Arab-American groups call on Wayne State University to reinstate Helen Thomas award

DETROIT, Mich. (WXYZ) - Arab-American groups protested Friday outside the Faculty Administration building at Wayne State University. They are urging school officials to reinistate the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award.

"Helen Thomas IS the spirit of diversity," said Ali Beydoun, president of the Arab-American Student Union.

The university dropped the award last week, following controversial comments the long-time journalist made about Israel.

Thomas is one of the university's most famous alums, but the school says her comments were anti-semitic and don't live up to the spirit of the award. School officials also say potential donors called the school to say they would no longer support the award financially.

"This has nothing to do with free speech," said Harvey Hollins, Vice President of Government and Community Relations at Wayne State. "But when it impacts the ability to raise funds for students who need money that's where the decision was made."

In a later statement to clarify the school's position, the university said that the award was eliminated because the "...controversial remarks were inconsistent with the ideals and intent of the award and did not contribute to a constructive dialogue about diversity." The statement also reads that the remarks "...have resulted in declining support for the award. However, Wayne State's decision was not a response to donor reaction."

The award, which began in 2000, has been given to journalists who embody the ideals of tolerance and diverse viewpoints.

"I understand that the university is facing pressure," said Amraa Bittar, a senior at Wayne State. "They can find other donors."