August 21, 2002
As we begin the new academic year, I would like to take this opportunity to provide an update regarding Dr. Sami Al-Arian.
Through events of the past year with which we all are familiar, this situation has been the source of intense disruption for the university. We as an institution, and I as a president, have had to think daily about the fundamental values of universities in a way that few institutions ever do.
We care deeply about freedom in the United States. At USF, we understand that academic freedom is the core value of the academy. It is the value that has made universities an indispensable partner in America’s progress. Academic freedom provides our creativity, our authority and our credibility.
This past year has also brought us face to face with another fundamental value that is normally an unspoken assumption at universities. In order for us to maintain a climate for academic freedom, we must be able to assure our students, our faculty, our staff and our visitors that USF is a safe place for the pursuit of ideas and free expression. Academic freedom exists to promote professors’ and students’ search for knowledge and understanding, not to be a shield for illegal or improper activities.
For almost a year now, we have worked to balance our commitments to ensure both academic freedom and the secure environment that is essential for academic freedom. As you know, federal authorities have stated that Dr. Al-Arian remains under active criminal investigation for alleged ties to terrorist activities.
I have spent the past several months in due diligence. I have talked extensively with law enforcement, faculty, staff, students, the American Association of University Professors, attorneys and many others. I have read letters and e-mail from people around the nation and the world. I have studied many documents. After all I have seen and heard, I believe that Dr. Al-Arian has abused his position at the University and is using academic freedom as a shield to cover improper activities.
But I am an educator, not an investigator. As a University president, when I consider moving to terminate the employment of a tenured professor, I must take every possible step to ensure that the university’s action is consistent with the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression.
Therefore, the University has filed a complaint for declaratory relief, seeking a judgment from the Florida 13th Judicial Court to determine whether the University can proceed with this termination without violating Dr. Al-Arian’s rights. Attached to the petition for declaratory relief is an amended letter of intent to terminate Dr. Al-Arian. If the court tells us the action would not violate his constitutional rights, then we plan to issue this letter.
The additional information in this amended letter puts forth all the University’s legal arguments up to this date and strengthens the University’s case by outlining the context and the actions that have undermined the orderly and effective functioning of the University.
This is a very difficult situation for the University and for everyone involved in it. I want to thank you for your efforts to make sure the University excelled in teaching, research and service during the difficult past year.
Through the steps we have initiated this week, I am confident that we can resolve it in a way that supports our core values of academic freedom and a safe environment for learning and inquiry.
Thank you for all you do for the University of South Florida, and I know the coming year will be a good one.