Temple has been making progress in interfaith dialogue recently, which is something the university could benefit from itself.
As reported in today’s issue of The Temple News, an offer of $1.5 million toward the creation of a chair in Islamic studies was withdrawn after President Ann Weaver Hart decided to neither accept nor reject the offer until a federal investigation of the organization is complete.
The university’s decision to not accept the offer is shameful considering the federal investigation, which took place in 2002, was not directly targeting the organization, and that no charges were ever filed. In fact, as reported by TTN, federal investigators returned all the materials they confiscated during their search.
The organization, the International Institute of Islamic Thought, offered the $1.5 million contribution to Temple to create an endowed chair in Islamic studies. The IIIT was founded in 1981 by a Temple faculty member. Though the university seemed interested at first and entered into talks with IIIT, it began dragging its feet, allegedly in response to pressure from trustees and outside parties not to take the donation. Their concern was that IIIT may be involved in subversive activity.
An endowed chair is basically a faculty position that, through donations, offers prestige and a higher salary, which can attract and retain the most prominent scholars in a specific field, in this case Islamic studies.
“It is a really terrific opportunity to show that an institution thinks a specialty is important,” said Ray Betzner, Temple’s director of communications.
Unfortunately, Temple missed out, because after months of waiting, the IIIT withdrew its offer.
If Temple wants to maintain its profile as a melting pot university, it should not be waffling at substantial donations simply because some trustees are uncomfortable with accepting donations from Muslim organizations.
In response to all of this, Harry Halloran, CEO of American Refining Group and a former Catholic seminarian, offered to donate $1.5 million to create a Leonard and Arlene Swidler Chair of Inter-Religious Dialogue. He also offered a donation of $300,000 toward the $1.5 million lost for the chair in Islamic studies. All from a man who took just one class at Temple three decades ago.
Halloran’s inter-faith chair is named after two Temple professors. Leonard Swidler has spoken out against Temple’s treatment of the IIIT’s offer, saying Temple was hurting inter-religious dialogue.
By getting lost in politics and xenophobia, Temple lost money, prestige, and a chance to take on one of today’s most pressing issues, Islamic and Western relationships. While the concern over a donor’s affiliations is an understandable part of university relations, it does not make much sense to turn down a donor when a federal investigation revealed nothing.
The mistake cannot be made again. If Temple can raise another $1.2 million, it would be able to create the chair in Islamic studies that it lost with the IIIT offer.
Unfortunately, Temple has not sent a very welcoming message by hesitating on the initial offer and may find it difficult to find donors to add to the pile that Halloran has started.
Still, with Halloran’s offer, Temple has a second chance, and it should take it: $1.5 million donations are more than substantial contributions. They represent both commitment to and confidence in our university.
Stephen Zook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.