WASHINGTON -- American University officials are defending use of millions of dollars donated to build a campus sports arena by controversial Saudi Arabian arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, who bankrolled the ill-fated U.S. arms deal with Iran.
Although public opinion polls indicate widespread opposition to the U.S. sale of arms to Iran and subsequent funneling of money to the Contra rebels fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, there has been little opposition among American University students and faculty to the school's use of Khashoggi's millions.
The arena, under contruction on the Washington campus of the 11,000-student liberal arts college, will be called the Adnan Khashoggi Sports and Convocation Center when it is dedicated this December.
Khashoggi, a friend of university President Richard Berendzen and a member of the school's board of trustees since 1983, donated $5 million toward the construction of the $14 million multi-use facility.
'The students want it regardless of whose name is on it,' said Alan Fleischmann, the president of the student government.
'Mr. Khashoggi, as far as I know, has not violated any law, nor been accused of doing so,' said Berendzen. 'The university needed the resources and he provided them. And that's where we are now.'
American University has never had an on-campus basketball arena. For the past 25 years, the school has played its basketball games at rickety 3,000-seat Fort Myer Ceremonial Hall, a field house located on an Army base in Arlington, Va.
The Khashoggi Center will feature a 4,500-seat basketball arena for the American Eagles, who play in the Colonial Athletic Association against such schools as Navy, Richmond and William & Mary, and will accommodate as many as 6,000 for graduation ceremonies and other special events, such as rock concerts.
Limited protest against Khashoggi's financing of the new center has come in the form of editorials in the student newspaper and a column by a former university professor in The Washington Post.
'A place of learning should be the last place where blood money is honored,' wrote fired professor Colman McCarthy.
'Instead of a lobby with the usual showcase of athletic trophies, why not a display of the death machines that first brought wealth to Khashoggi?'
Khashoggi, considered one of the richest men in the world, bankrolled the $30 million arms shipment to Iran, although he claims the United States shortchanged him by about $10 million.
The Saudi billionaire has been experiencing a financial decline since the arms sale was made public. His Salt Lake City holding corporation, Triad America, is declaring bankruptcy. A New York judge ordered his $30 million New York apartment seized, and his $40 million luxury jetliner was seized in Paris against debts.
Khashoggi earned his billions acting as a middleman in arms sales between nations. He was a friend of President Richard Nixon, is known for parties drawing Hollywood celebrities, and was sued for divorce in 1974 for $2.5 billion, which his wife claimed was half of his worth.
Berendzen said the $5 million provided to the school is not 'tainted' by Khashoggi's involvement in arms deals.
'He's called an arms dealer, but what is arms and what isn't arms,' Berendzen said. 'Before we get too sanctimonious in this world, let's realize a few things. The major research universities in the United States -- Johns Hopkins, MIT, which is my alma mater, Stanford, Chicago, Georgia Tech and others -- receive tens of millions of dollars each year, and, in the case of big ones, hundreds of millions of dollars each year from the federal government for military resarch and development.'
Berendzen added: 'If some entity is associated in any way with the Iran arms sale and, therefore, you should not accept any money from that funding source, then I think every university in the country has a problem.'
The chairman of the American University Faculty Senate, Valerie French, said there is no move afoot to oppose the use of Khashoggi's money, donated two years ago for a campus facility.
'There has been rank hypocrisy about Adnan Khashoggi, mostly because he's an Arab,' said French, an associate professor of history. 'I think a lot of this is really a tempest in a teapot. We're delighted to have the center here.'