Professor Sami Al-Arian, Tenure, Attacks [and a North Dakota mention]

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at
Fri Feb 22 07:20:14 MST 2002

Note by Hunterbear:

This recent interview [I've posted a key paragraph and the Link] with
Professor Sami Al-Arian, University of South Florida, is via the Chronicle
of Higher Education -- essentially the "Army Times" of the  United States
college/university faculty and administration world . I know little about
the University of South Florida. My one long-standing and enduring friend in
that setting was Professor Jim Silver, History, the courageous, embattled
Ole Miss prof who was forced out of the Magnolia State after his "Closed
Society" speech and book in 1963-64 and who eventually wound up there.  Jim
died many years ago.

It seems obvious that Professor Al-Arian is a quite capable prof [computer
science] who has come under fire for his pro-Islamic views in a [to me]
rather strange state whose commitment to labor and liberalism and human
rights has never been reassuring -- and in a country presently caught up in
an extremely poisonous atmosphere of spontaneous and manufactured fear and
hysteria.  Fortunately, he has tenure.

Tenure is critically necessary for any working teacher -- at any level. It's
the basic job security bulwark/dike against the rivers of intolerance and
bigotry and political hatchet jobs and economic reprisals. If, occasionally,
it shields shabby teaching, it's still far better to fight for the
preservation of its totality  [as with free speech] rather than allow or
tolerate a dangerous,  sinister precedent-setting breach.

Although relatively few teachers in the K-12 context nationally enjoy its
accessibility, tenure is -- thanks to union activism -- gradually pervading
that vast plantation.  It is essentially pervasive in the college/university

It doesn't come easily.  You have to be "successfully" somewhere for
awhile -- sometimes as many as six or seven years -- before you get it.  And
you don't always get it -- and the reasons can range from an administrator's
petty pique [a frequent reason] or vicious colleagues [not infrequent] or
the fact that you might not be cut out talent-wise for the "groves of
academe" [title of Mary McCarthy's charming '50s novel about cut-throat
Machiavellianism in a choice little private college.]

Wherever I've taught [and worked], I've always carried at least one and
generally two or even three union cards [as I have wherever I've worked and
I do carry three to this moment.] In the college/university setting, this
can usually mean AFT, NEA, AAUP  [or sometimes a coalition of two or more.]
For example, at Navajo Community College, I was president of the AAUP [and
we also represented staff employees] during an interesting period of  heavy,
perennial crisis -- generally thrust upon the college by the corrupt tribal
administration of Peter MacDonald.  We won those fights with  grassroots
solidarity and lawyers and  broad community support.  At University of North
Dakota, we had to constantly battle a "boss" type of administration [in the
Chicago sense], a consistently parsimonious state legislature, and pervasive
faculty and staff timidity and cowardice.

I was a popular [with the students] full Professor, sometime Indian Studies
departmental chair and also did a stint as chair of the Honors committee,
well-published always, and was a member of the graduate faculty.  I was also
very active on behalf of faculty and staff unionism at every point.  In the
latter 1980s and the early 1990s, we had to fight very hard on every front
to protect faculty and staff jobs -- owing to the fact that extremely
important-to-education tax measures [even passed by the N.D. legislature! ]
had been defeated in December, 1989 in a state-wide referendum. The impact,
internally and externally, on everything from Kindergarten to the N.D.
colleges and universities was super-wicked and dangerous.  At the very point
this exploded, I was president of the UND Higher Education Association

We fought hard on all fronts and were reasonably successful in shoring up
and protecting faculty positions and most staff ones -- if the latter were
formally situated within the University setting [and not, say, peripherally
attached to a predominately private community hospital situation.] And we
won some key victories on other issues.  In time, administration et al.
attacks on me -- which had been frequent over the years -- mounted with
considerable intensity.  Although it was certainly tough for a long time, I
had tenure and, although there were efforts to crack that, it held --
fortunately for me and for every faculty person.  [That whole situation,
BTW, which also included important student, tribal, and community support,
is substantially discussed on two related pages on our large social justice
website and

[When I eventually retired from UND in the summer of '94, I was not,
however, given the usual "honorary" emeritus status by the University
administration.  That continues as an interesting little issue to this
moment and may -- I say, may -- be satisfactorily resolved soon.  We shall
see on that one.]

Professor Al-Arian's situation is far, far more personally dangerous than
mine ever was.  His tenure is obviously under a concerted institutional /
state / and Federal attack and he faces other, related threats as well.  If
his tenure status can be broken at the University of South Florida, it will
constitute not only a fundamentally serious wrong to him but a threat to
other college and university faculty persons -- in Florida as elsewhere.

As the Red Scare mounted in the late 1940s, various state "Un-American
activities" committees developed -- and joined their Federal counterparts
[HUAC, SISS, FBI] in witch-hunting attacks in various colleges and
universities.  In the state of Washington, the Canwell Committee played
havoc with tenure and academic freedom.  Decades later, Washington state
"apologized" to the surviving victims and/or their families and students. In
this context of "Red-hunting" in the Groves, many former academic
stalwarts -- such as Sidney Hook -- caved and surrendered to the slippery
slopes of relativism.  But many others did not.

Professor Sami Al-Arian's University of South Florida arena is a most
significant and critical one.  Fortunately, as this paragraph  from his
recent Journal of Higher Education interview indicates, he has, among other
dimensions, strong support from Labor.  And here, too,  is the link to the
full Chronicle interview:

"Sami Al-Arian:
I'm very grateful for the outpouring of support I received from
many professors and academics from USF as well as from around the
nation. The USF faculty senate voted 4 to 1 against the dismissal.
The USF faculty union as well as the union's state chapter voted
unanimously to support my case. Other labor unions have also provided
their support. FIRE (The Foundation of Individual Rights in
Education), a prominent private foundation defending the rights of
higher education professors, has also given its support and is
mobilizing its resources. Most important of course is the position of
the AAUP, which said that it's extremely concerned about the
situation. It has also warned USF about a possible censure"

In Solidarity - Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]

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