The Sultanate of Oman, an oil-rich stretch of mountains and desert at the toe of the Arabian peninsula, has given Georgetown University $1 million to finance an endowed professorship in Arabic literature -- the latest in a series of donations to the school by Arab nations that now total about $3.4 million.
Sadek Sulaiman, Oman's ambassador to the United States, presented the million-dollar check yesterday to university president Timothy S. Healy on behalf of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the school announced. The professorship will be called The Sultanate of Oman Chair in Arab Studies.
The chair will be established in the university's five-year-old Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, which in the past has been the recipient of large -- and often highly controversial -- gifts from Arab countries.
In 1977, the government of Libya, headed by revolutionary leader Maummar Qaddafi, donated $750,000 to the center, stirring sharp dispute. Columnist Art Buchwald, among others, contended that the school should not have accepted money from a government that has harbored terrorists, and termed the contribution "blood money."
The gift from the moderate Omani regime is not likely to stir an equivalent controversy, but it does continue the pattern of large Arab gifts that have caused a spokesman for at least one group, Ira Silverman of the American Jewish Committee, to charge that the Georgetown center "has a clear pro-Arab, anti-Israeli bias."
Last month, the center received a $1 million gift from Kuwait to endow a professorship in current Arab affairs. In May, the United Arab Emirates endowed a chair for $750,000.
Oman has already given previous grants to the center totaling $300,000, plus an undisclosed amount in scholarship contributions to the university's summer program in the Arabic language.
A university press release announcing yesterday's gift noted that the center has received money from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates in the past, but failed to mention the controversial Libyan donation.
The statement quotes Healy as saying, "The Oman chair will enhance Georgetown's mission to provide a liberal education by strengthening our competence in one of the great classical civilizations -- a civilization about which, unfortunately, even educated Americans know far too little."
Peter Krogh, dean of the university's School of Foreign Service, which contains the Arab center, said a search would soon begin for someone to fill the professorship, someone well-versed in the Koran as well as Islamic poetry and philosophy.
Officials of the university have in the past strongly denied any pro-Arab or anti-Israeli bias, and said that the school would accept no gifts that have discriminatory strings attached. Georgetown will refuse any gift which "bears with it any invidious discrimination based on race, religion or sex," the university said in a statement last spring.
Part of the new grant will be used to strengthen the university's program of instruction in the Arabic language, officials said.