volume 38, number 3
Temple UniversityFaculty Herald

Holding on to Our Principles

—Maurice Wright, Laura H. Carnell Professor, Boyer College of Music and Dance

Ryan S. Brandenberg,

University Photography

Maurice Wright,

Laura H. Carnell Professor,

Boyer College of Music and Dance

Submitted January 16, 2008

In the case of the loss of the endowed chair in Islamic studies, the university’s inability to hold to its principles in the wake of criticism from external forces is shameful. Unwilling to defend its position, or even to justify an about-face, the university chose simply not to act, failing to either accept or reject the offer of $1.5 million from the International Institute of Islamic Thought to endow a chair in Temple’s Religion department. Recent news includes a story describing the creation of a chair in Comparative Religion in honor of Len Swidler, funded by a generous gift from a local businessman. Is the gain of one gift supposed to offset the loss of the other? The whole process has to be more than an accounting report, with a debit in one column balanced by a credit in a different column.


How many endowed chairs are there at Temple? According to the minutes of the November 2007 meeting of Temple’s board of trustees, Temple has added 7 such professorships since 2002. Since 1997 the University of Pittsburgh has added 79 endowed chairs. The disparity is staggering, and Temple’s administration is rising to the challenge by recognizing the need to compete. In her November report to the board of trustees, President Hart said:


While we are grateful to those who have provided funds for endowed scholarships at Temple, we must create additional endowed chairs and professorships so that we can remain competitive in faculty recruiting.


Pitt’s story also demonstrates the importance of attracting gifts of $1 million and above.


Temple would have to more than triple the number of donors at the $1 million level to run a campaign approaching at the same level.


Clearly, Temple cannot afford to turn its back on any major gift, but the loss of the chair in Islamic Studies is particularly distressing, in light of Temple’s history. It offers students an opportunity to study in a department of comparative religions whose history of Islamic scholarship predates the flurry of attention given to that subject in the last few years. According to the department’s web site:


The Temple Department of Religion was created in 1961, one of the first Religion departments to be organized at a public university. Although we evolved out of what was a theology department in a private Baptist college, the department has always seen itself as distinct from seminaries and religion departments in religiously based institutions. The program was always global in its scope, and included a diverse range of religion scholars from most of the world's major religious traditions. The department has always been fueled by the wisdom that if you know only one religion, you really don't know any, and by the notion that scholars who are also engaged in religious cultures are in the best position to teach about them, emphasizing the study of world religions and the dialogue among them.   


Doctoral students come from every religious tradition imaginable (and from many countries around the world) with the goal of understanding religious traditions other than the ones in which they were raised and deepening their understanding of their own through critical analysis. The graduates of our department are some of the leading scholars of religion both in the United States and abroad. Our graduates get excellent positions because they are equipped to teach about the religions of the world in any university or seminary setting. Our great strength as a department is providing students, graduate and undergraduate alike, with a broad background about many religious traditions, and a heightened awareness of the way religion functions in American societymost critical in the global situation in which we find ourselves today.


I would imagine that the intensity of the competition among colleagues in such a department would guarantee that the proposal to establish a chair in Islamic Studies was thoroughly discussed and probed from all sides. The faculty of the College of Liberal Arts would have had a go at the proposal, too. That the proposal made its way to the board implies that the Dean of CLA and the Provost had studied the proposal and sent it forward with their blessing.


What happened next is a mystery. A comment at a holiday party sparked a rumor that the deal had fallen through. Then, in a surprising front page story in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Kathy Bocella reports that the university was relieved that IIIT had grown impatient and withdrawn its offer. Her article quoted a disappointed Dr. Mahmoud Ayoub—the Temple professor who had arranged the gift, an unnamed university official, IIIT’s lawyer, and, to my surprise, David Horowitz and Rick Santorum.


The faculty of all the universities in the state have already suffered from the invective of Mr. Horowitz, who somehow spurred the Pennsylvania legislature to investigate charges that professors were punishing students who held conservative political views. He urged state governments to force universities to adopt an “academic bill of rights.” The American Association of University Professors characterized his effort in a statement:


...The AAUP has sharply criticized the so-called academic bill of rights as unnecessary and almost certain to compromise academic freedom rather than defend it. At their core, its measures would place decisions about faculty appointments and the content of academic programs in the hands of political officials, thereby jeopardizing not only the independence of faculty members and their institutions but also their capacity to advance knowledge and educate our students....


Although Pennsylvania’s lawmakers rejected Horowitz’s claims, as a result of his rhetoric Temple imposed a policy on its faculty, requiring them to include a statement in every syllabus referring the student to Policy number 03.70.02, “Student and Faculty Academic Rights and Responsibilities.”


Now comes Horowitz again, this time warning our board about the supposed threat of IIIT, whom he calls “Islamo-fascists” who are “part of a jihad against the West.” IIIT, an Islamic charity, was raided in 2002 by federal agents who seized all its records, including all of its computers, but filed no charges. According to the ACLU:


A series of raids in Northern Virginia in March 2002 of non-profit organizations and private homes terrorized a community and targeted some of the most prominent and well respected Muslim organizations and citizens of the United States. No money laundering or terrorism financing charges have been brought against these organizations or their officers in over three years. Some federal officials have characterized the investigation as an "intelligence probe" designed to gather information rather than to enforce the law.


IIIT’s gift would have established a chair of Islamic studies in honor also of the work of Professor Mahmoud Ayoub. His brief biography on the CLA web site is informative:

B.A.  (Philosophy), American University of Beirut 1964

M.A.  (Religious Thought), University of Pennsylvania 1966

Ph.D.  (History of Religion), Harvard University 1975

Mahmoud  Ayoub was born in 1938 in south Lebanon. Upon completion of his education, he has authored a number of books in English and Arabic in the area of Islam and Inter-religious dialogue. The most notable are Redemptive Suffering in Islam and The Qur’an and Its Interpreters (2 volumes to date). He has  published over fifty scholarly articles both as chapters in edited works  as well as in well-known academic refereed journals. Two of his recent works are Crisis of Muslim History: Religion and Politics in Early Islam and Islam in Faith and History  (both published by Oneworld Publications). Currently he is working on the third volume of The Qur’an and Its Interpreters.


In public forums, Ayoub accepts with humor the suspicion that his Muslim-sounding name arouses. At an inter-religious panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania last year he quipped that he is usually searched at airport security, even though, as a blind man, he would have little use for a gun.


I hope that the Faculty Senate will investigate this de facto censure of Dr. Ayoub and his colleagues in the Religion department. The board of trustees ought to identify the member or members who worked to overturn the institution’s processes, and to allow a public discussion of the decision itself, and the way that it was made. Temple should also go to IIIT and ask for a second chance to accept the gift, and then make a principled statement about a student’s right to learn, even about Islam.