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Queens College returns donation for AIDS center

It began more than two years ago with a $4.5 million bequest from a wealthy, pre-eminent scientist and alumnus of Queens College. It ended last week with a $3 million refund for an AIDS research center that was never built.

The proposed $30 million facility, to be named the Bernard and Gloria Salick Center for Molecular and Cellular Biology, was viewed largely as a coup for the City University of New York and, in particular, for Queens College.

It would have planted the college, which does not have a medical school, firmly at the forefront of AIDS research, with the co-discover of the virus, Dr. Luc Montagnier, as its head.

But despite a $4.5 million donation from the alumnus, Dr. Bernard Salick, the college failed to raise sufficient funds to build the center. Nearly a year later in January, when the college proposed housing the facility in an existing building, Salick demanded that his money be returned.

The Salicks and the college reached an agreement last Friday under which Queens College would put $3 million of his donation into a charitable trust fund of his choice, according to the college. In addition, a $291,000 — the interest accrued on his donation — is to be used to endow the Bernard and Gloria Salick Scholarship fund for students studying biology or biomedical sciences.

The other $1.5 million, however, had been spent on the original design proposal and the purchasing of equipment and will not be returned, said Ron Cannava, a college spokesman.

“The only comment that he, Dr. Salick, is making is that he is deeply disappointed that all that work was for naught, that the center did not come to fruition,” said Ron Wise, a spokesman for Salick in California.

In a telephone interview Monday, Cannava said the agreement was still in its infancy, and neither Salick nor the college had fleshed out any of the specifics.

“None of this stuff has been decided,” he said. He added that he did not know when Queens College and Salick would strike a more definitive plan.

It was also unclear whether Montagnier, the tenured professor and co-discoverer of the virus that causes AIDS who was to chair the center, would continue teaching at the college, Cannava said.

“It’s up to him to decide whether he wants to remain at the college under the new circumstances,” he said.

It became apparent late last year that the free-standing research center would not be built. The college had not met a state-imposed deadline of Nov. 30, 1999 to raise $15 million. The state consequently voided its agreement to match the funds that were to be raised by the college.

As a result, the college proposed dedicating a wing of Remsen Hall for the facility, a center that would not put AIDS research center stage, Cannava said. But Salick responded with a letter on Jan. 17 demanding that the college return his $4.5 million in 10 days with interest.

Although at first the college did discuss the contents of the letter, the administration refused to offer any further comment a week later, saying that Salick was unhappy that it had been reported extensively in newspapers.

Reach reporter Chris Fuchs by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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