The Corner

American Universities, Panhandling for Petrodollars

Next week, the Council on Foreign Relations will be hosting a panel about prospects for negotiation with Iran, moderated in part by Nicholas Burns, a former State Department undersecretary for political affairs and George W. Bush’s chief Iran negotiator. Burns’s new title, however, befits someone still following the Iran relationship: He is the Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

Oman, of course, like the other Gulf monarchies, is firmly opposed to a nuclear Iran, so, in this case, his title is hardly at odds with American interests. But, given that the sultan is an authoritarian monarch, a professorship in his name seems rather out of place at an American university that prides itself on liberality. But it’s actually not exceptional: American universities preach the gospel of tolerance and human rights, but are happy to open their arms for the lucre, particularly petrodollars, of some remarkably illiberal figures.

Burns’s chair was endowed in 1999, in the name of Sultan Qaboos bin Said (there is also a chair in the Sultan’s name at Australia’s University of Melbourne). The Sultan of Oman shackles his nation’s media with one of the most restrictive press laws in the Arab world, and Freedom House rates the sultanate, on a scale of 1 (freest) to 7 (least free), a 5.5, making it “unfree.” Their Arab Spring protests resulted in hundreds of arrests — the Omani movement eventually subsided not because the royal family granted any new political freedoms, but because they essentially bought off the populace with lump-sum payments and new government jobs.

#more#In 2005, Saudi prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz gave $20 million to both Harvard University and Georgetown University to establish centers for Islamic studies. At Georgetown, the prince’s gift funds the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at the university’s vaunted School of Foreign Service. Saudi Arabia may be an American ally in the Middle East, but it is also one of the most repressive nations in the world. Leaving aside Saudi Arabia’s gross violations of the rights of all its citizens, the royal family doesn’t appear to have any more than an academic interest in “Muslim-Christian understanding”: The kingdom lacks even one Christian church. Further, it’s worth noting that, in 2005, Harvard still had a ban on ROTC because the Defense Department’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy supposedly violated the university’s high-minded non-discrimination rules — and still agreed to honor the rulers of Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is punishable by death.

Another Croesan Gulf monarchy, Bahrain, is nearly as obscure as Oman, but has gotten much attention recently for its brutal crackdown on democratic protesters, resulting in as many as 90 deaths (which, in a country the size of Saudi Arabia or Egypt, would be equivalent to thousands of deaths). But students at American University would already be familiar with the name of the Khalifa family that rules over Bahrain with an iron fist: In exchange for a 2010 donation of $3 million, the university renamed the main atrium at its School of International Studies after Bahrain’s crown prince.

Patrick Brennan — Patrick Brennan is a writer and policy analyst based in Washington, D.C. He was Director of Digital Content for Marco Rubio's presidential campaign, writing op-eds, policy content, and leading the ...

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More