USF faces decisions on Al-ArianBy THOMAS C. TOBIN
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 21, 2003
TAMPA -- University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian's arrest on terrorism charges Thursday was seen as vindication for the school's efforts to fire him -- and a sign of more trying times ahead.
USF president Judy Genshaft said the school's lawyers are reviewing whether the government's case against Al-Arian will affect her pending decision whether to fire the tenured academic. Al-Arian has been suspended with pay since late 2001.
Genshaft gave no timetable for a decision and said it appeared the situation "would continue to be difficult as we move forward."
USF chairman Dick Beard indicated Thursday he expected the university to quickly dismiss Al-Arian now that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has added his voice to those who say Al-Arian is a terrorist.
"I would expect that something would happen soon," Beard said. "We're not going to sit on our hands." He called it "a good day for USF" and said Al-Arian has been paid "long enough" by the university.
"We feel like we made the right decision a year and a half ago, and we feel like maybe this is the beginning of the end for Sami Al-Arian and USF," Beard said.
Professor Gregory Paveza, Faculty Senate president, said the university should not fire Al-Arian without a review of the case by his teaching colleagues at USF.
"I think from a faculty standpoint most of us will take a position that this is the United States: A person is innocent until proven guilty," he said.
When the university suspended Al-Arian, it was without "any clear sense that he had engaged in any real wrongdoing," said Paveza.
About 70 percent of the Faculty Senate believe officials have yet to prove Al-Arian is a threat to the campus, while the rest think he should be fired immediately, he said.
"This faculty is not of one mind around professor Al-Arian, and has not been from the beginning," Paveza said.
Layelle Saad, a third-year student majoring in International Studies and Mass Communications, said the government had no real case against Al-Arian.
"Our civil liberties are eroding before our eyes," said Saad, 19.
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