The University of Miami will hire the world’s first atheist studies chair after receiving a $2.2 million donation from retired Florida businessman Louis Appignani.
Appignani, 83, is the former president of the Barbizon International Modeling School and has made large donations to humanist and secular causes in the past.
“I’m trying to eliminate discrimination against atheists,” Appignani told The New York Times. “So this is a step in that direction, to make atheism legitimate.”
Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and Appignani’s friend, also praised the university’s decision.
“I wish to congratulate the University of Miami for agreeing to establish this position, and Lou Appignani for endowing it,” Dawkins said in a statement via the Center for Inquiry which is in the process of merging with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science.
Thomas LeBlanc, the university’s executive vice president and CEO, said that the college is not taking an advocacy position.
"Our religion department isn't taking an advocacy position when it teaches about Catholicism or Islam,” LeBlanc told The Times. “Similarly, we're not taking an advocacy position when we teach about atheism or secular ethics."
He said the university was at first hesitant to use “atheism” in the name of the curriculum, but opted to reflect the growing climate of Americans leaving religion behind. According to the Pew Research Center, 23 percent of Americans do not identify with a religious group, and 35 percent of millennials also identify with atheism, agnosticism or no religion at all.