Thursday, July 18, 2019

The kingdom and the campus

Saudi Arabia has quietly directed tens of millions of dollars a year to American universities from MIT to Northern Kentucky. What are the nation's rulers getting out of it?  This is an excerpt from a VERY long-winded article in the NYT

M.I.T. DOES NOT need Saudi Arabia's money. Chartered on the eve of the Civil War (two days before the first shots were fired), it is one of those ultrawealthy universities whose finances are sometimes compared to the economies of small or midsize nations. M.I.T. spent about $3.6 billion on its operations last year, and its endowment, $16.5 billion, is the sixth- largest among American universities (and greater than the gross domestic product of nearly 70 countries, including Mongolia, Nicaragua and the Republic of Congo). The money it receives from Saudi sources is relatively modest, less than $10 million in many years, though the school has received individual gifts from Saudi billionaires of as much as $43 million.

Federal law requires universities in the United States to report revenue of more than $250,000 from outside the country, which is logged by the Education Department on what is known as the foreign gifts report. It shows that Saudi money flows to all sorts of American schools: M.I.T.'s elite peers, including Harvard, Yale, Northwestern, Stanford and the California Institute of Technology; flagship public universities like Michigan and the University of California, Berkeley; institutions in oil- producing regions, like Texas A&M; and state schools like Eastern Washington University and Ball State University.

For that last category of schools, the Saudi money comes almost entirely in the form of tuition for its students - full tuition, at the out-ofstate rates, which are usually double what state residents pay. With a population of 34 million, Saudi Arabia is the 41st most populous nation in the world, but with 44,000 students in the United States, it is the fourth- largest source of foreign students, trailing only China, India and South Korea. Saudi students began coming to the United States in large numbers after a 2005 meeting between Crown Prince Abdullah (Mohammed bin Salman's uncle) and President George W. Bush at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Tex. They were seeking ways to restore warmer relations between the two countries after the Sept. 11 attacks, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi; the first pillar of a new "foundation of broad cooperation," as their joint statement put it, was for the Saudis to send greater numbers of students to the United States.

The Saudi government pays the tuitions directly, under individual contracts with many universities for undergraduate students. The contracts specify students' majors and state that the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission in Northern Virginia, which manages the college program, must be informed if a student seeks to switch concentrations. "This financial guarantee provides coverage only to the degree and major specified above" is the language I saw in one contract, for a student at the University of Kansas. Any changes to the major, it continued, would render the contract "null and void." No other nation pays for its American- based college students in the same systematic way. Most other foreign students, including the more than 300,000 from China, pay with family money and sometimes a combination of scholarships from their home countries and their American schools.

In 2018, the 411 Saudis at Eastern Washington University accounted for more than 12 percent of the school's total tuition revenue while making up only 3 percent of the student population. Northern Kentucky University has educated more than 700 Saudis over the last decade. According to Fran‡ois LeRoy, the university's director of global engagement, most of them have been men, tending to major in engineering technology. A substantial number are married and live off campus with their families. Their presence has served the additional benefit of helping the local economy. "The car dealerships have done wonderfully well," LeRoy says, "because most of them purchase a car as soon as they arrive."

Saudi high school graduates are not generally considered as strong academically as those coming from China or other nations sending students to the United States. A consultant who advises universities on issues related to international students told me he believes that the Saudis gravitate to less selective schools where they can easily gain admission.

M.I.T. does not educate a great many Saudis: Just six undergraduates and 27 graduate students (out of about 11,600 total students) were enrolled in 2018. Its relationships and transactions with Saudi Arabia are largely with the Saudi government and various state- owned entities. The same is true of other top-tier American universities.

At least 25 universities have contracts with Aramco; Sabic, the petrochemical company; or the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, a government research facility in Riyadh. M.I.T. works with all three. Many of the agreements focus on technical aspects of oil and natural gas extraction and processing. Economists at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government are working directly with the Saudi government to reconceive the kingdom's labor market for the day when it will be unable to rely as much on revenue from oil - and also to increase opportunities for women and younger workers. In all these instances, the universities' collaborations with the Saudis are akin to consulting, but academics do not call it that, unless it is work done on the side; they call it academic research.

