's decision to the Board of Governors, which oversees all state universities. If he is still unsatisfied, he can appeal to binding arbitration.

Al-Arian asked the university to proceed straight to arbitration Monday but USF declined.

Genshaft threatened to fire Al-Arian last year after allegations that he had ties to terrorists were aired on Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor two weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He was placed on paid leave from his $67,500-a-year job.

Al-Arian, 44, who has been under federal investigation on and off for years, denies alleged ties to terrorism. He was under federal investigation in the mid 1990s when federal agents suspected that his Islamic think tanks were fronts for Middle Eastern terrorists. In February, federal authorities announced that Al-Arian was being investigated.

USF's recent lawsuit accused him of raising money for terrorist groups, bringing terrorists into the United States, founding organizations that supported terrorism and inciting people to break the law, "thereby aiding and abetting international terrorism."

If Al-Arian were allowed on campus, USF officials say they would have to spend money to ensure the safety of Al-Arian, employees and the school's 37,000 students. Those measures could include an escort for Al-Arian and metal detectors in classrooms.

Roy Weatherford, president of the USF faculty union, called Al-Arian's leave unjustified punishment.

"We just want it fixed," he said. "If the university won't do what's right then it's a reasonable move."

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