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16may20092Miami: The Tibetan spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan leader-in-exile, has offered to donate $100,000 to help save the Department of Religious Studies at Florida International University, which is slated to close as part of $27 million in budget cuts.

''In our deeply interconnected world, understanding and appreciation of diversity of religions is critical in fostering a culture of genuine tolerance and peaceful coexistence,'' reads a letter from his India-based office to FIU President Modesto A. Maidique. ``If the department were to close down, it will not be easy to rebuild it.''

Closing the department, which has about 125 undergraduate and graduate students and 12 full-time faculty members, would save $600,000 a year. FIU has a $642 million total operating budget.

''I'm astounded,'' said Nathan Katz, a religious studies professor who has been at the forefront of a campaign to save the department and wrote His Holiness the Dalai Lama in early April. Katz said he has spoken to Maidique and that the university will accept the offer.

The donation alone will not save the department, Katz said, adding that the department plans more fundraising and has invited the Dalai Lama to visit the university as early as the fall. The spiritual and political leader has visited FIU before: in 1999, when he received an honorary doctorate of divinity, and in 2004.

Katz, who studies Judaism and Buddhism in India, first met His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1973 as a student in India and has developed a personal relationship with him since.

Other FIU departments scheduled to close are Recreation and Sports Management and Athletic Training. Another 16 degrees that are mostly in the College of Education and have single-digit enrollment will also be eliminated, saving another $400,000 a year. Millions more would be saved by cutting academic affairs expenses, such as library purchases.

FIU trustees will vote on the full slate of cuts June 12.

Theodore D. Karantsalis contributed to this report.

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