, a controversial computer science professor at the University of South Florida
, was fired after a Board of Trustess meeting on December 19, 2001. Harry Vanden, a faculty senator, union member and USF professor, said that it was odd for a tenured
professor to be fired. "The only reason (to fire a tenured professor) is moral turpitude
, abusing a student sexually, or complete incompetence. There are very few grounds, and when it's done, it's a very careful and deliberate process." Professor Al-Arian, who had been barred from campus, was not allowed to attend the Board of Trustees meeting. No one except the trustees, the university president, their lawyers, and the head of campus police was allowed to speak. The Board was appointed by Florida Governor Jeb Bush
Al-Arian is a resident alien born in Lebanon. He has lived in the United States for 26 years and considers himself an American. His staunch support for the Palestinian cause and his list of acquaintances working for Islamic Jihad have caused him numerous problems over the years. The firing was caused by an appearance he made on September 26, 2001 on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor. Repeating charges first made 6 years ago, Bill O'Reilly forcefully suggested Al-Arian might have ties to terrorists. Both the FBI and USF have conducted full investigations and found that such is not the case.
Following his appearnace on The O'Reilly Factor Al-Arian received "many death threats and numerous hate-filled e-mails". Due to these threats , University President Judy Genshaft determined that having Al-Arian on campus posed a safety concern. To ease tensions, on September 28, 2001 Al-Arian was placed on indefinite, paid leave. At that time Genshaft said, "Clearly, the presence of Dr. Al-Arian on the campus at this time adversely affects the operation of the University. Dr. Al-Arian should not be present at the University of South Florida in light of these very real concerns for safety."
In statements after the December 19th firing, Genshaft made no pretext that Al-Arian's academic performance was at issue; he is both tenured and popular with his students. Al-Arian was terminated, she said, for failing to make clear he was speaking for himself and not the university, and thus making the university the vortex of right-wing fury about his views. "We are experiencing a level of disruption that no university anywhere is set up to deal with on an ongoing basis."
Florida Governor Jeb Bush praised Genshaft's move. O'Reilly denounced the university president for firing Al-Arian.
Sami Al-Arian is the brother-in-law of Mazen Al-Najjar, a Tampa researcher whom the U.S. Justice Department detained in 1997 as a national security threat connected to the Islamic Jihad. He was released after 3 1/2 years in jail when an immigration judge ruled the evidence presented in open court did not show Al- Najjar was a threat. The Immigration and Naturalization Service appealed to a three-judge panel that reached the same conclusion. The INS then went to Attorney General Janet Reno, who read the open-court and secret evidence and *still* reached the same conclusion - release him.
After the WTC attacks, federal agents arrested Al-Najjar for overstaying his visa. He is being held in a maximum security federal prison and is not allowed to see his wife or three young children. The deportation order recently was upheld by a federal appeals court in Atlanta. It is doubtful Al-Najjar will be deported because the travel papers Egypt issued to him when he came to the U.S. in 1981 have been lost by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and no country in the Middle East is likely to accept the stateless Palestinian. Professor Al-Arian says the treatment of his brother-in-law proves the government has eschewed civil rights as part of its witch hunt for terrorists.