Professors for Sami
An Update on Sami Al-Arian and "academic freedom" from the American Association of University Professors.
3:00 PM, Jun 17, 2003 • By DAVID TELL
THE QUESTION raised by our editorial in last week's issue--whether the American Association of University Professors would "censure" the University of South Florida for having fired indicted Palestinian Islamic Jihad chieftain Sami Al-Arian--has been resolved. Sort of. Temporarily.
Winding up their 89th annual meeting here in Washington on Saturday, roughly 300 AAUP delegates from around the country spent about 90 minutes debating a final, advisory report on the matter by the Association's "Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure." That report was harshly critical of President Judy Genshaft and other USF administrators: "Committee A condemns the administration's actions against the professor" and "does not view the professor's arrest and incarceration as excusing the administration's grave departures from Association-supported standards of academic due process." Nevertheless, "despite the harms suffered by the professor," Committee A was unable to identify any "reasonable remedial action" it might request USF to take "at this time," Al-Arian having decided to defer grievance procedures against the university pending completion of his criminal trial--and having been denied bail in the meantime. Given such "unique circumstances," Committee A recommended that the AAUP delegate assembly take "no action" in response to the professor's plight.
But Saturday's AAUP plenary session rejected this advice. According to the St. Petersburg Times, "many" of the Association members who lined up at the microphone during Saturday's debate, apparently under the impression that Al-Arian had been victimized merely for exercising what one of them called "the right of the professor to say what he believes," urged that USF be added to AAUP's full-scale "censure" blacklist. And while majority sentiment for that move did not materialize, the delegates did end up endorsing something almost as drastic: a resolution that "condemns" USF for dismissing Al-Arian "based on political issues entirely apart from any legitimate academic concerns"--along with an accompanying motion referring the university's "severe violations of academic freedom" back to Committee A for ongoing review and "reconsideration."
It's a peculiar decision. The Association has "censured" many institutions over the past 89 years, but its "condemnation" of USF is believed to be a first--and its insistence that Committee A spend another year monitoring the case seems entirely pointless: Al-Arian's criminal trial isn't scheduled to begin until January 2005, so there'll be no new facts for the committee to "reconsider" before the AAUP reconvenes next summer.
Moreover, there's that pesky, 50-count, 121-page indictment implicating the professor in a lengthy and elaborate terrorism conspiracy. At this point, it's increasingly difficult--if not impossible--to find anybody familiar with that indictment's details who's still prepared to call Sami Al-Arian a suitable candidate for continued tenure at an American university. USF faculty senate president Greg Paveza, previously a critic of his school's response to the controversy, now tells the Tampa Tribune that he's changed his mind: "There's enough information [in the grand jury's charges], along with what individual information the university had, to justify the university's decision to terminate him." In other words: Sami Al-Arian is probably guilty.
In other, other words: The AAUP has just "condemned" the University of South Florida for firing a man who's spent the last 10-plus years organizing suicide bombings out of his campus office.
David Tell is opinion editor of The Weekly Standard.