All posts by Judith Miller

Judith Miller is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor at City Journal.

Should Police Monitor Muslim Student Groups?

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Universities have been expressing concern and even outrage over Associated Press reports that the New York Police Department spent six months in 2006-2007 keeping tabs on Muslim Student Associations at 16 colleges in the northeast, including Columbia, Yale, Rutgers and NYU.

Some university presidents and spokesmen complained that the NYPD’s surveillance activities, conducted without clear evidence of criminal activity, could have a chilling effect on the rights of free speech and association on their campuses.

Richard Levin, president of Yale, said, “I am writing to state, in the strongest possible terms, that police surveillance based on religion, nationality, or peacefully expressed political opinions is antithetical to the values of Yale, the academic community, and the United States.”

But senior police officials say that the university spokesmen, including Levin, did not contact the department to hear its explanation of what law enforcement had done, and not done to keep New York and the surrounding area safe.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, and his top spokesman, Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, have repeatedly asserted that the department’s surveillance does not infringe on civil rights and liberties. The NYPD’s counter-terrorism program has also been adamantly defended by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senator Charles Schumer, City Council Member Peter F. Vallone Jr., City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and other traditional champions of free speech and civil liberties.

In an emailed statement, Browne called the criticism “knee-jerk reactions with little understanding of what actually transpired or why.” Browne gave the A.P. twelve specific cases of serious activities associated with the Muslim student groups, along with the not-so-secret observation that “some of the most dangerous Western Al Qaeda linked/inspired terrorists since 9/11 were radicalized and/or recruited at universities in Muslim Student Associations.” But the A.P. gave these cases and the NYPD’s account of its program short shrift.

Observing the Handschu Guidelines

In a speech Saturday at Fordham University, Commissioner Kelly said that the department’s initiative and the reports it produced were both legal and appropriate. He said all were in accordance with the so-called Handschu Guidelines, a set of rules developed–in settlement of a Black Panther suit in the 1970s–to protect people engaged in political protest.

And yes, Kelly added, the guidelines authorize police to “visit any place and attend any event that is open to the public” and “to conduct online search activity and to access online sites and forums on the same terms…as members of the public.” The NYPD was also authorized to “prepare general reports and assessments…for purposes of strategic or operational planning.”

A Federal judge had loosened the guidelines in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks at the department’s request. The guidelines, Kelly said, begin with a general principle: “In its effort to anticipate or prevent unlawful activity, including terrorist acts,” they state, “the NYPD must, at times, initiate investigations in advance of unlawful conduct.”

In an apparent swipe not only at the A.P., but also at the university presidents and spokesmen who have parroted the press agency’s allegations about the NYPD’s counter-terrorism investigations without bothering to verify the accuracy of their charges, Kelly said, “anyone who intimates that it is unlawful for the Police Department to search online, visit public places, or map neighborhoods has either not read, misunderstood, or intentionally obfuscated the meaning of the Handschu Guidelines.”

A “broad base of knowledge” was critically important to his department’s ability to investigate terrorism, he said. So police had attempted to determine “how individuals seeking to do harm might communicate or conceal themselves. Where might they go to find resources or evade the law? Establishing this kind of geographically-based knowledge saves precious time in stopping fast-moving plots,” Kelly said.

While “the vast majority” of Muslim student associations and their members turned out to the law-abiding, he said, the department had found “too many cases in which such groups were exploited. Some of the most violent terrorists we’ve encountered were radicalized or recruited at universities.”

Founded by Members of the Muslim Brotherhood

It also helps to know a little about the history of the Muslim Student Associations themselves and why terrorists would see them as natural recruiting grounds. According to Steven Emerson, who has tracked radical Islamist groups for years, the MSA was founded in the U.S. in 1963 by members of the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood, which recently won a resounding victory in Egypt’s post-revolution parliamentary elections, has long sought to create a global Islamic state governed by “sharia,” or Islamic law. While the group itself now claims to have renounced violence and embraced spreading Islam through democratic means, it has historically had a secret component operated with little or no transparency. And Muslim Brotherhood splinter groups, such as the far more militant Islamic Group and Islamic Jihad have boasted about their violent exploits, such as the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. Another spin-off, Hamas, the militant Palestinian Islamists who now rule Gaza, rejects Egypt’s peace treaties with Israel and remains on the U.S. terrorist list.

