Temple Gets a Helping Hand to Secure Seat

Directly on the heels of losing a $1.5 million donation to create a new chair of Islamic studies, Temple University announced that a donor has come forward to revitalize the campaign.

Local energy executive Harry Halloran offered a "challenge grant" of $300,000, which he will give if the university is able to raise the remaining $1.2 million.

The donation was announced at the same time as Halloran's separate $1.5 million gift to establish the Leonard and Arlene Swidler Chair of Interreligious Dialogue. Leonard Swidler has been a Temple professor since 1966 and is an expert in ecumenism. Arlene Swidler has taught religion, literature and women's studies at Temple and other universities.

Temple originally got a proposed $1.5 million donation from the International Institute of Islamic Thought to establish an Islamic-studies chair. After Temple didn't respond to the offer for more than six months, the Virginia-based educational-research foundation withdrew the gift.

An investigation into IIIT is still believed to be open, examining ties to a think tank run by former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, who was charged in 2002 with using that organization to help fund Palestinian terror groups. After reaching a deal with prosecutors, Al-Arian was sentenced to 57 months in prison.

In a release, school spokesman Mark Eyerly said that the school would not render a decision on the matter "until post-9/11 federal investigations of the IIIT are complete."

But many professors at Temple campaigned hard for the university to accept the money.

Members of the Temple Association of University Professors said they believe the university backed out of the offer due to outside pressure.

"Academic decisions must be driven by academic expertise, not by outsiders making political points," said Joyce Lindorff, acting president of TAUP. "Last week, a letter signed by TAUP's officers and executive committee was sent to [Temple] president [Ann Weaver] Hart. We expressed our concern and urged her to convene an academic committee to evaluate the proposed chair."

Halloran, a Roman Catholic, said that he didn't know why Temple was so slow to act regarding the proposed donation from IIIT. He noted that he saw a need and decided to step in.

"I didn't have any idea who was funding the chair — and didn't care," said Halloran, CEO and chairman of American Refining Group, an oil and alternative-fuel company. "I thought it was great there was going to be a chair of Islamic studies and a diversified chair of ecumenical studies for all religions."

Halloran is confident that the university will solicit the rest of the money to confirm the seat: "I believe firmly that there's going to be a number of individuals who will contribute. I believe there will be Jewish businessmen that will be interested."



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