A quiet but important change has been occurring in foreign gift-giving to American universities. Until recently such donations generally funded scientific projects of mutual interest to donor and university, such as communications, environmental planning, or health. Now, money coming primarily (but not exclusively) from Arabs is being given to establish programs, conferences, and centers that concentrate on the study of a particular land or culture. In one case the donor has virtually been given license to run and staff academic programs. In others, university officials have simply conformed to the donors’ expectations. This is a new and alarming development which threatens to turn gift-giving into a great pork barrel and in so doing to undermine the scholarly disinterestedness of the university.
Saudi Arabia has a relationship with southern California which goes back at least twenty years and is based on a similarity of terrain, climate, and resources. Southern Californians made the desert habitable and tapped its oil reserves, and the Saudis came to learn how they had done it. When oil money flowed in Saudi Arabia, business in southern California reaped a big share of contracts. Some of the oil revenues have found their way back to the University of Southern California (USC).
In 1976, the Saudis gave a million dollars to endow the King Faisal chair in Islamic Studies at USC. Willard Beling, a former Aramco official, was chosen as the first occupant. After the establishment of the chair was announced in 1976, the Saudi Minister of Finance and National Economy, Mohammed Abalkhail, wrote to USC president John R. Hubbard: “It is our understanding that the first incumbent of the chair shall be Professor Willard A. Beling. Future incumbents,” continued Abalkhail, “shall be chosen by the university in consultation with the Saudi Minister of Higher Education; such consultation will be within the acceptable academic traditions of the university.” Yet according to “acceptable academic traditions,” donors are not consulted on the question of who will fill a chair, especially after the first incumbent, except as a formal courtesy.
The Saudis’ next arrangement with USC had to do with establishing a Middle East Center. For this they attempted to interest American businessmen, working through J. R. Fluor. The Fluor Corporation did $272 million of construction in Saudi Arabia in 1977, and currently holds about $5 billion in Saudi contracts in the oil industry. Fluor is also chairman of the USC Board of Trustees. He began asking American businessmen for contributions to the center last May. Corporate executives whose companies were already in Saudi Arabia or wished to enter were invited, along with scholars, to a King Faisal Conference in Santa Barbara. There they listened to six panel discussions: Faisal the Reformer; Faisal’s Style; Faisal’s American Relationship; Faisal the Man; Faisal the King; Faisal the Diplomat.
The businessmen also heard an appeal for funds from Willard Beling and Dr. Ghazi Algosaibi, one of Beling’s former students and now the Saudi Minister of Industry and Electricity. An observer at the Santa Barbara conference later said he was “horrified” at the pressure placed on American businessmen to contribute. Fluor himself has not denied the use of implicit threats in encouraging businessmen to contribute. “I’m sure one could come to that conclusion if you want to come to that conclusion, yes,” he told NBC News in November. After the Santa Barbara conference, a foundation was incorporated to fund the Middle East Center; according to USC President Hubbard, available funds were a “bottomless well.”
The center’s prospectus and the care taken to insure its independence from normal university controls suggested that it would represent the Saudis’ view of the Middle East—a view which excludes Israel or treats the Jewish state as an international outlaw. Under its original plan, the Middle East Center was to be allowed a free hand in making its own academic appointments and drawing up its own curriculum. In addition, it possessed “a voice in the appointment and employment of USC faculty teaching courses on the Middle East outside the center” (emphasis added). When word of this proposal spread, some trustees, as well as the American Jewish Committee, began privately to object. A new contract was drawn up between USC and the Middle East Center abandoning the controversial provision but changing little else. An essentially autonomous Middle East Center was still envisioned, existing within USC but free from its control. University faculty members predictably became angry when they learned what the administration and a slim majority of trustees had undertaken without them. Today, the matter is public, and another version of the contract will have to be written.
Other attempts to influence teaching in American colleges have been more successful. At Duke University in September 1978 a program in Islamic and Arabian Development Studies was established with $20,000 from a local foundation and $20,000 from the Saudi government. One of this program’s stated aims is “to provide for the eastern part of the United States a balance, giving the attention that is being given this subject by the University of Southern California.” Another aim is “the convening of an international conference which will be given national publicity and which will include Saudi officials and scholars as well as American officials, businessmen, and publicists.”
Elsewhere, attempts to set up such programs have failed altogether. In early 1977, an administration official at Swarthmore wrote a proposal “to encourage programs of Arab studies in American colleges.” Complaining that already existing programs such as those at Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Chicago “may be suffering from inertia and obfuscated policies,” the official was nevertheless optimistic that “with time and patient stewardship [the Arab studies program] presents great possibilities for the spread of basic understandings of Arab concern and the encouragement of a favorable public-relations climate in this country” (emphasis added).
This proposal fell victim to its own sponsorship by the Triad Foundation, which was to provide $590,000 for a joint program at Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr. The Triad Foundation is the charitable arm of Adnan Kashoggi, an extraordinarily successful Saudi businessman who was wanted for questioning by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) at the time his foundation was being considered as a source of funds for this project. The SEC wanted to know whether Kashoggi was involved in the 1975 foreign-payoff scandal—a question raised by the congressional testimony of Northrop and Lockheed executives who said that he had asked for and received money to bribe Saudi officials. This connection alarmed the three colleges, which rejected the idea of the program.