The department’s six-month review of MSAs of the tri-state area, Kelly said, uncovered some activity that appeared to be anything but benign. For example, in November of 2006, detectives learned that Siraj Wahaj, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, had spoken to students at the MSA of the University of Buffalo, apparently in search of recruits. In November, 2006, detectives learned that Jessie Curtis Morton, then a leader of the Islamic Thinkers Society whom it had been watching for some time, given his advocacy of violence, had spoken and tried to recruit followers at Stony Brook University. His own web site, Kelly said, had posted articles from “Inspire,” the on-line magazine published by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which included articles such as “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.” Morton’s own website became a platform for “murderous ideology and a meeting place for various violent actors.”

A graduate of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Morton recently pled guilty to “using his position as a leader of Revolution Muslim Internet sites to conspire to solicit murder.” Specifically, Morton admitted encouraging others to kill the writers of South Park after they had depicted Mohammad dressed in a bear suit. Morton also urged violence against an artist who organized “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day” in reaction to the threats.

In April of 2007, detectives learned that Yousuf Khattab, Morton’s co-founder of Revolution Muslim, had also spoken at Brooklyn College’s Islamic Society, apparently trolling for recruits. Over the years, Kelly said, ten people who had been arrested on terrorism charges had been in contact with Revolution Muslim. Among them are Mohamed Alessa and Carlos Almonte, two New Jersey-based Muslims, whom the NYPD, working with the FBI and New Jersey law enforcement agencies, stopped at JFK en route to join Al Shabaab, the terrorist organization, in Somalia in 2010.

Kelly denied that his department had infiltrated MSAs throughout the Northeast as the A.P. has reported. When the 2006-2007 review had uncovered such potentially criminal or dangerous terrorism-related conduct, he said, the NYPD had opened a preliminary inquiry, or launched formal investigations, again, in accordance with the Handschu guidelines. Such investigations were regularly reviewed by department lawyers and discontinued unless the investigation reasonably indicated that an unlawful act had been, was being or would likely be committed, the police said. The NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence was required to issue written authorization whenever undercover officers or confidential informants have been used in such terrorism inquiries, the NYPD asserts.

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Some of the department’s concerns about some individuals associated with MSAs have clearly been borne out, Kelly and Brown have said. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas bomber recruited by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) who tried to blow up a Detroit bound jet in 2009 wearing explosive-lined underwear, had been the head of the Muslim Student Association at the University College of London. Anwar Al-Awlaki, the radical American Muslim cleric of Yemeni descent and former head of AQAP who was linked to a dozen far-flung plots and was killed by an American drone last year, was president of the MSA at Colorado State University in the mid-1990’s. Adam Gadahn, Al Qaeda’s English-language spokesman, was an active MSA member at the University of Southern California. Ramy Zamzam, prior to his conviction in Pakistan last year for attempting to join the Taliban and kill American troops, was president of the MSA’s Washington D.C. council. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who had plotted against New York City landmarks, was a member of the MSA at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The list goes on.

Consider the case of Adis (aka, Mohammad) Medunjanin, whose terrorism trial is scheduled to begin in New York in early April. Medunjanin’s name may not ring any terrorism bells, but he stands accused of being a co-conspirator of a far more infamous would-be suicide bomber–Najibullah Zazi, the 27-year-old Afghan-American who has already pled guilty to planning suicide bombings in New York’s subway stations in September, 2009. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the plot against New York’s transit system which was blessed by Al Qaeda “one of the most serious terrorist threats to our nation since September 11th, 2001.”

