The Boniuk Center for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance has changed its guidelines on providing sponsorship to groups that are hosting a speaker or holding an event. If a group asks the Boniuk Center to co-sponsor a speaker, the center will only do so if the speaker is invited by at least two groups representing at least two different constituencies.
Carol Quillen, Director of the Boniuk Center, said the first draft of the revision began to be used in mid-October, but the guidelines are still in the process of being revised.
Quillen said she originally hoped the neutrality of the Boniuk Center would be enough to make an event available to a broad audience.
"What we found was that we weren't having that effect," Quillen said. "People were attending events that they expected to agree with. We felt that that wasn't the best way to accomplish our mission."
Quillen said the new policy is an improvement for two reasons. First, the center gets so many requests for co-sponsorships that the center does not have enough funds to sponsor all of them. Secondly, it encourages different groups that do not usually work together to do so.
Quillen said she hoped this new policy would facilitate discussion in a secular environment.
"As a secular university, we are a neutral player in terms of religious tradition so we can create a place where people who strongly disagree can come together and explore their disagreements," she said.
Since the center was founded in 2004, it has co-sponsored various events. Quillen said the center gets a lot of requests for co-sponsorship and to provide administrative support and money for an event that is handled primarily by other organizations.
Quillen said the center co-sponsors speakers to create a context in which people who disagree can confront their disagreement safely and respectfully.
The change has not yet inoculated the center against controversy. A talk given by Joseph Massad, associate professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University, on Nov. 1, which was arranged before the change, attracted critique from the local Jewish community. The talk, which was part of the "Arab World: History, Politics and Culture Lecture Series," included the controversial issue of relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel and in the Middle East.
Michael Duke, a reporter for the Jewish Herald-Voice, reported that Massad agreed with sentiments comparing Jews to Nazis. When an audience member asked about Palestinian terrorism during the question-and-answer session, Duke wrote that Massad responded by justifying attacks on the Jewish community.
However, Quillen said she thought the question-and-answer session was a legitimate exchange and that the speech had been misquoted.
The Boniuk Center was founded in 2004 when Milton Boniuk, whose father lost his family in the Holocaust, gave Rice a $5 million endowment to create a center for religious tolerance and peace.