Look - A Forest! Would have seen it earlier, except for those dang trees...
In one of the more amazing recent examples of what I will henceforth refer to as "academic wank," the ability of an academic institution to completely miss the simple in its pursuit of, well, I'm not entirely sure what, I present for your inspection the ongoing saga of Professor Sami Amin Al-Arian, the USF prof currently awaiting trial on charges of terrorism.
The main story here (thanks for the tip from J, over at nowatermelons
) is ostensibly the American Association of University Professors' inability to understand why Al-Arian might lose his job when he's, you know, currently in prison awaiting trial for an amazingly long list of terrorist activities. Read the article yourself
for some fun snarkiness at the AAUP's expense. But the real story is in the details, garnered from the AAUP's very own site
It seems that FSU had a bit of trouble trying to figure out exactly what to do with Al-Arian back when all this started, and it subsequently put in motion one of the wankiest lawsuit/dueling academic institution/competing high-handed press release wordfests I've seen in a while. Back in 2001 when all this started, USF was all about the "academic freedom" where Al-Arian was concerned:
Regarding the disruption within USF that he was alleged to have caused, the response stated that "Dr. Al-Arian is simply not responsible for the unlawful conduct of those who would threaten to do violence to him or to the university because they disagree with his beliefs" and that his "exercise of his constitutionally protected rights cannot be curtailed because a mindless few have chosen to retaliate against him and against the university because he has spoken out about matters with which they disagree."
Yeah, funny how some folks get touchy about other folks wanting to exterminate them. Philistines.
But then, USF seemed to change its position (I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that they actually paid attention to what Al-Arian was doing with the money laundering and the blood on his hands, etc) and started looking for ways to lose this particular albatross. Enter the shining knights of the AAUP:
At its spring meeting on June 1, 2002, Committee A approved an interim statement on the Al-Arian case which it presented a week later to the Association's 2002 annual meeting and released to the media. The interim statement conveyed the investigating committee's beliefs that it had all the information it needed for a full report on the charges against Professor Al-Arian as they had been articulated in December and, with respect to these charges, that Professor Al-Arian's statements that allegedly injured the university "fell well within the ambit of academic freedom" and that the other stated charges were "too insubstantial to warrant serious consideration as adequate cause for dismissal."
The USF president, after much waffling and meeting, and trustee-ing and lawyering, finally decided to try and cut the cord. Admittedly (read the whole process--it's a doozy
!), their grounds were shaky, but that's because they were so interested in covering their asses and being all PC at the beginning that they didn't have a strong history to base their subsequent cases on. At any rate, they looked for constitutionally/legally appropriate ways to axe Al-Arian, and the AAUP got all huffy about it:
President Genshaft's August 21, 2002, announcement that USF was taking legal action against Professor Al-Arian in an effort to obtain a judicial ruling on considerations of academic freedom in his case drew a strong reaction from AAUP general secretary Mary A. Burgan. In a statement issued the following day, she said, "We are stunned that a university would take one of its own faculty members to court on an academic freedom issue. We certainly recognize the difficulty that President Genshaft has faced in dealing with these issues in the midst of intense political controversy; but that's the very reason that we strongly encourage universities to adhere to nationally recognized standards of academic due process . . . . We are baffled by President Genshaft's continuing efforts to evade normal academic due process, especially in this politically sensitive case. . . . 'Pre-suing' faculty members as part of an effort to dismiss them is an extremely rare tactic, with ominous and chilling portents for academic freedom."
Wanktastic! Note the insertion of "ominous and chilling portents," the magical witchy-words guaranteed to make any wrongdoing academic wet himself and try to correct the mistake. Now let's leave the enchanted forest of higher ed for a moment and imagine that you or I are currently in prison awaiting trial on charges of terrorism. Ya think we'd have committees and teams fighting to keep our jobs in the name of academic freedom? No, really. Stop laughing. I'm serious!
There's "innocent until proven guilty," and there's "freedom of speech," but neither of these concepts carries the caveat that "by the way, you get to keep your job while you languish in prison on extremely serious charges
that definitely go beyond making a few speeches here or there." And then there's reality, in the form of the charges and the stacks of evidence just waiting to be piled on Al-Arian when he does come to trial. But academia is a wilderness where reality fears to tread, and so all that's left to the rest of us is to point and laugh. Or else die of the resulting high blood pressure--whatever.