Kashoggi Gift Stirs Controversy At American University
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The $5 million gift that Adnan Khashoggi pledged to The American University in 1984 is troubling some students and faculty members who disapprove of the Saudi’s involvement with arms trading and the Iran case.
But Richard Berendzen, president of the 94-year-old school, and others defend the gift, which is being used to build what they say is a much-needed $14 million sports and convention center that will bear Khashoggi’s name.
″He’s been one of the best donors we have had,″ Berendzen said. Despite reports that Khashoggi has encountered a financial crunch recently, Berendzen said the payments have been made promptly. Khashoggi is considered one of the world’s richest men.
Echoing the sentiments of some of the school’s 12,500 students, Kat Hurst, 21, a senior from Bethesda, Md., said, ″I just happen to feel that the university should not be accepting money from an arms dealer.″
Khashoggi gave the private university the money for the Adnan Khashoggi Sports and Convocation Center shortly after the school invited him to join the school’s board of trustees.
In a Nov. 2, 1984 interview with university’s student newspaper, The Eagle, Khashoggi said he donated the money because he was impressed with the ″caliber of people″ at the school, including Berendzen, with whom he had developed a social relationship.
″At the same time, American University in Washington, D.C., is a very important place to be,″ Khashoggi said. ″This is the capital of the United States.″
The 46-member board of trustees welcomed enthusiastically Khashoggi’s gift that enabled the university, which is located in the city’s fashionable northwest residential area, to break ground for the center on Nov. 1, 1985.
The facility, which will have a 4,000-seat indoor arena, an aquatic center, administrative offices, a bookstore and athletic practice rooms, is about half built and is expected to be completed in late 1987.
Questions about Khashoggi’s gift surfaced after revelations late last year that the wealthy Saudi was a middleman in several deals involving admnistration-backed shipments of U.S. arms to Iran in 1985 and 1986.
The arms deals, along with the claimed diversion of profits from the weapons sales to rebels fighting Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, are under investigation in Congress and by a federal independent counsel.
Gidget Fuentes, editor of the school newspaper’s editorial page, urged university officials to return Khashoggi’s money and solicit new money to replace it.
″Remove Khashoggi from the BOT (board of trustees) and renounce his donation on the sports center...,″ she wrote. ″Distancing ourselves from Khashoggi is probably the best thing to do - and we have a chance to do it.″
But other students advised against that course.
″We can’t afford the (construction) delay that would come if Khashoggi’s money were cut out,″ wrote David Aldridge, who said it would be hypocritical to return the gift nearly three years after it was pledged.
The Eagle’s staff deadlocked 6-6 on whether to take an editorial stand on the issue.
Despite the prominence of the Khashoggi issue in the student newspaper, Berendzen said he had received ″no letter, no postcard, no telex - only one anonymous call,″ objecting to the link to Khashoggi.
″In terms of there being some vast student uprising, who knows, may be there will be, but so far it hasn’t happened,″ he said, noting that students were cramming for final exams or on vacation for most of December. The 11,000- person student body returns from the Christmas break next week.
One faculty member, Jeffrey Richelson, an assistant government professor, said he told his students that the center should be named the ″Khashoggi Sports and Guerrilla Warfare Center.″
For the most part, however, the faculty has ignored the issue, said Mary Eagan, assistant to the dean at the School of International Service.
″I’ve never met Mr. Khashoggi, but I think if he wants to donate some of his substantial resources to this university, that is just fine,″ said Sanford Ungar, dean of the school of communications.
Khashoggi could not be reached for comment. Cheryl Rauh, an executive assistant at Khashoggi’s Triad America Corp. in Salt Lake City, said he was not in the country.
More than 40 lawsuits have been filed against Triad America Corp. for nonpayment of debts.