Gov. Jeb Bush said Thursday he agrees with the decision to fire Sami Al-Arian, a Palestinian, and he added his support to the university's lawsuit asking a court whether doing so would violate the man's rights.
"The guy has ties to people who want to undermine the United States of America," Bush said. "The original basis for his departure from campus was the security issues and I don't necessarily think those have gone away."
At a news conference Thursday, Al-Arian denied he has ever raised money for terrorist organizations.
"No, no, I didn't," he said.
"Did you ever associate with terrorist organizations?" he was asked.
"No, I didn't," he replied.
The university, reports CBS News Correspondent Peter King, claims Al Arian has called for "Death to Israel, Death to America." He says he never said death to America, and his comments on Israel were meant to stand up for people in occupied territories. Al Arian also says firing him would violate his right to free speech.
The computer science professor has been on paid leave since an appearance on a television news discussion program shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. He was quizzed about links to known terrorists, and asked about tapes from the late 1980s and early 1990s in which he is believed to have said "Death to Israel" in Arabic.
Those comments are noted in his pending termination letter along with an allegation that Al-Arian used the school's name in booking a 1991 conference where "money was raised for causes later associated with terrorist activities."
Al-Arian said that he has never advocated violence against others and that his words were a statement against Israeli occupation.
The professor, who has lived in the United States since 1975, has never been charged with a crime. He said Wednesday that he wasn't surprised by the university's move.
"It's still a case of academic freedom," Al-Arian said. "That hasn't changed. It's just an indication of how politicized the university has become."
The university's lawsuit, filed Wednesday, includes the termination letter university officials will give Al-Arian if the court rules that firing him would not violate his constitutional rights.
The court's decision would be binding on the university if upheld by appellate courts, said attorney R.B. Friedlander.
The university also alleges that in 1995 Al-Arian wrote a letter seeking funds so that suicide bomber missions could continue.
Al-Arian said that letter was never sent; the university refused to release the letter, saying it was now part of the investigation and confidential.
"I believe that Dr. Al-Arian has abused his position at the university and is using academic freedom as a shield to cover improper activities," USF President Judy Genshaft said Wednesday.
Genshaft recommended in December that Al-Arian be fired, citing disruption and breach of contract.
The university says that disruption includes changes in security, increased workload for other professors and an overall climate of fear from death threats that were made to Al-Arian and the school. Genshaft said she based her recommendation on safety issues, both for the school and the professor.
Al-Arian will continue on paid leave while the issue is being settled.