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University President Defends His Institution’s Efforts to Seek Saudi Funding for an Islamic Center

The president of the State University of Stony Brook, Long Island, has defended his institution’s actions in seeking Saudi Arabian funding for the establishment of an $11 million Islamic Studies Center, it was reported in the current issue of the Long Island Jewish World.

In separate interviews with editors of the independent Jewish weekly and Long Island Jewish communal leaders, Stony Brook president John Marburger said the university “did nothing wrong” in quietly asking the Saudi Arabians for help. He affirmed that the university would not rule out Saudi grants in the future.

Documents detailing Stony Brook’s solicitation of financial support from the private foundation of King Faisal of Saudi Arabia to finance the Islamic Center were published last month in the Village Voice.

Earlier, under the Freedom of Information Act, the Jewish World had requested copies of all correspondence with foreign businesses or countries regarding endowments or chairs of learning. To that request the university replied that a check of its files revealed that there were no such documents.

CLAIMS A ‘MISUNDERSTANDING’

The failure to provide the Jewish World with the salient documents stemmed from what Marburger called a “misunderstanding.”He termed one of the subsequently published documents “an internal memo” and questioned whether a proposal to the King Faisal Foundation met the Jewish weekly’s request for “correspondence with foreign government.”

Copies of the documents have been turned over to the office of Nassau County District Attorney Dennis Dillon, where investigators are seeking to determine if the university violated any laws by failing to disclose the documents.

MIXED REACTIONS BY JEWISH LEADERS

Reaction of Jewish communal leaders who had met with Marburger the day before his interview with the Long Island Jewish World was mixed. Tobie Newman, executive director of the Conference of Jewish Organizations of Nassau Country, said she believed Marburger was being truthful when he said the university “goofed” on the Jewish World’s request simply because it couldn’t find the papers.

Steve Israel, Suffolk Country director of the American Jewish Congress, came away from the meeting believing that “poor administration and bungling on everyone’s part” had led to the difficulties. He expressed gratitude that the university had agreed to implement his suggestion that all future correspondence with potential donors include “stock language” informing them that the university does not accept “funds, grants and donations advanced with stipulations or conditions regarding staff and faculty appointments, biased course content, administrative evaluation of students or the university’s relations with other countries.”

But Myron Conovitz, president of the Long Island regional board of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, said he believed the university officials were “less than truthful” in their statements. “It’s not credible that a person would forget about correspondence involving that amount of money coming from that source.”

Marburger rejected suggestions that “strings would be attached” to any gift by the Saudis, the Long Island Jewish World reported. He said Faisal had made several grants whose conditions were acceptable to the universities receiving them, including a $5 million grant to Princeton University.

Stony Brook is still committed to the Islamic Studies project because it is “one of the world’s greatest religions,” Marburger said. He added: “There are more practicing Moslems than Christians and it is part of our great cultural heritage…. I feel the university is clear on this issue and will continue to be very careful about all contacts with any country with a bad record of putting strings on gifts.”

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