The benefits to Saudi Arabia from these relationships are clear. The kingdom gets access to the brain trust of America's top academic institutions as it endeavors to modernize its economy, an effort Prince Mohammed has named Vision 2030. Perhaps as important, the entree to schools like M.I.T. serves to soften the kingdom's image. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, hostile to women's and L.G.B.T.Q. rights and without protections for a free press or open expression, but its associations beyond its borders can make it seem almost like an honorary Western nation. Another way to view the Saudi relationship with American universities is as a form of branding; its recent moves to sponsor prominent sporting events serve the same purpose. "It's a way of spreading soft power," says Jordan, the former ambassador, "in the same way the U.S. has done for years around the world."

On his trip to Cambridge last year, Prince Mohammed spent a full day along the two-mile corridor that is arguably America's most hallowed academic ground. After the morning at M.I.T., he made the short trip in his motorcade to Harvard, where he participated in what was called a faculty round table, followed by a reception with local college presidents.

No one asked him about Yemen or about much of anything else. An administrator at Harvard who helped arrange the crown prince's event there described it as "a show, a meet-andgreet - there was not a big give-and-take or an opportunity for questions." It was a repeat of how Prince Mohammed spent his time at M.I.T. "They asked to come, and we agreed to host them," says Richard Lester, the associate provost. I asked if he knew the reasons for the crown prince's visit. "I think one of them undoubtedly was that there was a P.R. value associated with the visit," he said. "And they may have also been genuinely curious about what we do here."

Administrators at universities with ties to Saudi Arabia emphasize their role as a liberalizing influence. The University of New Haven, a private school that has a criminal- justice program, helps educate Saudi law- enforcement officers. The program has come under scrutiny because of the kingdom's notoriously harsh and autocratic justice system. New Haven's president, Steven H. Kaplan, told me that his institution had created a curriculum based on American constitutional law that would make Saudi students less likely to be involved in any activities like rounding up, torturing or executing dissidents. "We are helping implement the kind of change that will instill in citizens there the kind of values that would cause them to resist and oppose such horrible acts," he said. He acknowledged that he had no way of knowing for sure what activities students were involved in once they graduated.

To critics, the universities are selling their good names. Sally Haslanger, an M.I.T. philosophy professor, refers to the university conferring "symbolic capital" on the Saudi regime. "M.I.T.'s name, integrity, credibility and scientific excellence have power," she told me, "and we have used it to burnish the reputation of Mohammed bin Salman and his regime."

The debate over Saudi involvement in American higher education echoes the movement a generation ago that pushed universities to divest from apartheid- era South Africa, and more recently, calls from some quarters for schools to disassociate from Israel in protest of its occupation of the Palestinian territories. Faculty members and students - as well as the surrounding communities in urban centers like Cambridge - often want universities to reflect their own sense of moral clarity and outrage. University administrators, in almost all cases, resist.

Saudi Arabia directed about $650 million to American universities from 2012 to 2018 and ranks third on the list of foreign sources of money, one spot behind Britain, according to data contained in the foreign gifts report. The top spot is occupied by Qatar, another oil-rich Persian Gulf state and a bitter rival of Saudi Arabia. American strategic adversaries on the list, including Russia and China, reveal some other relationships - like M.I.T.'s partnership with a technology incubator outside Moscow. Its president is the billionaire oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who was also an M.I.T. trustee until the Treasury Department put him on a sanctions list.

The totals on the foreign gifts report are incomplete, probably significantly so. Not all universities comply with the reporting rule in the same way, and some appear not to comply at all. The tuition payments alone from the Saudi government, which some schools report and others do not, could exceed $1 billion a year. (If the kingdom paid $20,000 in out-of-state tuition for every one of its students, the total would be $880 million, but some of them attend private schools that cost more.) The universities themselves are not clear about what they should report. "It's such an obscure corner of the Higher Education Act that some institutions overlook it," Terry Hartle, a senior vice president at the American Council on Education, told me. M.I.T. officials say its annual revenue from its contracts with Aramco in recent years has usually been less than $10 million - a pittance to the oil company, which makes roughly $1 billion a day in revenues. Recent deals involve the research and development of methods to extract oil more efficiently and cleanly, as well as "computational modeling, artificial intelligence, robotics and nanotechnologies," according to a university statement.

