The University of Bridgeport certainly has seen better days.
The private four-year school in Connecticut owes $22 million to creditors. For the past 19 months, its unionized faculty has been striking over wages and the decimation of the liberal arts program. Enrollment has dropped from 9,000 in 1970 to 3,000 today. The law school seceded and hooked up with a smaller state college. The school's board of trustees voted to end instruction this August.
Is it any surprise the university lost its accreditation?
But now a savior, a white knight, has come to the rescue of Bridgeport U. His name? The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the controversial leader of the Unification Church.
The trustees have agreed to take $20 million this year and at least $30 million during the next five years from Reverend Moon's church. In exchange, the church gets to name future trustees.
Bridgeport U. will stay independent and nonsectarian, the current trustees maintain. They say the school could become the flagship of a proposed worldwide system of Moon-supported universities, but it won't turn into a propaganda machine for a church that is often called cult-like.
Keep in mind the Reverend Moon, who once served 13 months in prison for tax fraud, made a similar "hands-off" promise when he launched the Washington Times. Yet former Times staffers say editorial policy differs little from the Moon agenda.
For the trustees, the choice came down to closing after 65 years -- which also would have hurt the financially crippled city of Bridgeport -- or staying alive through a controversial benefactor. They declined the offer last fall, but after failing to unearth another alternative, they decided last week to take the Moon money and keep running.
As some teachers, students and alumni have noted, Reverend Moon's sponsorship could taint a Bridgeport diploma. But the Moon group vows to restore the school's accreditation, a valued symbol that can be yanked if the church does anything to damage the university's academic standing.
Caveat emptor should become the motto of current Bridgeport students and future applicants. Indeed, applicants to any school with a religious affiliation -- Oral Roberts University, the University of Notre Dame, Brigham Young University, Yeshiva University, you name it -- must be aware they will be educated in an environment largely different from that of a nonsectarian school. It might be a good education, but for better or worse, it will be viewed as a different type of learning experience.
The same applies to future graduates of the new University of Bridgeport, where sheepskins will carry the Moon brand.