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Genshaft role in Al-Arian offer is troubling

A Times Editorial
Published February 11, 2007


Among the questions raised by University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft's aborted plan to pay off Sami Al-Arian is one of simple accounting. Under what legislative appropriation category would Genshaft have pulled nearly $1-million to coax the professor to leave? Was there a line item for paying suspected terrorists to just go away?

Al-Arian, who is now on a hunger strike in federal custody in Virginia, has long since left the campus and admitted to prosecutors that he helped Islamic jihadists. But his new disclosure about the settlement offer in 2002 is too outrageous to be swept aside as part of history.

The money, for one thing, helps place a price tag on Al-Arian's self-proclaimed fight for the principles of academic freedom. His attorney says Al-Arian was in fact ready to take the money and run.

More to the point, unfortunately, Genshaft was apparently eager to go along. Her exasperation with the way the Al-Arian spectacle was tainting USF was understandable, but this was no severance package. Al-Arian's salary was roughly $66,000 at the time, which puts $930,000 in the category of payoff.

The context was even worse. In 2002, the federal government was investigating whether Al-Arian was raising money for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He had publicly professed his allegiance to the organization's goals and had been videotaped praising a suicide bombing. Was Genshaft really ready to give nearly $1-million to a man who might hand it to jihadists? Was that to be USF's contribution to the war on terror?

Genshaft and the university community can thank former USF board chairman Dick Beard for quietly putting a halt to the deal, but her role in it is still unsettling.

[Last modified February 11, 2007, 00:59:54]

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