Florida professor fired for controversial post-9/11 remarks

The president of the University of South Florida fired a professor for comments he made on a talk show, triggering some faculty members and students to complain that free speech at the campus was at risk.

Sami Al-Arian appeared on Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” in September to discuss his purported connection to terrorists. Following his appearance, he received death threats and the university was criticized for allowing him to teach.

President Judy Genshaft fired Al-Arian, a computer-science professor, after the board of trustees voted 12-1 recommending his dismissal. Genshaft placed Al-Arian on paid leave in October for causing a disruption at the university.

She also took issue with Al-Arian’s comments as a representative of the university.

“We respect the right of faculty to express their personal views on controversial subjects, with the understanding that it must be clear they are speaking for themselves and not for the university,” Genshaft said after the dismissal.

Al-Arian has repeatedly said he appeared on the show to express his personal beliefs and was unaware O’Reilly would refer to him as a professor at the university.

The president of the faculty senate, Gregory Paveza, told The Chronicle of Higher Education that Al-Arian’s comments were protected by the First Amendment. Paveza said he feared the effect Genshaft’s decision would have on free speech at the campus.

Other faculty members and some students complained about the decision, telling The Chronicle that the incident was sparked by bad journalism that forced Al-Arian to suffer the consequences.

The faculty senate is planning to file a grievance on behalf of Al-Arian, The Chronicle reported. Al-Arian could file an appeal challenging the dismissal.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also weighed in on the university’s decision. In a statement, he said, “We all recognize the importance of freedom of speech and academic freedom in our universities. Professors have the right to say things that are unpopular. But they do not have the right to disrupt the life of a university”