The agreements are part of a much larger picture: M.I.T.'s partnerships with big businesses in the United States and abroad. Aramco is a member of the university's Energy Initiative, along with Exxon Mobil, Shell and BP. Most other major research universities have similar consortiums, a concept M.I.T. helped pioneer. Companies pay a membership fee to sponsor research and benefit from the findings.

The Media Lab is another corporate consortium. Despite its name, the lab's focus is on computing and technology rather than the news media. Its director, Joi Ito, identifies as a hacker, and his motto for the lab - "deploy or die" - means that students should not be afraid to quickly test their ideas in the marketplace. (Ito is a board member at The New York Times Company.) "It's the classic model of leveraging private money at a very high level," says Jonathan King, a biology professor and chairman of the editorial board of M.I.T.'s faculty newsletter. "The Media Lab did not grow out of a national science priority or a desire to cure cancer or Alzheimer's. Its roots are entrepreneurial, not academic."

The Saudi associations raise another question, which is whether universities should take a political or moral stand. The kingdom's conduct has been extreme enough to inspire a rare instance of bipartisanship in Washington - a Senate vote in June to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, its partner in the Yemen conflict. (The measure is unlikely to survive the expected presidential veto.) When I visited Shireen al- Adeimi at Michigan State, eight months after she spoke on the sidewalk in Cambridge, she was clear about what she thought M.I.T. should do. "Just disassociate from him," she said, referring to the crown prince. "If this was an African warlord from a poor country, would we even be having this conversation? Would they be so cautious about how they respond?"

M.I.T. has been alone in publicly grappling with what to do about its Saudi associations, which has won the university some grudging respect, even from its critics. "They are the only school th at's been willing to engage at all and give us anything to push back on," says Grif Peterson, the former fellow at the Berkman Klein Center. There are certainly reasons for those on campuses - or anywhere, really - to fear speaking out against the Saudi regime. Last August, Canada's foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, called for the release of two jailed Saudi human rights activists. It was a fairly diplomatic rebuke. In response, the Saudis criticized Canada's "negative and surprising attitude" and announced a long list of retaliatory measures, including recalling several thousand Saudi students.

One Saudi student in the United States whom I asked to interview said he would participate only if I shielded his identity. "Thanks for reaching out, please DO NOT use my name, affiliation or any descriptive information in any published work," he wrote me in an email. When we met, he said that in contrast to what he considered some forward economic reforms by the government, "freedom of expression has been going in the other direction. You can't risk even moderate criticisms. And if you're an explicit critic, I feel like you could end up in prison."

In Lester's office, I told him about a meeting I had the day before with a senior Harvard administrator. The official had said he would be happy to talk with me about Harvard's relationship with Saudi Arabia when I got to Cambridge. But when we settled into his office, he informed me, sheepishly, that I could not quote him by name. He apologized, saying that the directive came from someone higher up in the administration.

The Harvard administrator reached across his desk and handed me a two- paragraph written statement. It said that the university would no longer set aside 100 seats in its summer program for Saudi students who were sponsored by the crown prince's personal foundation, which is known as MiSK. The statement, which has not been publicly disclosed, was not signed - the letterhead was from the Office of the Provost - and it did not say exactly why the agreement was being discontinued, only that "it has not been renewed." There was no explicit reference to Khashoggi. "We are following recent events with concern and are assessing potential implications for existing programs," the statement said.


Illegal immigrant population to surge 10% this year, flood schools

The continued surge of Latin American illegal immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border will lead to hundreds of thousands being released into the country, increasing the already massive population of migrants by some 10%, according to a new analysis.

“We anticipate more than 700,000 migrants will successfully enter the country, increasing the unauthorized Hispanic population by nearly 10%,” said the influential Princeton Policy Advisors.

