The Law School last year accepted a $300,000 contribution from the Saudi Arabian government for the purpose of initiating a program on Islamic law, Albert M. Sacks, dean of the Law School, said yesterday.
The Saudi government attached "no conditions" to the grant except that it be used in such a program, which will become an endowed chair if the School raises the necessary $1 million, Sacks said.
Sacks said that, "to the best of his knowledge," this is the first time Harvard has ever accepted any funding from Saudi Arabia.
All of the money is now earning income as part of the Law School's endowment, which is controlled by the Harvard Corporation.
The Saudis made the offer after learning of efforts to establish the program in a letter relayed to them by Sheikh Ahmed Z. Yamani, a graduate of Harvard Law School. The Law School also sent identical letters to two other "small mid-eastern countries" Jerome A. Cohen, associate dean of the Law School said, but it has received no responses yet.
At this time no real Islamic program exists, Cohen said, but it has long been the desire of the school to establish a chair on the subject in keeping with the Law School's general efforts to "expand its horizons."
President Bok, who several years ago refused to send Harvard advisors to Saudi Arabia to work on a graduate school there, said yesterday that although he had no part in approving the acceptance of the gift, he had no objection to it.
"A very different principle applies," Bok said. In the first Saudi case he had feared that applicants might be discriminated against on the basis of their religion, but there is no such danger in the Law school gift, he said.
If no more money is received, the annual income available for the program will be between $12,000 and $15,000, enough to allow "only the most limited activity in the field," Sacks said.
The Law School will try to institute a program involving visiting professors and perhaps a scholarship for those interested in researching the subject, Sacks said