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USF Sues Professor Over Alleged Terrorism Ties

Aired August 22, 2002 - 11:04   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: With that, we are going to take you to Tampa, Florida. This is where a news conference is being held. Professor Sami Al-Arian and his attorney, fighting being fired by University of South Florida. The university making allegations that the professor has terrorism ties. Let's listen in to the attorney.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... to go through the grievance procedure, to go to arbitration, and that is what we will fight to maintain, is the right to do that. Dr. Al-Arian is here, and so is Roy Weatherford. He is the president of the local chapter of the United Faculty of Florida, the union that represents the professors at USF. I will turn the podium over to Dr. Al-Arian to answer any questions you might have regarding the lawsuit and regarding the additional charges -- I am sorry, Roy wanted to make a statement first.

ROY WEATHERFORD, UNITED FACULTY OF FLORIDA: I am Roy Weatherford, the president of the University of South Florida chapter of the United Faculty of Florida. Most of the people in this room can be fired tomorrow for what you say today about this case. I cannot. The difference between me and you has nothing to do with your First Amendment rights. Indeed, through the freedom of speech, all Americans have the right to say what they want. Through the freedom of the press, you have the right to write what you want, but your management can dismiss you. They don't have to have a reason.

Unions exist in part to give people job security. The United Faculty of Florida is a union. Like all unions, we have a collective bargaining agreement, and like most collective bargaining agreements, that requires a just cause for dismissal after a probationary period. At the university, our probationary period is called the tenure process. It is six years, the longest probationary period of any employment group in the nation.

Furthermore, the final review is much more rigorous than for any other employment group, so the tenure process, in fact, ends the career of ten times, perhaps 100 times as many professors as it ever protects. People who fail to get tenure lose their job, lose their profession. After seven years of study, six years of hard work, they don't make the grade, they are out.

On the other hand, once you have tenure, you have the right to continue in your employment unless the university administration can make the case that they have just cause to dismiss you. At USF, our tenure is entirely a matter of the collective bargaining agreement. It does not exist in state law, it is not part of the U.S. Constitution.

One of the good things that the university has done recently is to admit that this is an academic freedom case. Before they were claiming that the reasons they were proceeding against the Dr. Al- Arian had nothing to do with his political activity, or what he had said. If they had proceeded on those grounds, it would have been a terrible precedent for the faculty, because on those grounds, almost any faculty would be subject to dismissal, providing (ph) transient reasons.

Now, at least, the battle is joined where it should be joined, on the question of whether or not Dr. Al-Arian has seriously violated the rights that all of us enjoy, provided we don't engage in criminal activity.

In the process of revising the charges, however, USF has introduced a new step into the procedure, a lawsuit. In 28 years of defending faculty, I have never known a college or a university to sue one of its own faculty. This has the advantage that it removes the disruption, the choosing upsides that has divided our faculty and our students and our administration. To that extent, I will be glad to see it go to court, and get out of my hands.

On the other hand, taking it to court will not necessarily settle this issue. It may convince the university that they were wrong, that they are, indeed, violating constitutional rights and, therefore, they should cease and desist. But what if the judge rules that it would not violate his constitutional rights to dismiss him? That still doesn't settle it, because contractual rights are stronger than constitutional rights.

Everybody has a constitutional right to say what they want to, but they don't have a constitutional right to a job. Our contract says that in addition to not violating the constitutional rights of the employees at the university, they also cannot violate the contractual rights.

Furthermore, it provides a procedure, a grievance procedure, that is explicitly designed to interpret the contract without having to go to court. That grievance procedure ends in binding arbitration, which is legally binding on both sides, imposed by mutual arbitrators selected by both sides together.

That is the way that we believe this kind of controversy should be settled. We should all play by the rules, we should go through the process and let the arbitrator decide if we continue to disagree.

While there are some good things about trying to settle this in the court, it can also be a very bad precedent, because while the contract forbids the administration to dismiss anyone without just cause, it does not forbid them to sue someone without just cause. As part of the American legal system, each of us is responsible for paying for our own defense if someone chooses to sue us. If faculty are members of the union, we have a legal defense fund and a liability insurance program that will pay their legal expenses. But in Florida, as a right to work state, not everybody has to be a member of the union to have the contractual rights that the union provides, so all of our faculty are protected against unjust dismissal, but only the union members are protected against unjust lawsuits.

If the administration in the future decides that they would like to harass and bankrupt a professor, what is to stop them from deciding to sue? This can be a terrible precedent with a serious chilling effect on academic freedom at our university, and to that extent, we are very concerned about it. I will meet tomorrow with the membership of our chapter. This weekend, I'll be meeting with the leadership of the united faculty of Florida in Tallahassee, and I will contact our affiliates at the Florida Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association to see how best we can respond institutionally to this very unusual and, I might say, creative way of dealing with this difficulty.

If nothing else, it makes me glad to live in Florida, where nothing is ever impossible and new things happen everyday.

Thank you very much.


PROF. SAMI AL-ARIAN: Good morning.

First, I would like to thank my wife for being here, and the reason she is emotional, because she has just received word that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) has been transferred and going to oversees.

QUESTION: Do you know where to?

AL-ARIAN: We are not going to say until he is there safely, and we just received that a few minutes ago, so we pray that he will arrive there safely, and everything will be all right.

QUESTION: Have you had any contact with him over the last couple of days?

AL-ARIAN: Yes, we have been in contact with him.

QUESTION: What has he had to say?

AL-ARIAN: Let's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to the end.

Also, my son is here, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). He just graduated from Duke University, hoping to become a lawyer. I thought he would need one when he graduates. And my daughter is here, Nyla (ph). She is a senior at Georgetown, hoping to become journalists.

Are you sure you're going to stay (ph) journalists?

