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By last fall al-Arian was an obscure computer prof again--until the Fox Network's Bill O'Reilly angrily asked him in September to explain the FBI probe. Al-Arian condemned the Sept. 11 attacks but repeated his support for the intifadeh. Afterward, U.S.F. suspended him, using the somewhat tenuous claim that he had linked the school to his politics by letting Fox identify him as a U.S.F. professor. New U.S.F. president Judy Genshaft chafed as outsiders began to call her school "Jihad U" and "University of Suicidal Fanatics." Critics noted that al-Arian's brother-in-law, Mazen al-Najjar, a former U.S.F. professor cited by the Federal Government as a security threat based on "secret evidence," is in a Florida prison for overstaying his visa. Says Norman Gross, a prominent Tampa Jewish leader: "You have to put the good of the school and the country ahead of [al-Arian's] tenure." A week before Christmas, Genshaft, with the backing of her trustees and Governor Jeb Bush, decided to jettison al-Arian.
Did she forfeit her school's academic credibility? Genshaft won't comment, but al-Arian has received a flood of support from First Amendment experts and academic groups, including U.S.F.'s faculty union, which has voted to join al-Arian's legal battle. Its president, Professor Roy Weatherford, says he disagrees with al-Arian's militancy, but he calls the firing "cowardly." "It's clear," he says, "that the real reasons were political."
Genshaft hardly risks undergraduate riots. Although many students describe al-Arian as a popular teacher, 22 of U.S.F.'s 48 student senators voted to support his ouster (the rest abstained or didn't bother to show up). "The students are the ultimate consumers of the university, and they're more concerned about safety," says student senate president Sammy Kalmowicz, 23, a political-science major. Perhaps. But should Kalmowicz someday become a college professor, how safe will he feel, after the al-Arian firing, to speak his mind?