“We Love Death”, Said the Former Wide Receiver

Medunjanin, who was arrested in January, 2010, was one of two of Zazi’s high school classmates in Flushing, Queens. According to government affidavits and documents filed by the government in the case, which include his own statements to the FBI, he traveled with Zazito Pakistan in 2008, where Qaeda recruited the three of them for the suicide “martyrdom” attack in New York. A Bosnian immigrant who came to America in 1994, he was naturalized in 2002, lived and worked in Flushing and played running back and wide receiver for his high school football team. At Queens College, he graduated with a major in economics in June, 2009. Working as a security guard for Stellar Management at the time of his arrest, Medunjanin led the FBI on a high-speed chase through Queens, during which he invoked the name of Allah in a 911 emergency call, telling a 911 dispatcher “We love death more than you love life,” the refrain he had learned from al-Qaeda trainers who were inspiring recruits like him to kill and commit suicide. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, receiving military-style training from al-Qaeda, conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country, and providing material support to al-Qaida. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

In his recently published book on Islamist terrorist plots against the west, “The Al Qaeda Factor,” Mitchell D. Silber, the NYPD’s director of intelligence analysis, says that all too little is known about how Zazi, Medunjanin, and a third high-school friend and alleged co-conspirator, Zarein Ahmedzay, were radicalized. But Silber concludes that it wasn’t until Medunjanin got to Queens College that he became obviously religious, began growing a beard, and spending more time in a mosque and with Zazi.

‘So Religious’ He Was ‘Intimidating’

Medunjanin was known at Queens College as a “respected figure” in the Muslim Student Association, and a frequent visitor to its prayer room, where he worshiped “two or three times a week.” One associate said that while he was “highly regarded for his knowledge of Islam,” many considered him “so religious” as to be “intimidating.”

The NYPD’s interest in how Muslim students like Medunjanin were radicalized dates back to foiled and successful terrorism plots in Britain. In March, 2004, British authorities disrupted an Al Qaeda plot in the U.K. to kill as many people as possible and cause unprecedented disruption. The terrorists in the cell had already gotten about 1,300 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer that could be used to make bombs and had considered potential targets — a shopping mall, nightclub, the 4,200 mile network of underground, high-pressure gas pipelines across the country, a football stadium, the British Parliament, and a 12-page list of synagogues. Four of the seven conspirators were either university students, drop-outs, or graduates. At least one of them was an active member of Brunel University’s Islamic Society.

Though that plot was foiled, Britain was unlucky the next time. In July, 2005, coordinated bomb blasts ripped through London’s public transport system during the morning rush hour, killing 52 commuters and injuring 700. One of the suicide bombers was a recent graduate of Leeds Metropolitan University; another was a recent Leeds drop-out, and a third was a student at Thomas Danby College in Leeds.

In August of 2006, British and American authorities foiled another Al-Qaeda conspiracy to detonate liquid explosives aboard nine transatlantic flights from the U.K. to the U.S. and Canada. The plotters intended to detonate liquid explosives over the Atlantic Ocean. Four of the nine core plotters were either current university students, drop-outs or graduates from London Metropolitan University, City University, Brunel University, and Middlesex University. One was the former president of London Metropolitan University’s Islamic Society.

As early as 2005, terrorism literature was highlighting the danger of university campuses as a venue for Islamist radicalization and jihadi recruitment.

Dr. Quintan Wiktorowicz, President Barack Obama’s Senior Director for Global Engagement and charged with countering violent extremism on the National Security Council, published a book that year, “Radical Islam Rising.” The book highlighted the importance of the college campus as a radicalization and recruiting ground based on his interviews with hundreds of British militants. “This [young university students] is the dominant recruitment pool for al-Muhajiroun,” he warned.

The NYPD quickly sensed that the trend was not limited to Britain. Two New Yorkers arrested in connection with the 2004 plot, Mohammed Junaid Babar and Syed Fahad Hashmi, both of whom pled guilty to Al Qaeda-related terrorism offences, had been radicalized to militant Islam through their involvement in university-based activities in the New York branch of al-Muhajiroun. This group, as well as Babar and Hashmi, actively recruited at Brooklyn College and Queens College MSA’s.