AL-ARIAN: And my third daughter here is Lena. She is a freshman at one of Florida's universities. I also would like to thank Roy for being here, and for his support and for the faculty of Florida, also the state chapter, as well as the national chapter, American Federation of Teachers, and also the strong support of the American Association of University Professors, who are the premier organization defending freedom. I thank you for your support.

I also would like to thank my attorney Robert and Kate (ph) for excellent advice that they've been giving me for the past few months.

I am very disappointed that we are still here discussing these issues that have been talked about for many, many years. I am very disappointed that now we have to readdress some of these issues. I would like to remind everybody that all of these issues were discussed not just in the court of public opinion, but in the court of law, before a judge. Over 4,000 pages are part of the proceedings of this court.

The judge after a two-week hearing, after many witnesses, after many testimony, came to many conclusions. Many people in the press, as well as many people Florida (ph) University and other places would like to ignore the findings and the rulings of the judge.

What is included in the current notice to me by the university has been addressed by that judge even to the point more than once, on the issue of fund raising. This is what the judge Kevin McCews (ph) said in his ruling, and I will make sure that you have access to this. "The court finds it remarkable that out over 500 videotapes that were seized from which a 13-minute composite tape was created, not one excerpt of the composite depicted respondent which at the time was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) engaging in fund raising for the ICP, the PIJ, for the Islamic jihad or any terrorists organization. There is no evidence that the respondent engaged in fund-raising for any organization. And I can say that also about myself, that there is no evidence that they can show that they ever fund raised"

"In this case, there is no evidence," this is another quote -- "that the respondent raised funds for the PIJ, or sent funds to the PIJ." "The court finds -- this is another quote -- "that the evidence does not demonstrate that the respondent engaged in fund-raising for the PIJ through the ICP, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)." "Why should these financial contributions," this is talking why, "which never raised any funds for any group except itself." And this what is the judge found. "This is the financial contributions through the distribution of brochures, which delineated why these objectives and means."

Here's another quote, "The record is devoid of any evidence linking any of the respondent's financial transactions to the PIJ," another court. There is no evidence that indicates that respondent engaged in fund-raising through the PIJ."

Another quote, "The court finds that the services claim that they engaged in fund-raising activities for the PIJ through either ICP or WISE (ph) is unsupported by the evidence of record."

Another quote, "There is no evidence on the record to even suggest, to even suggest that the purpose of the fund-raising that occurred at the ICP conferences was not to cover the costs of the conference or to raise money for the orphan sponsorship fund (ph)." Another quote -- "The service has not presented, has not presented, any evidence that any money raised during that event even went to the PIJ."

The only people who don't take no for an answer, as far as I know are rapists. So I think when the judge says no, people have to accept his findings.

Were these organizations fronts -- This what is the judge says: "Although there are allegations that the ICP and WISE were fronts for Palestinian political causes, there is no evidence before the court that demonstrates that either organization was front for the PIJ." To the contrary, he didn't stop there. He said, no evidence, he didn't say some evidence, little evidence, vague evidence, not so convincing evidence, he said no evidence. And then he didn't stop there, but continued.

"To the contrary, there is evidence on the record to support the conclusion that WISE was a reputable and scholarly research center, and the ICP was highly regarded. This is after looking at all of the evidence that was presented. WISE (ph) produced 4,000 pages of scholarly work." Not 10 pages, not 100 pages, not even a thousand pages, over 4,000 pages. Not a single depiction, not a single sentence, not a single paragraph came out of all these 4,000 pages that would suggest that WISE (ph) was working on behalf of any organization, that even terrorists organization. What else does the judge say?

He says, "Based on the evidence presented to this court, it appears that respondents with WISE (ph) and ICP are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to cooperation with the organizations in lawful activities." This is the judge saying that what organizations were involved in unlawful activities? Most of it, First Amendment-type activities. There were some suggestion about the fund-raising event. This what is the judge says about that. That is also in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) document. It's undisputed that the April 1991 round table event was not an isolated event. It was not even an isolated event. And then he named the individual.

And he said, who was conducted this fund-raiser, he said, "It was not a member of the ICP and he was not speaking for its behalf." The service, that is the government, offered no evidence to rebut the testimony.

What about the invited speakers? In the chartered (ph) document, they talk about invited speakers. Mr. Ganushi (ph) -- and this is what the judge says: "He also invited Mr. Ganushi (ph) to the U.S. in spite of his conviction because he was a highly-regarded academic. The country reports that the State Department for Tunisia (ph) corroborate respondent's claims. They rejected the claim."

What about Mr. Nappy (ph)? The court realizes there is contradicting evidence regarding Mr. Nappy. And then he says, even if Mr. Nappy (ph) was founder (ph), he was not a designated terrorists organization at the time to file that petition (ph) on his behalf. Moreover, the service granted the visa petition thus authorizing Mr. Nappy's (ph) entry to the next state." And then also, in the charging document, charges I was bringing unsavory character, as if I get from (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Then he says, "The court finds notable that even assuming the respondent invited terrorists into the United States, it is the government that authorized the entry of these individuals into the United States."

Another quote...

KAGAN: We have been listening to a news conference in Tampa, Florida, with Professor Sami Al-Arian. He is a professor at the University of South Florida, that school has been trying to fire him, saying he has been involved in raising money for terrorist activities that would finance suicide bombers in Israel. He and his attorney are fighting that termination notice. And that's what we were hearing from today.

The university, for itself, has its own comment that we have ready to go, from the president, where he says, "I believe that the Dr. Al-Arian had abused his position at the university, and is using academic freedom as a shield to cover improper activities," and that is Judy Genshaft, the president of the university of South Florida. So this dispute moves on into the courts, and we will track it as it does.




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