The Saudis’ anti-Jewish policies, or—as the author of the Pennsylvania proposal phrased it—“their differences with Zionists” caused two other institutions to break off arrangements as well. When the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sought a clause allowing it to withdraw in case of discrimination, the Saudis abandoned a planned agreement; and a group of Midwestern universities suspended a consulting contract when the Saudis denied a visa to a Jewish dean.
The Saudis are not alone in attempted benefaction. Libya’s University of Alfateh in Tripoli and the University of Alabama at Birmingham were to enter into “a mutually beneficial and cooperative program” under a proposal announced by Alabama’s president in February 1977. The basic plan was harmless. The University of Alabama would place Libyan postgraduate students in various medical-training positions and Libya would pay. In return, Alabama faculty would lend their services to the University of Alfateh’s medical school. But the University of Alabama also declared its intention to “explore the possibility of establishing a ‘Center for Islamic Studies’ and a program in the Arabic language as a part of the College of Humanities.” Libyan “faculty members, educational materials, and any other support for such a program,” said Alabama politely, “would be most welcome and greatly appreciated.” Alabama faculty members, concerned at the prospect of Libyan government-supported professors teaching Islamic studies at their school, told their concerns to Alabama’s president, who shortly scrapped the entire program.
Libya’s state-supported Arab Development Institute also wished to give money to an American university—the University of Pennsylvania. Two initial projects were contemplated under the proposal. The first, a joint study, was to examine Libyan social structure. The second aimed at teaching Middle Eastern history and culture in American high schools. An ad-hoc committee appointed to review the proposal found that it did not adequately meet university guidelines for contracts funded by foreign governments. In rejecting the proposal, the ad-hoc committee doubted the “wisdom of accepting any foreign funding for the development of curricula studying the history of the area from which the funds are coming.”
Different universities, however, have different standards. The Libyans’ search for a beneficiary was ultimately rewarded—and handsomely. In mid-1977, Georgetown University accepted a gift of $750,000 from Libya to endow a chair at the university’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. The gift was the largest of several which have been made to the center since it was established in 1975. Some other donors are Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the Sultanate of Oman—and the U. S. Office of Education.
The chair has aroused controversy from the beginning. When it was first announced, the columnist Art Buchwald wrote a letter to the student newspaper in which he accused Georgetown of accepting “blood money from one of the most notorious regimes in the world today” and suggested that the university also consider establishing a “Brezhnev Studies Program in Human Rights or an Idi Amin Chair in Genocide.” To this gibe Peter Krough, dean of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and chairman of the center’s executive committee, answered open-mindedly, “I don’t know Uganda. I’ve never been to Uganda. I don’t know Idi Amin.” Michael Hudson, the center’s director, said that Buchwald’s characterization of the Libyans was not really accurate. “The Libyans,” declared Hudson, “say they’re just as anti-terrorist as anyone else.”
The Center for Contemporary Arab Studies is also a center of pro-Arab politics. Last spring, when Israeli troops entered Lebanon to attack PLO guerrilla bases, Dr. Clovis Maksoud, a visiting lecturer at the center and formerly editor-in chief of the Beirut based Al-Nahar, had a statement for the press: “The invasion doesn’t constitute a response to the Palestinian raid. Instead it points to a contingency plan by Israel to gain suzerainty over southern Lebanon. Their object for a long time has been to prevent the policing of this area by Arab peace-keeping forces.” This went out as an official press release of Georgetown University. Buchwald, the only national columnist who has followed the issue, wrote, “I don’t see why the PLO has to have a PR organization when Georgetown is doing all their work for them.”
In his 1977 book, Arab Politics, Michael Hudson went out of his way to praise the Libyan regime and its dictator. That regime, says Hudson, “presents itself as more Islamic, more pan-Arab, and more democratic than any other regime. Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi, the handsome and youthful leader of the coup, . . . has come to personify the Libyan revolution. . . . But heroic leader that he is,” continues Hudson, “Qaddafi apparently does not wish to dominate the Libyan system. . . . He frequently threatens to retire completely and never tires of insisting that Libyans must learn to govern themselves rather than relying on any particular leader.” This, of a man Sadat has called a “mental case,” a man who rejects and prohibits parliaments, political parties, and plebiscites, a dictator whose support of international terrorism is unswerving.
The line was drawn on contributions at Georgetown last summer, although not by the Arab studies center. The center solicited a $50,000 gift from Iraq. Father Timothy Healy, president of Georgetown, increasingly embarrassed over the center’s image, returned the money with a polite thank you. Hisham Sharabi, holder of the Libyans’ Chair of Arab Culture, denounced Healy as a “Jesuit Zionist,” but the gift went back.
The lesson is clear. As long as American universities refuse to accept money in cases where a foreign donor’s motives or respectability are plainly suspect, attempts to buy their prestige will be discouraged and kept to a minimum. If, on the other hand, academic standards come to be relaxed or waived in prospect of large financial rewards, a step will have been taken toward the complete politicization of scholarship and the transformation of the university into an ideological battleground.