What’s more, wrote the group’s president Steve Kopits in a memo provided to Secrets, “By year end, nearly 300,000 migrant children are expected to enter the U.S. Over time, these will show up in the U.S. public school system.”

While apprehensions slowed last month, Kopits said that over 1 million illegal immigrants will be caught at the border, with most getting a pass into the United States while awaiting a court hearing on their status.

An estimated 7 million to 9 million illegal immigrants are in the U.S., and are the focus of new federal efforts to find and deport those with criminal records and orders to leave.

Looking ahead, he said:

“Forecasting in the current environment is all but impossible, but at the moment it appears we are past the year's peak and anticipate slightly lower, but still elevated, apprehensions levels going forward. This yields 937,000 apprehensions for FY 2019. Of these, we anticipate 538,000 will be adults traveling alone or in family units, and 354,000 will be minors. Given that we are three-quarters of the way through the fiscal year now, these numbers may be considered indicative.

“Because apprehensions have been growing over time, forecasts for calendar year 2019 are higher than for the fiscal year. For the calendar year, we anticipate 1,040,000 apprehensions (v. 1,072,000 last month), with more than 400,000 of these children.”


Australia: Anti-Israel Year 12 assessment task angers Jewish community

A sample exam paper for Year 12 students claimed as fact that ­Israel has persecuted Arabs by demolishing their homes ­because “they don’t follow the Jewish religion”.

The contents of the paper provided to Victorian schools has angered the Jewish community, which has criticised the “false” and “libellous’’ claim for potentially fuelling anti-Israel sentiments through the community.

The Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation last night agreed to recall all copies of the practice ­assessment task meant for Health and Human Development students, following a complaint from a prominent Jewish school in Melbourne.

The paper, part of the council’s 2019 package of school-­assessed coursework tasks, known as SACs, that are provided to schools for a fee, contains questions and answers, including one asking students to demonstrate how religious discrimination affects mental health and wellbeing.

According to the sample ­answer provided: “An example of an individual being persecuted for their religion could be the Arab families living in Israel who practise the Islam religion rather than the Jewish religion. Including unlawful demolition of homes and forced displacement and detainment of these families.” It claims that “when a person is discriminated against … it could push a person to become more dogmatic in following their ­religion, possibly leading to ­extremism”.

Mount Scopus Memorial College principal Rabbi James Kennard said he was “naturally disturbed” when the contents of the paper were brought to his ­attention and immediately lodged a complaint.

“I didn’t expect to find something very political, very biased and inaccurate in a Year 12 sample assessment paper,” Rabbi Kennard told The Australian. “It’s an utter falsehood. It creates a negative impression of Israel, which is actually a centre of ­religious tolerance … and the only democratic country in the Middle East.” He said it was a “libellous” to suggest “Israel is to blame for extremism”.

The council, a professional body representing health and physical education teachers, initially defended the document.

“We make sure that for the ­answers we provided, there would be evidence for them,” said professional learning manager Bernie Holland, adding SACs were written by four expert teachers and reviewed by two others.

Mr Holland said the subject matter dealt with in the unit ­required students to consider inequality and discrimination based on race, religion, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, which could prove “controversial” at some schools. As a result, teachers were encouraged to cater sample questions to their own circumstances, he said.

However, it is understood that council chief executive Hilary Shelton contacted Rabbi Kennard last night to advise that “it was not anticipated nor intended that the example … would offend any individual or group”. She said the council had requested a recall of all issued copies of the sample SAC and reissued a new sample assessment addressing the key knowledge area.

However, Rabbi Kennard said he wasn’t concerned about only Jewish students. “I will be explaining to my students that this not something they should pay any attention to but I’m also concerned about students at other schools,” he said. “What is the effect on these students reading this stuff?”

Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler said it was absurd that the publishers elected to single out Israel, “a country where Arab citizens have full equal rights” to highlight ­religious discrimination.

“We should all be concerned that ACHPER have hijacked an important educational issue in the curriculum,” he said.

Mount Scopus student Ramona Chrapot, a “proud Jewish student”, said she was concerned that “innocent and unsuspecting” students were being misled. “It’s instilling in them something that just isn’t right,’’ she said.


No comments: