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August 23, 2002
University Seeks Court OK to Fire Prof
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The University of South Florida asked a state judge on Thursday whether firing a professor alleged to have ties to terrorists would infringe on his free-speech rights.
The university's president, Judy Genshaft, had been expected to fire the tenured associate professor, Sami Al-Arian, this week, according to the Washington Post.
But instead of hunkering down for a long and expensive legal battle, the Tampa-based state university went to court first, asking the courts to shield it from litigation.
"Federal authorities have stated that Dr. Al-Arian remains under active criminal investigation for alleged ties to terrorist activities," Genshaft said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit and defending the university's right to fire him.
According to the Post, the Palestinian professor of computer science has been on paid leave since he appeared on a Fox television program, "The O'Reilly Factor," shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center. Tapes were aired on the program showing Al-Arian, when he was younger, shouting in Arabic, "Let us damn America! Let us damn Israel! Let us damn their allies until death!"
The university initially said it was keeping Al-Arian out of the classroom for his protection as well as the school's. But in December, it filed notice that it intended to fire him.
The American Association of University Professors promised it would censure the university if the professor is fired - a move that would make it difficult to attract and hire faculty.