WSU enters educational agreement with Damascus University, despite Syria's links to terrorism.
goal is "to develop long-term educational and
The document continues, "Both institutions
intend to seek support from both public and private
sources to accelerate the growth of this important
r. Irvin D. Reid, president of Wayne State
University, is fully aware that Syria is one
of the countries on the U.S. State
Department's list of sponsors of terrorism.
He knows there's a movement brewing among U.S.
WSUs Arab Ties
legislators to hold the Middle Eastern country
Dr. Reid met with officials from Damascus
accountable for harboring deadly terrorist groups,
University Jan. 4-7 after attending the Eighth
stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, smuggling
International Conference on Energy and the
Iraqi oil and occupying parts of Lebanon. The Syrian
Environment in Cairo. A bienni-
Accountability Act was defeated by
al conference begun by WSU
the 106th Congress but is about to
and the Egyptian government 17
be resurrected for the 107th.
years ago, it involved representa-
Still, on Jan. 6, Dr. Reid and Hani
tives from the U.S. Environ-
Mourtada, rector of Damascus
mental Protection Agency,
University in Syria, signed a "memo-
General Motors Egypt and
randum of understanding" to "enter
Egyptian governmental and edu-
into a mutually beneficial alliance to
cational bodies as well as faculty,
conduct education and training in
students and administrators from
academic collaborative programs."
The agreement, posted immediate-
After the conference, Dr. Reid
ly on the Internet by Syria's official
other WSU officials headed
news agency, will initially center on
medical education, including visits by
The Syrian-WSU link began
officials of the WSU school of nurs-
At the Conference on Energy and
June 2001, when Dr. Reid
ing to the Syrian ministry of health
Environment in Cairo, Dr. Irvin
invited to Syria by Dr. Wael
and Damascus University next
D. Reid is greeted by Egyptian offi-
Saker, a professor of pathology in
cials Dr. Hassan Younis, minister
WSU's medical school, to give
In a Jan. 13 interview, Dr. Reid
of electricity and energy, and Dr.
the keynote address at the 18th
quoted Chinese philosopher Sun
Mufid Shihab, minister of higher
Tzu (circa 500 B.C.E.), who said,
education and scientific research.
Conference of the National
"Keep your friends close and your
Association, an American group
"If it should come to a conflict,"
with many Detroit-area members. The medical asso-
Dr. Reid said, "would we not be better off if we had
ciation funded Dr. Reid's participation.
a relationship with them?"
"Since then, we had developed a plan for four of
Dr. Reid said the Syrian agreement is similar to
nursing faculty to come to Wayne State to look
many agreements between WSU and universities
at how nursing education is done in the United
throughout the world, in countries including Israel,
States," Dr. Reid said.
Brazil, Egypt, Jordan, Cuba and China.
According to the Jan. 6 agreement, deans of
WSU works with the Technion-Israel Institute of
WSU's nursing and medical schools will visit the
Technology in Haifa on genome research, he said, and
Syrian ministry of health and Damascus University
is sponsoring a visiting professor from Ben-Gurion
in September 2003. Also in the planning stages is a
University of the Negev. In Brazil, the Detroit-based
by a delegation of WSU professors to the uni-
university and New York University have a federal
versity for a symposium on scientific research.
grant to bring United States standards of medical
research to universities in Santa Caterina and Minas
Gereas. There's an anthropology program with La
Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico and several
Support for the agreement by members of the
exchanges with China's Fudan and Shanxi universities.
Detroit Jewish community — many of whom are
"We're getting Wayne State involved with the
graduates of and contributors to WSU — was var-
world," said Dr. Reid, who came to the 31,000-stu-
dent university in November 1997.
"Unlike university systems in democratic coun-
The agreement with Damascus University, a state-
run institution founded in 1903, is still in its earliest tries, under a totalitarian regime such as Syria, state-
run universities are but one extension of the central
stages, he said, calling it an "umbrella agreement."
In the words of the memorandum, the agreement's government," said Marc Weinbaum of Bloomfield
Township, a graduate of WSU's law school.
Weinbaum referred to Syria as "at best ... a tacit
ally of a country we will likely be at war with —
supplying Iraq with weapons that may be used
against us, and illegally selling over $1 billion worth
of Iraqi oil per year outside the United Nations'
"At worst," he said, "they are complicit in the
worst form of state-sponsored terrorism — terrorism
which has cost a great number of American lives.
"However well-intentioned President Reid's
undertaking may be, it.does not change the fact that
by entering into this agreement he has added yet a
further plate in the armor legitimizing [the Syrian
U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn, a principal bene-
factor of the WSU law school and co-founder of the
university's Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic
Studies, said he found "absolutely nothing wrong
with Wayne State having a relationship with
"It's unfortunate that the university and President
Reid let the announcement [about the agreement] come
from the Middle East instead of from their offices.
"The fact is that Damascus University is one of
the most prestigious universities in the Middle
East," Judge Cohn said. "It has the largest, oldest
medical school in the region. A number of its gradu-
ates are on the Wayne State faculty."
The area of health services is one in which Jews
and Muslims cooperate, even in Israel, he said.
"While the Syrian government and the Israelis are
at serious odds — at a time of great tension — you
have to separate that from purely educational rela-
tionships," Judge Cohn said. "Life is not as simple as
some of the responses [to the agreement] indicate."
Richard Bernstein, newly elected to the WSU
board of governors, pointed out that it's not just
Israel that is "at odds" with Syria.
The U.S. State Department has verified that Syria
has facilitated weapons shipments from Iran to
Hezbollah, a terrorist group responsible for murder-
ing more than 300 Americans, Bernstein said.
"Signing the agreement shows a lack of real under-
standing of what the real world faces."
Dr. Dallas Kenny, WSU associate vice president for
academic affairs and head of the university's World
Bridge partnership program and other global pro-
gramming, pointed out that "the United States
maintains many diplomatic and other cultural and
educational relationships with and within countries
that it deems dictatorships and worse."
"Opinions vary as to the best way to build rela-
tionships between institutions of higher learning
around the world," Dr. Kenny said, "but unless
there is a travel ban or other official restriction, the