From the Muslim World, Big Donations to American Colleges

May 19, 2011
By CMAC

May 16, 2011 – 12:00 am – by Clarice Feldman

Some years ago, Stanley Kurtz took a hard look at the reporting of foreign gifts to American universities, at a time when he was concerned that Title VI Sec. 1011f  might be gutted by a democratic House. (20 USC 1011-Sec. 1011f requires colleges and universities to disclose foreign donations and contracts valued at $250,000 or more, and the Department of Education annually posts them online on its website.) He offered some sound warnings about not tarring all those gifts or recipients as improper while calling for vigilance about the possibility of undue influence on these institutions by the vast sums of foreign — largely Arab — funding.

On March 25, we revisited the issue, suggesting that universities should adopt a code of conduct that requires professors who are the recipients of such grants, or working under contract with outside donors, to disclose that information in public fora.

In mid-April of this year, the Department of Education completed its update of the report of the foreign gifts to American colleges and universities and published it a few days ago. The report is cumulative dating back to 1995 when Congress required the accumulation and publication of such data.

Our latest search combed the records from 2007 to the latest report, looking at all gifts from the Middle East, Malaysia, and Indonesia (predominantly Muslim countries) which totaled $50,000 or more, and all contracts involving these countries which were in excess of $5 million. Reviewing the record, there have been eleven gifts or contracts which met those criteria from Arab states to American universities from June 2010 to mid-April and none from Indonesia or Malaysia.

In this time frame, we also found no gifts from Kuwait or Jordan. Princeton, Cornell, and Johns Hopkins reported no such contracts or gifts. Nor did the University of Texas. The totals do not include endowments made prior to the period of our search, though they may still be funding professorships and other university personnel and functions.

The largest donor in this tranche is the Qatar Foundation. The largest recipient remains Georgetown University. I have asked the Qatar Embassy to make a spokesman available to me so that I can ask what the Foundation determines are the benefits to it and to the American universities of the Foundation relationship, but have not yet heard back. Without further research and data it would appear that Qatar is spending a great deal to jumpstart its educational program and, in essence, is purchasing intellectual capital from the universities and colleges with which it contracts. This is not as unusual as it may appear. I myself have worked on a similar arrangement for a k-12 school abroad. Developing curricula, hiring the appropriate faculty, and getting the necessary equipment and accreditations can be a long and difficult process which can be shortened considerably in this way. Still, it is not hard to imagine that such vast sums of money are buying some influential academic friends or muting some justified criticism — or, at a minimum, distorting the  institutions’ focus.

The Foundation’s website indicates it has relationships with a variety of American and European colleges:

QF offers branch campuses of eight strategically selected elite international universities, delivering world-class programs chosen to ensure Qatar is equipped with essential skills and specialism [sic]:

•       Texas A&M University at Qatar

•       Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar

•       Georgetown University School of Foreign Service

•       Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar

•       Carnegie Mellon University

•       Northwestern University in Qatar

•       HEC Paris

•       University College London Qatar

Here’s a breakdown of the gifts and contracts we found in the latest Department of Education report:

  • Georgetown University received a gift of $6,000,000 from Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal of Saudi Arabia “to support a chair in the Center for Muslim and Christian Understanding.” He is one of the richest men in the world and previously made $20 million gifts to Harvard and Georgetown for Islamic studies.
  • Georgetown also received a $20,124.955 contract from the Qatar Foundation “for the operation of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar.” Inquiry reveals that this covers the operations of the university’s campus in Qatar’s Education City, including the costs Georgetown incurs in this connection, and a “helpful but not enormous” extra amount to the university. The university also received a contract from the Qatar Foundation on 7/15/10 for $42,800,000. The purpose of this contract does not appear in the report, though it certainly appears related to the Education City campus operations.
  • Columbia University received on 6/28/2010 $1,666,666 from Arif Naqvi of the United Arab Emirates. The CEO of a Dubai-based bank, he is a highly influential private equity leader in the Middle East. The report filed with the Department of Education reveals only that this is a “monetary gift.” If there are any restrictions they are not specified. Mr. Naqvi is a member of the Advisory Board of the Columbia University Middle East Research Center.
  • Harvard received two gifts from Saudi Arabia’s Abdulaziz University, both for $300,000. One was on 1/20/11 and one was on 7/27/10. Abdulaziz has a website explaining its operations and detailing a variety of other contracts and agreements that it has with a wide variety of American colleges and universities, including the Universities of Michigan and Virginia and even the Tufts dental school.
  • In the second half of 2010 Purdue University received two gifts from Arab donors. From Qatar University it received $349,825 on 6/21/10. A few months later, on 9/27/10, it received a much larger gift of $6,033,300 from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.
  • Two other, much smaller gifts are reported in this period. Yale University received $500,000 from Bahrain this January and Stanford University received a $149,970 gift from Saudi Arabia.

Universities seek out wealthy people here and abroad, some of whom may even be alumni of their institutions, and offer them speaking opportunities as part of their development — money harvesting — operations. This is perfectly normal, but it also can give such donors and potential donors political and economic advantages. Without suggesting that there is anything wrong with the roles or gifts of big donors like Mr. Naqvi, it seems to me that colleges and universities seeking outside funding might well offer slots like his to foreign donors and potential donors for their mutual benefit — impacting, in turn, the courses taught and the viewpoints emphasized on America’s college campuses.


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