Middle East studies in the News
Donor Gives Temple $1.5 Million for Religion Chair [also donation for Islamic studies chair, International Institute of Islamic Thought]
by Kathy Boccella
After losing out on a $1.5 million chair in Islamic studies last month, Temple University announced it has received a new gift from a local energy executive and former Catholic seminarian to fund a chair in interfaith dialogue.
Harry Halloran, 68, who took just one religion course at Temple 30 year ago, offered $1.5 million to fund the Leonard and Arlene Swidler Chair of Interreligous Dialogue. Swidler is a professor at Temple University since 1966 and an expert on ecumenism.
"Len knows so many people and has done such a great job travelling all over the world and having dialogues with different religions," said Halloran, chairman and CEO of American Refining Group, an oil and alternative energy company. "I thought it was important to continue this work which is irreplacable."
Halloran, who lives in Villanova, also is donating $300,000 toward the $1.5 million needed to create the Islamic studies chair. A Muslim organization had offered to fund the chair, honoring a retiring Islamic studies professor, but withdrew after Temple delayed giving making a decision on the money.
Professors, including Swidler, alleged that trustees and others pressured president Ann Hart to decline the money because it came from a Muslim organization, International Institute of Islamic Thought, that had been included in a government probe of terrorist funding after the Sept. 11 attack.
In a Dec. 21 letter to Hart, distributed by Swidler to the religion Department, Swidler called the outside pressure "shameful" and said it came from "Islamophobic persons on the board of trustees."
Swidler was travelling this week and unavailable for comment.
Halloran said that he knew his friend was upset by the situation with IIIT but told him, "'Len, just cool it. We'll work something out,'" he said.
He set up a meeting with Hart and told her that his philanthrophy, Enlightened World Foundation, which is funding the Swidler chair, had some extra money for the one in Islamic studies.
"Personally I don't think there's going to be any difficulty raising the rest of the money," he said. "It's something a lot of people consider very significant. One of the few ways we can help address some of these issues is through the wonderful work that Len Swidler has done."
Hart said in a statement that the gifts "will help us advance inter-religious dialogue and strengthen Temple's scholarly leaderhsip in Islamic studies."
But the Temple faculty union said it was "deeply concerned by the issue as it relates to academic freedom principles. Education decisions should be made by educators. The union is looking into whether Temple properly involved the academic side of the institution, or were unduly pressured by outside parties without academic expertise or credibility, said Art Hochner, president of Temple Association of University Professors.
Halloran has an undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and a masters in theology from Augustinian College.
Swidler and his wife, Arlene, founded the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, an academic publication that focuses on important religious topics, in 1964. Leonard Swidler is the editor, but plans to step down, said Halloran.
The holder of the Swidler Chair will be a distinguished scholar of one of the world's major religions and will edit the Journal as well as teach at Temple. Halloran's foundation funds the Journal and Halloran is a member of the board.
He said a member of the Journal board will be part of the search committee and will "obviously represent the wishes of the board as to the candidates."Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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