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Sunday, August 23, 2009

American universities in the service of radical Islam

Last week, it was reported that Yale University had forced Yale University Press to omit the controversial cartoons of the prophet Mohamed from a book about the same cartoons as published by Denmark's Jyllands Posten nearly four years ago. Yale claimed it feared violence over the cartoons, as happened, for example, in Gaza three and a half years ago. But it turns out Yale may have had a different fear in mind: The fear of the Almighty Buck.
The crucial thing to know about Prince Alwaleed is that he believes in "strategic philanthropy." He's not tied emotionally to particular universities, and he's not interested in honors. He seeks maximum return on investment. The two $20 million gifts he made in 2005 followed a semi-secret competition, in which half a dozen institutions put on their most Saudi-friendly face. Alwaleed later named some names in an interview with the New York Times: Harvard, Georgetown, Chicago, Michigan, "and several of the Ivy Leagues" were in the running. The interviewer pressed for more names. "Please. Keep the other universities out," said Alwaleed. "I'd rather not embarrass them."

Who was spared embarrassment? The Yale Daily News asked President Levin if Yale had been in the race; Levin "said two University proposals had been in the final running." Finalist, but not a winner.

But everyone assumes that Alwaleed will run another competition. He isn't worth as much as he was a few years back, but according to Forbes, he's still worth over $13 billion. (In March, he summoned a Forbes reporter to spend a week with him, just to prove he's still living the opulent life. "Observing wealth on this scale, even for a seasoned billionaires reporter, was staggering.") And he's still in the academic market—so says Muna AbuSulayman, executive director of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation: "Because of what is happening (in the markets) people might think he is stopping his philanthropy; on the contrary he is fully committed to his charity goals no matter what happens." According to her, the Alwaleed Foundation has set aside $100 million for its Islam-West dialogue project, which endowed the centers at Harvard and Georgetown.

This same Muna AbuSulayman is also Alwaleed's point person for his academic programs. "I used to work with him at Kingdom Holding, I was head of strategic studies, and I was given the assignment of doing the first centers in the U.S. I guess I did such a good job that he actually offered me the foundation." You can see her in this photo of Alwaleed with Georgetown's president, and in this one of Alwaleed with Harvard's provost (she's the one with the hijab). AbuSulayman continues to monitor the Alwaleed centers; in March, she convened their directors in London for their first joint planning meeting. (In this photo, she's surrounded by the directors of the endowed centers, including Georgetown's John Esposito and Harvard's Roy Mottahedeh. Look carefully for strings attached.)

Now it gets interesting. In April, Yale named Muna AbuSulayman a "Yale World Fellow" for 2009. This isn't some honorific, and she'll reside from August through December in New Haven. (Her Facebook fan page, August 16: "I need help locating a Town House/condo for short term leasing near Yale University... Anyone familiar with that area?") Can you imagine a better way to set the stage for a major Alwaleed gift? Hosting for a semester the very person who structured the Harvard and Georgetown gifts, and who now directs Alwaleed's charitable foundation? A stroke of genius.

Imagine, then—and we're just imagining—that someone in the Yale administration, perhaps in President Levin's office, gets wind of the fact that Yale University Press is about to publish a book on the Danish cartoons—The Cartoons That Shook the World. The book is going to include the Danish cartoons, plus earlier depictions of the Prophet Muhammad tormented in Dante's Inferno, and who-knows-what-else. Whooah! Good luck explaining to people like Prince Alwaleed that Yale University and Yale University Press are two different shops. The university can't interfere in editorial matters, so what's to be done? Summon some "experts," who'll be smart enough to know just what to say. Yale will be accused of surrendering to an imagined threat by extremists. So be it: self-censorship to spare bloodshed in Nigeria or Indonesia still sounds a lot nobler than self-censorship to keep a Saudi prince on the line for $20 million.
Read the whole thing.

I'd bet that another university in the running for a grant from Alwaleed is Columbia. I'm sure Alwaleed will not want to be reminded that New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani told him to stuff his $10 million where the sun don't shine in the aftermath of 9/11, and he may not be thrilled with the fact that the current Mayor of New York City is Jewish, but maybe the presence of Rashid Khalidi and Mary Robinson on the university faculty can overcome those misgivings.

But as an Ivy League graduate (Columbia), I have a more fundamental question: Why doesn't it bother anyone that American academia is for sale like this? When will the federal government step in and say that if you accept money from a foreign government or anyone who is affiliated with one (i.e. from the Saudi royal family), we will reduce the money that you get from the federal government dollar for dollar? Has anyone thought through the consequences of the fact that American students are being educated the way Alwaleed would want them educated (and anyone who thinks they're not - go back and reread all the material on the cartoons controversy and the new book).

What could go wrong?


At 6:30 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - people and countries do prostitute themselves. Its as old as human nature. In the Torah we learn how Joseph forces his own brothers to prostitute themselves to the Egyptians as punishment for the crime they committed against him and is a foreshadowing of the Jews' slavery in Egypt - seen as the Jews' payment in full for what was done to Joseph. No good can come out of evil and in the case of Yale's self-censorship, the first casualty of submission to the dictate of a Saudi prince is the truth.

At 7:23 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

This nonsense works two ways. If a university crosses the line, current benefactors can choose to withhold future contributions. I ended my contributions to the U of Michigan after my old department chose to bring in as visiting professor/propagandist anti-Israel "scholar" Neve Gordon. Some Columbia alumni are choosing not to contribute after some of its recent tenure decisions. And it's now reported that many benefactors to Ben Gurion U are threatening to drop their support after Gordon's op-ed in the LA Times calling for a boycott of Israel - the country that pays his salary.

At 7:42 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

R. Shwake,

I have never given money to Columbia. Long before the current round of tenure decisions, they had Edward Said on the faculty (in fact, the head of the Middle East Studies department there has the Edward Said chair).

But the universities have made the decision that the $20 million they can get from an Alwaleed will more than offset the losses from people like you and me. So unfortunately, our directing our donations elsewhere has little effect on the university.

That's why I proposed a dollar for dollar offset from the federal government. That would take away the incentive to take money from an Alwaleed.


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