Academic Freedom and Tenure: University of South Florida

Article excerpt

This report deals with actions taken by the administration and the governing board of the University of South Florida against Dr. Sami Al-Arian, associate professor of computer science and engineering, beginning in the fall of 2001 and culminating with his dismissal on February 26, 2003. The administration placed Professor Al-Arian on paid leave of absence in September 2001. In December 2001, it notified him of its intent to dismiss him. No further action was taken affecting his status until August 2002, however, when the board of trustees, while keeping him on paid leave of absence, initiated civil litigation against him in an attempt to obtain a declaratory judgment on whether discharging him would violate his First Amendment rights. In December 2002, a federal district judge declined to issue the judgment being sought by the administration and dismissed the litigation.

With the University of South Florida administration continuing to keep Professor Al-Arian on paid leave, a draft report prepared by the undersigned Association investigating committee was approved by Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure for release to the principal parties in the case and sent to them on February 12, 2003, with an invitation for their corrections and comments. On February 20, Professor Arian was arrested following his indictment by a federal grand jury, charging him and others with criminal activities relating to international terrorism. Six days later, the administration dismissed him, alleging that he had used his academic position to support terrorism.

The ultimate disposition of Professor Al-Arian's case remains to be determined. He has as yet not had an opportunity to defend himself against the criminal charges nor to contest the dismissal in an academic proceeding. Nevertheless, based on the evidence currently available to the Association, Committee A believes that the investigating committee's findings and conclusions as of mid-February 2003 warrant publication of this report. Events following the mid-February release of the investigating committee's text are summarized at the end of the report in a brief update by the chair ot Committee A.

I. Introduction

The University of South Florida (USF) is the third oldest of the member institutions of the State University System of Florida. It opened its doors in September 1960, on a campus northeast of Tampa, with a faculty of 130 and more than 1,000 students.

Before the new institution could graduate its first class, it became the subject of an AAUP investigation. The investigating committee found that action by the university's founding president, John S. Allen, in failing to honor a professor's appointment, revealed unsatisfactory conditions of academic freedom. The AAUP's 1964 annual meeting imposed censure, which was removed by the 1968 annual meeting after redress had been provided in the professor's case and the university had adopted dismissal procedures consistent with Association-supported standards.

Over the ensuing years, USF has become a comprehensive research university with more than 36,000 students and nearly 1,900 full-time faculty members, offering through ten schools and colleges degree programs at the baccalaureate, master's, and doctoral levels, the latter including the M.D. It has hospitals, medical clinics, a mental health research institute, and two public broadcasting stations. Supplementing its main location are additional campuses in St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Lakeland, and downtown Tampa.

Dr. Judy Lynn Genshaft, the current president of the university, received her Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Kent State University. She served for sixteen years at Ohio State University, where at different times she held positions as chair of the Faculty Senate, chair of her academic department, and associate provost for regional campuses. Dr. Genshaft in 1992 accepted appointment as dean of the School of Education of the State University of New York in Albany, where in 1995 she became provost and vice president for academic affairs. …