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USF professor Mark Orr, known for work in international studies

TAMPA — As part of the occupying force under Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Mark Orr forged connections with the Japanese residents — some of them lifelong. That is how he met challenges, by building relationships.

Later, the University of South Florida political science professor started the first program for American college students to study in Japan.

In the mid 1960s he founded the school's International Affairs Center, which supports global research and international programs, laying the groundwork for a global studies department that flourishes today.

His spirit of outreach cost him political points in the 1990s. As head of Middle Eastern studies, Dr. Orr worked with two professors who were alleged to have ties to terrorist organizations: Sami Al-Arian, who was charged with funneling money to terrorist organizations; and Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, who emerged in Syria as the leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Though stunned by those revelations, Dr. Orr continued to press for global understanding. He founded a local offshoot of the Committees on Foreign Relations, and brought in heads of state, along with military and economic leaders, to address the Tampa Bay Area Committee on Foreign Relations.

Dr. Orr, who rose from humble beginnings to influence education in the U.S. and Japan, died Saturday. He was 95.

"He was a seminal figure in developing an educational system in a war-torn country," said Maria Crummett, USF's dean of international affairs. "He did that by developing friendships with the (Japanese) people, with the educators, with the politicians."

A young Mark Orr joined the Army in 1941 as a private. At the war's end, he headed to Japan, where he led MacArthur's education division.

Schoolchildren's textbooks got a democratic view of history, geography and the arts — and lost their former reverence for monarchs and emperors.

"Japan became a peaceful, globally engaged partner," Crummett said. "The crux of that, Dr. Orr felt, was the education policy."

He returned from this experience with meticulously told stories, and so many gifts from Japanese officials he had to put some in storage.

Dr. Orr led an ROTC program for the Air Force at the University of North Carolina, getting a Ph.D. in political science along the way. He decided to stay in the military, and for several years was stationed in Hawaii. He retired with the rank of colonel in 1965, and landed a job as a political science professor at USF.

Accomplishments followed as the International Affairs Center and exchange programs were created under his leadership.

In the early to mid 1990s, Dr. Orr worked with the World Islam Studies Enterprise, or WISE, on a series of scholarly conferences designed to promote understanding of Middle Eastern politics and culture.

"Whether we agree with them or not, we need to understand the way they see the world and why they might see us as a problem," Dr. Orr said in 1992. "We can't ignore it because we have too much at stake in that part of the world."

In 1995, the leader of Islamic Jihad was assassinated, and Shallah, an international relations professor Dr. Orr had befriended, emerged as the new leader of the organization, which supports the destruction of Israel.

Al-Arian — a computer science professor who founded WISE — later was arrested and went through a lengthy trial. The jury deadlocked on nine terrorism-related charges against Al-Arian and acquitted him on eight. He later pleaded guilty to helping associates of a terrorist group with immigration matters. And his associations and past statements condemning Israel embarrassed Dr. Orr and the university.

"It was extraordinarily painful for him," Crummett said. "He was someone with such a commitment and passion for international commitment, global outreach and people-to-people diplomacy. He had made friends, and these friendships were not what they appeared to be."

Dr. Orr retired in the late 1990s, around the time he gave $100,000 to start an international studies scholarship that bears his name. The school has given him two awards for distinguished service. Another of Dr. Orr's legacies, Crummett noted, lives on in academia: After Spanish, the language USF students most want to learn is Japanese.

Mark Taylor Orr

Born: April 20, 1914.

Died: Jan. 2, 2010.

Survivors: Daughter Karen Orr; son Mark Taylor Orr, Jr.; brother Oliver Orr; and one granddaughter.

Service: None scheduled.

USF professor Mark Orr, known for work in international studies 01/05/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 7, 2010 9:40am]
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