Dr. Judy Genshaft, President
University of South Florida
Office of the President
4202 E. Fowler Ave.
Tampa, FL 33620
Dear Dr. Genshaft, Let me begin by saying, I can imagine the pressures you have been under in recent weeks. I have had a long relationship with USF which includes being recruited for a Research Professor position, advising the president and senior administration on fundraising for a chair, attending USF conferences and publishing in their volumes edited by Jack Neusner, and most recently publishing a new book with Oxford University Press, World Religions Today, with Darrell Fasching of your Religious Studies Department. I write therefore both as a friend of USF and as someone deeply concerned, as you are, about the University's reputation and future.
As a result of my years of contact, I also came to know Professor Sami al-Arian and his family -- Nahla al-Arian commented on papers I delivered at two of Jack Neusner's USF conferences. I can recall several occasions when former administrators and current faculty members commented on Professor al-Arian's professional competence and stellar teaching record which resulted in his winning a University teaching award. In all the years I have known him and known of him, he has been a consummate professional.
Professor al-Arian and his family are Palestinians. They have suffered and feel deeply about Palestine and the plight of the Palestinians. Many Palestinians, like many of my Jewish colleagues, feel passionately about Palestine/Israel. Both groups write, speak out, attend conferences on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. This is their right as citizens and, some would argue, their duty or moral obligation.
I must say I was stunned, astonished and saddened by your decision to terminate Professor al-Arian. As you know, the University did a thorough independent review several years ago which found no merit in accusations made at that time. The published reasons for the current decision offer no substantive, credible reasons for the dismissal. They run counter to what our country is about and what the academy stands for. Unless the University provides more substantive reasons, it will simply look as though you have bowed to those with a specific political agenda or to coverage by several journalists, led by Steven Emerson and others, and television programs that are known for their biased inflammatory approach. Having grown up in New York at a time when Jews and Italians were (and often still are) the subject of stereotyping and discrimination, I am deeply concerned that Professor al-Arian not be a victim of the most recent iteration, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry.
Despite the pressures that you and the University may be experiencing, taking the right stand is what educational and moral leadership are about. What USF stands for and does will not only reflect on the University's reputation but also send a clear message to your students about what American democracy and academic freedom mean. Many of us now find ourselves in a world and situation we knew existed in the past but never expected we would have to respond to in our lifetime. This is USF moment and yours. I know you will do the right thing. Please feel free to contact me if I can be of assistance.
John L. Esposito
University Professor & Director
Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding