An Open Letter to President Hart
—Gregory Urwin, Professor of History, College of Liberal Arts
Professor of History,
College of Liberal Arts
An Open Letter to President Hart on non-Academics’ Jeopardizing the Academic Integrity of Temple
The following email letter, sent on October 18, 2007, is printed here by permission of the author.
Dear President Hart:
Please pardon me for barging into the inbox of your e-mail account, which I am sure is overcrowded already. I have been told, however, that you are about to make a decision regarding the Ismail al-Faruqi Chair of Islamic Studies before the end of the week, which leaves no time to send you a conventional letter.
I am a military historian who has taught at Temple since 1999. I began my academic career in Kansas in 1982, and then taught fifteen years in Arkansas. I am proud of the fact that I have helped educate a generation of U.S. Army officers through ROTC, and that many of them have served their country in several wars and peacekeeping missions, including our current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since coming to Temple, I have guided one Marine major through his M.A. work, and also two retired Army colonels and a serving Air Force major to their Ph.D.s. I have worked closely with the U.S. Army War College and the History Department at the U.S. Naval Academy, and have been recently invited to apply for a visiting professorship at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Needless to say, I take terrorism by Islamic extremists quite seriously. To better understand that threat and how to deal with it, I secured an Academic Fellowship last spring from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), and I spent ten days in Israel this past summer studying counterterrorism.
Recently, I was contacted by a pro-Israel lobbying group and asked to raise my voice in opposition to the establishment of the Ismail al Faruqi Chair of Islamic Studies at Temple University. My lobbyist friends claimed that this gift was being funded by the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), which is allegedly under investigation for having terrorist ties.
Not wishing to take a stand on any issue without examining both sides, I read the report prepared by Dr. Rebecca Alpert of our Religion Department concerning this issue. I have the deepest respect for Dr. Alpert and her colleague, Dr. Khalid Blankinship, who favor the acceptance of IIIT funds. I know them both to be decent, intelligent people who would never knowingly involve themselves with a shady organization.
After reviewing Dr. Alpert’s report, it seems to me that the accusations leveled against the IIIT are a matter of guilt by association, based more on knee-jerk prejudice and the hysteria that lingers in too many American minds since the tragedies of 9/11. I think it would be a mistake for Temple to spurn the opportunities that this gift offers us not only to continue our advance toward academic excellence—but also to participate in a dialogue of understanding that represents an important route to peace in our troubled world. I think that Temple should become the home of the Ismail al-Faruqi Chair of Islamic Studies.
I am also concerned that one of the main opponents to the Ismail al-Faruqi Chair of Islamic Studies—a member of our university’s board of trustees—is the same person who attempted to discredit and intimidate our faculty by bringing the Select Committee on Academic Freedom in Higher Education from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to hold hearings on our campus in January 2006. Those proceedings not only gave David Horowitz a chance to smear Temple’s reputation by spewing his baseless charges, but it directly impacted on me, my professional reputation, and Temple’s graduate program in military history (which is one of the few liberal arts programs at an East Coast research institution that has guided as many conservatives to their doctorates as it has liberals). The previous semester, I had informed a marginal M.A. student that he would have to revise his thesis before I could approve it. This fellow, who had exhibited a persecution complex from the moment he enrolled at Temple, took advantage of the aforementioned hearings to tell the legislators that his thesis had been rejected because he was a conservative and military veteran. The resulting press coverage spread those lies across the nation, and a right-wing Christian organization, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), provided that student with free legal counsel and filed a federal lawsuit against the university and myself. Temple fought that canard in court—and the ADF, unable to sustain the students’ lies in the face of contradictory evidence from his classmates, presented a pitiful case that the judge dismissed after hearing a day-and-a-half of testimony.
Although it was no fun to be sued, I came out of that ordeal proud to work for a university that stood up for the principles of academic freedom and integrity—that refused to buy off a malicious and deluded slacker who thought he could blackmail us into giving him a degree he refused to earn.
Now we face a similar challenge. Temple is confronted by unscrupulous political pressure to reject a gift that will make it a leader in the study of Islamic theology, culture, and thought. If the United States is to prevail in the Global War against Terror and attain a just and lasting peace, such understanding is vital to our nation’s future. Victory in war does not come merely from killing people. It comes from arriving at the sort of terms that both sides can accept. Banishing the free discussion of Muslim issues from Temple and other American campuses will not make us safer. It will only reinforce the ignorance for which our troops are paying in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Please pardon me for going on at such lengths. I appreciate your time and kind consideration, and I know you will do your best to arrive at the best possible decision for our university.