What’s a president to do? If you’re Judy Genshaft, a Hobson’s choice would be a major upgrade.
Right now she is one half of what must be the oddest couple this side of Michael and Linda Kantaras. The futures of the Jewish University of South Florida president and Sami Al-Arian, the Palestinian professor she fired, are that inextricably linked. The ultimate result of their emotionally wrenching, tenure-testing, academic freedom-foreboding tug of war is that traumatic — and that important.
Whatever the outcome of the Punch Judy Show, USF’s president appears Genshafted. Hers seems a lose-lose scenario, whether or not she affirms her decision to jettison the controversial Al-Arian, the computer science instructor with the flair for fearful oratory and friends in all the wrong Islamic places.
If she maintains her stand, she incurs the wrath and some form of a no-confidence vote from the USF Faculty Union and assorted, Ivory Tower hand wringers. There’s also a possible Scarlet C for USF, courtesy of the censure-wielding American Association of University Professors, who will be sniffing around campus next month. USF already has received a letter of rebuke from the Foundation of Individual Freedoms in Education.
Then there’s the piling on by the liberal media.
All those Chicken Little follow-up stories by the usual decry babies, including Time magazine, CBS TV’s 48 Hours and Dateline NBC. The Chronicle of Higher Education , which recently ran a “Blaming The Victim?” cover story with Al-Arian’s photo, is tracking this one as closely as the American Civil Liberties Union, Al Sharpton, The St. Petersburg Times and The Weekly Planet are.
Should Genshaft reverse course, it will put her at odds with the governor and her own board of trustees, as well as a lot of students, most of the public, many ongoing and would-be benefactors and likely her own conscience.
And here Genshaft, 54, thought the implosion of the Board of Regents, the flap over USF St. Petersburg, the “art” of Derek Washington, the loss of New College and a baker’s dozen racial discrimination suits in the women’s basketball program were about as daunting as her challenges would get. Not even close.
At this point, her year-and-a-half-old presidency must seem like a life sentence at hard-to-fathom labor. You don’t have to be a flaming Zionist to prefer that the door hit Al-Arrogant in the ass on the way out.
However, there may yet be some crawl space between the Devil of firing a tenured professor, taking on academic freedom and risking academic censure and the deep blue sea of not doing what, in her heart of hearts, she feels is best for USF.
She could say the following (although it should have be said as soon as the post- O’Reilly Factor firestorm erupted): “We’re firing Professor Sami Al-Arian; in effect, doing what should have been done years ago.
“We are, however, not firing him because he’s a source of national embarrassment, an impediment to recruiting and fund-raising and a frustrating, annoying distraction from the business of educating students, although he is all of that. And we are not firing him because his presence presents an ongoing threat. We’ve had crank calls before, and the cranks won’t win this time either.
“We are not firing him because in the post-Sept. 11 period, his political beliefs have never been more unpopular. No, this university will hold its collective nose — as FSU did with discredited, racist psychologist Glayde Whitney — and not fire him for his outspokenly incendiary ways. Words, of course, have consequences, but “Death-to-Israel”-type rhetoric, however inflammatory, is not tantamount to “Fire!” in a crowded lecture hall.
“And we are not firing him because he didn’t sufficiently distance himself from the university in his public remarks or trespass on campus. And while safety is not a red herring issue, I believe we can reasonably safeguard this campus without turning it into an armed camp.
“Moreover, what an unfair precedent it would be to, in effect, hold someone responsible for other people’s overreactions. We are not about to hold Al-Arian hostage to such overreactive behavior.
“We are fair; but we’re not derelict of duty and responsibility.”
“No, the precedent we wish to set is this: ‘If you sponsor, hire and help fundraise for terrorists and their proxies, you will be fired.’ Every time.
“And he has been. Finally. And he will stay fired.”