With the killing of Jamal Kashoggi, a contributor to The Washington Post, in Saudi Arabia, media outlets started churning out stories on President Trump’s past business deals with the Saudis, but have yet to examine the Arab nation’s very current economic exchanges with American colleges and universities.
Of course it didn’t help matters any that during the last presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump was quoted as saying “I made a lot of money off the Saudis” and “I love the Saudis.” Yet note the use of the past tense in the money quote. The donations that top American universities are getting from Saudi Arabia are very much a current event.
“At noon on March 23, protesters gathered on MIT’s campus bearing red-and-black signs declaring ‘No Saudi War Criminal at MIT’ and ‘End Saudi-MIT Collaboration,’” Shera S. Avi-Yonah wrote in The Harvard Crimson on October 25, 2018. “The protest — organized by local advocacy group Massachusetts Peace Action — was meant to draw attention to Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s March visit to MIT.”
“Standing amid university police and barricades, members of the group called on MIT President L. Rafael Reif to disavow Prince Mohammed and to sever ties with the Saudi Arabian regime. In a statement she gave to MIT’s student newspaper following the visit, university spokesperson Kimberly Allen said that ‘Saudi Arabia and MIT have a longstanding collaborative relationship focused on subjects of mutual interest.’ Allen added the partnerships bring female Saudi students to study in the United States and support ‘the development of sustainable energy.’”
“The next day, March 24, Prince Mohammed visited Harvard. Roughly two miles away in Cambridge, there were no protests and no University press releases.”
Last March, in an article in The Nation, Stanley Heller laid out chapter and verse showing the extent of Saudi largesse on American campuses. “Harvard and Georgetown each received $20 million from a Saudi prince back in 2005 to foster ‘Islamic studies,’” he wrote. “Georgetown used the money to fund its Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, which it renamed the HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.”
Also, it turns out that Yale has a lively competition going with Harvard for Saudi funding. “In 2015, Saudi businessman Abdallah S. Kamel announced he was giving Yale Law School $10 million for the study of Islamic law and civilization,” Heller wrote. “Kamel is the chief executive of the Dallah Albaraka Group, LLC.”
“This gigantic holding company operates in a score of industries, from real estate to banking to media. Ties to the Saudi government are unclear, though it has profited from extensive government contracts in the past.”
Additionally, Heller notes, the University of New Hampshire “in 2016 started an academic program with a Saudi police college.”
“A letter signed by nearly 50 writers, professors, and human-rights activists last September called for UNH to close down its BA program in security studies at King Fahd Security College (KFSC) in Saudi Arabia. They argued that criminal-justice and forensic-science skills transferred by UNH to Saudi Arabia would be used to hunt down democratic dissidents, women standing up for their rights, and those not following government-mandated religious practices. The writers also noted that police techniques developed at UNH would be used against people accused of “witchcraft,” “apostasy,” and “homosexuality,” all of which are serious crimes in Saudi Arabia.”
Until recently, concern about such grants has been limited. We’ve posted articles on it as has Accuracy in Media (AIM). The Middle East Forum has also done so.
Moreover, this criticism mainly came from the right of center, a description that clearly does not apply to The Nation.