Following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia has been under the spotlight for its vast portfolio of human rights violations. Whether it be arresting women’s rights activists or conducting a war responsible for the mass hunger and death in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is a clear example of an authoritarian regime.
So why have U.S. universities and colleges accepted millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia? These institutions have received more than $350 million from the Saudi government this decade.
Babson College received $2.5 million from a Saudi petrochemical manufacturing company. After the murder of Khashoggi, Babson president Kerry Healey said she was concerned about the matter and said the school would reexamine its ties.
But the murder of Khashoggi should not have been a shock to these universities. Saudi involvement in the Yemeni Civil War began in 2015 and has resulted in the death of at least 60,000 people and forced millions into famine conditions.
MIT has received at least $25 million from state oil company Saudi Aramco since 2012, and the school recently decided to not cut its research and monetary ties with the Saudi government. The MIT Energy Initiative, which aims to develop clean and renewable energy, utilized the money for its launch.
There is no doubt that the MIT Energy initiative, at the very least, has a noble mission and cause. But it is highly unlikely that Saudi money is essential for its operations. In 2018, MIT’s endowment stood at $16.4 billion.
MIT also accepted $7.2 million in sponsored research support. Saudi students at MIT also receive money from Saudi Arabia to cover tuition. Yet revenue from Saudi sources only accounted for 0.2 percent of MIT’s operating budget, according to university officials.
MIT is not the only university that should be criticized. Harvard became entwined with Saudi Arabia when Prince Alwaleed bin Talal donated $20 million in 2005. The school then created the Alwaleed Islamic Studies Program and endowed three professorships in his name.
According to the Harvard Crimson, the university has “formed partnerships with the Saudi royal family and associated entities.”
One program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government works directly with bureaucrats at the Saudi Ministry of Labor to help determine data and economic analysis opportunities that could help local labor markets and social development.
Through this partnership, Harvard’s name and prestige are lent to an authoritarian regime. Moreover, Saudi Arabia is using its ties with universities to strengthen its own legitimacy. The MiSK foundation — a nonprofit founded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — cites Harvard as a partner university.
Harvard has enough financial resources to avoid partnering with a country that violates human rights on a daily basis. Perhaps if money received by U.S. institutions had no strings attached, colleges and universities would be able to morally accept it. But with the current conditions, prestigious American universities are soiling their name for money they don’t need.
The sources of funding at top universities should reflect their values. To all universities that continue to accept funding from Saudi Arabia: Does this country’s government reflect the values you wish to instill in your students?