Bridgeport — The Rev. Sun Myung Moon is renting space at the University of Bridgeport's Cox Student Center for a private banquet tonight, university officials confirmed Tuesday.
The 86-year-old leader of the Unification Church is on a 12-city speaking tour to launch the Interfaith Universal Peace Federation.
Between 300 and 400 people are expected to attend the private event, said John Daley, a university spokesman.
"It is not a university function; it is a church function. We just rented out the room. We rent facilities out to all kinds of groups," Daley said.
The rental fee is $1,100 plus other expenses, Daley added.
University President Neil Salonen, a member of the church, is expected to attend.
Daley said he did not know who else from the UB community was on the guest list because the local Unification Church, located on Lafayette Street, was in charge of the invitations.
"It's not been promoted at all by the university," he said.
The visit comes as the university was beginning to distance itself from a group many view as a cult.
Moon's group, acting through the Professors World Peace Academy, has pumped more than $100 million into the university since it saved it from financial ruin in 1981. In exchange, the PWPA gets to name 60 percent of the university's board of trustees.
In 1998, loans made by the PWPA to the university became a gift. In 2003, though its right to name trustees continues, the university declared it would begin to make ends meet without church support.
Since then, a number of former university supporters, including David E.A. Carson, a former People's Bank president, and Nick Panuzio, a former Bridgeport mayor, have renewed associations with UB.
Moon's visit was to come on the same night Bo Dietl, a decorated former New York City detective who now runs a security business, was scheduled to speak to the University's Business School Club.
The event was abruptly canceled Monday, reportedly due to equipment problems. A Dietl spokesman would not confirm or deny whether the Moon visit had anything to do with Dietl's cancellation.
Sen. Bill Finch, D-Bridgeport, said Tuesday the visit proves Moon's hold over UB remains solid.
"I'm not surprised. He owns the place," said Finch. "So long as Moon has influence over the school it will be a second-rate institution owned by a cult leader who calls the shots. Moon has never owned anything he doesn't control."
Daley said he is not sure how many times Moon, who in 1995 received an honorary degree from the university, has been on campus. But he added he has never seen any evidence of the church proselytizing on or interfering with the campus.
Robert Todd, an associate professor of computer applications and faculty spokesman, said all universities appreciate revenue opportunities and that Moon is free to negotiate for any available venue he wishes.
"Speaking personally," he added. "I rather wish he'd find another venue, because some revenue comes at a high price."