School Year Begins With New Unification Church Affiliation
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) _ As long as he gets his degree, Sean Woodard could care less who’s the paymaster at the University of Bridgeport.
But another senior, Jodie Kail, thinks letting the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s disciples take over spells doom. ″I think eventually it will become a Unification Church school,″ she said.
It’s Orientation Week on the 84-acre campus, and students are coming to terms with what it means to have their private school rescued financially by an institute linked to a church with right-wing views.
The New York-based Professors World Peace Academy, which is largely financed by the Korean evangelist’s church, took control of the school’s board of trustees in exchange for $50.5 million over the next five years.
The arrangment also calls for the school to retain its nonsectarian status as well as full academic freedom.
There were plenty of jokes heard in the halls.
″I haven’t seen any baldheaded people running around,″ remarked Mindy Karfeld, a junior from Cherry Hill, N.J.
″I haven’t seen any mindless robots,″ echoed Woodard.
″It comes down to one fact - it’s either this or nothing,″ he added. ″I’m just trying to get my degree.″
Kail, a journalism major who worked an information booth on the first day of orientation Thursday, said she was troubled to think what the future holds for the 65-year-old school. ″They’ve got control and that means they can pretty much do what they want,″ she said.
School administrators agreed to the bailout this spring, after struggling under a $22 million debt for nearly a year. Without aid, the school would have been forced to close, officials said.
A citizen’s group made up of city politicians, clergy, former faculty members and residents is preparing a lawsuit to try to block the takeover.
Members of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens say they believe the school’s reputation will be tarnished by its association with Moon, whose church has been accused of exploiting young people.
But university President Edwin G. Eigel Jr. said the agreement was finalized in May and the school has already accepted several million dollars from the academy.
″The PWPA has stated very clearly they have long-term objectives for higher education around the world, and for that they need credibility,″ Eigel said.
″These are not stupid people. They do not want to do anything that will destroy their credibility and scuttle their long-term goals.″
The peace academy, an academic group that claims about 800 members in the United States and 97 chapters worldwide, has said it wants to make the University of Bridgeport the foundation of a worldwide network of universities striving for international harmony and understanding.
Eigel said the university will get off to a slow start this year because school officials did not begin recruiting new students until June.
The administration projects a fall enrollment of only 1,300 undergraduate and graduate students. That compares with about 3,000 students last fall and 9,100 students at the university’s peak enrollment in the 1970s.
Gordon Anderson, the academy’s secretary-general, said it will be able to recruit at least 1,000 students a year to enroll at UB.
Eigel said the next year will be important to show potential new students that the university will maintain its credibility under the new arrangement.
″The best we can say is watch and see what happens,″ Eigel said.
The Unification Church has been accused of trying to push its right-wing political agenda through its ownership of The Washington Times and other publications.
When the newspaper was launched in 1982, Moon’s promises that he would not interfere with editorial content were greeted with skepticism. A decade later, the newspaper has gained respect among journalists.