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Queens College tight-lipped on AIDS gift

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Queens College officials are keeping mum about a letter sent by an alumnus who had asked the college to return with interest a $4.5 million bequest he made nearly three years ago for an AIDS research center that was never built.

Dr. Bernard Salick sent the letter to the president of the college, Dr. Russell Hotzler, on Jan. 17. Salick had imposed a 10-day deadline on his demand that the donation be returned, but a spokesman for the college said officials were still negotiating with him.

"We're not going to give any further comment," said Ron Cannava, a Queens College spokesman. "[Salick] has said he does not want to discuss this in the media. He says he hasn't leaked the letter himself, and the college is bound by that. I can tell you that negotiations will continue."

The New York Times published excerpts of the Salick letter earlier this month.

Salick's request came after the college made known last month plans to house the laboratory, the Bernard and Gloria Salick Center of Molecular Biology, in the wing of an existing building rather than in a free-standing structure. The college was forced to pursue this proposal since it failed to raise the necessary funds to build a separate structure.

The center was at first viewed as a coup for the City University of New York, propelling one of its colleges to the forefront of AIDS research. To that end, Salick included $1.5 million in his bequest to endow a chair for Dr. Luc Montagnier, the co-discover of the virus that causes AIDS.

Nearly three years ago, under the tenure of then-President Allen Sessoms, the college worked out an agreement with the state that if it raised $15 million for the center, then the state would match it. But the college never met the Nov. 30, 1999 state-imposed deadline and the agreement was voided. Sessoms resigned as president last year amid the AIDS center flap and moved to Boston.

In December, the college told Montagnier he could not use the research facilities at Queens College unless he raised the money he had agreed to for the AIDS center.

Montagnier could not be reached for comment because he was traveling in Africa.

Cannava said last week the college had not worked out contingency plans if its efforts to keep Salick from reneging on his offer proved fruitless.

"We are planning to get him to agree to a new proposal," he said.

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

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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