Concerned about such radicalization trends and Al Qaeda’s targeting of colleges and universities as recruiting grounds, which the NYPD highlighted in a 2007 report on the growing threat of “homegrown” Islamist threat taking root in the country, Commissioner Kelly wanted to understand more fully what was occurring at local universities through an open source search initiative. Beginning in November of 2006, the NYPD’s intelligence division spent six months conducting internet searches and other reviews of publicly available websites for universities and colleges in and around New York City to determine if radicalization and recruitment were occurring on university campuses, and if so, to what extent. Based on these reviews, NYPD officials say, intelligence analysts cataloged what they found in 23 bi-weekly reports. Specifically, they searched for speakers, conferences and events at MSAs that might support terrorism or provide a recruiting venue among potentially vulnerable students for such known extremist Islamist groups as al-Muhajiroun, the Islamic Thinkers Society, and Revolution Muslim. To ensure that nothing was missed, “more rather than less information” was cataloged, one NYPD official said.

NYPD officials said that most of the speakers, conferences and events held at MSA’s in the tri-state area were “non-threatening in nature.”As a result, the review ended in May, 2007. Police say that none of the information contained in the weekly reports was entered into any law enforcement databases.

The university spokesmen who criticized the NYPD seem to have accepted the A.P.’s assertions about the nature of the NYPD’s monitoring on faith. None of them ventured to explain why they had not contacted the police for comment before speaking out.

Joseph A. Brennan, the Associate Vice President for University Communications at the University of Buffalo, had previously stated that the university had not been contacted by the NYPD prior to the monitoring and “did not provide any information to the NYPD.” If asked for such cooperation, the statement added, the university “would not voluntarily cooperate with such a request.”

“The university had no reason to doubt the accuracy of the Associated Press report,” vice president Brennan said in an email, when asked why it had assumed that the press account was accurate.

Nor did New York University attempt to verify the accuracy of the A.P. account before stating that it “stands in fellowship with its Muslim students in expressing our community’s concerns over these activities.” John H. Beckman, a university spokesman, also declined to say what NYU would do if the police sought its cooperation in a terrorism case. The university, he said, would not comment on a “hypothetical.”

Columbia president Lee C. Bollinger reiterated his university’s criticism. “While we appreciate the daunting responsibility of keeping New York safe, law enforcement officials should not be conducting such surveillance of a particular group of students or citizens without any cause to suspect criminal conduct,” the statement said. Through a spokesman, he, too, declined to discuss what Columbia would do if asked for cooperation with a police terrorism investigation. Columbia, the spokesman said, “does not answer hypothetical questions about security matters.”

A Bastion of American Values in the Arab Middle East

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As the Arab Spring uprisings transform the history and face of the Arab world, the American University of Beirut, the oldest and most prestigious private university in the Arab Middle East, is preparing to launch the most ambitious fund-raising campaign in its 145-year history.

The campaign will seek to raise more than $400 million dollars in five years – an unprecedented sum for AUB that is almost equal to its $480 million endowment. This is far beyond the reach of most other Arab higher educational institutions. At least $300 million of the money will be allocated to renovating and expanding AUB’s hospital, one of the Arab Middle East’s premier medical centers.

The fund-raising drive is being launched amid the sea-change in the Arab Middle East — a period of intense passion and hope, strife and political alarm unseen in the region since the Arab nationalist upheavals and military coups of the 1950’s.

The Wolfensohn Controversy

The campaign also comes on the heels of a bruising political battle within the university over the trustees’ decision to award an honorary degree to James D. Wolfensohn, an Australian-born American financier, former World Bank president, and former special Middle East envoy. In June, Wolfensohn declined the honor to defuse a growing controversy over his nomination. Weeks earlier, 95 members of AUB’s faculty and hundreds of students and alumni had signed a petition challenging the granting of the doctorate to him given the “policies” of the World Bank, his “pro-Zionist” positions, and alleged disregard for Palestinians.

The university’s president, Peter F. Dorman, said the petition’s allegations were not only factually inaccurate, but “insulting” to a man who has worked tirelessly for peace between Arabs and Jews, particularly on behalf of the Palestinians.

“AUB is not well served by petitions that are deliberately slanted to serve narrow interests regardless of facts,” Dorman wrote in an open letter to the AUB “community” after Wolfensohn declined the honorary doctorate and the invitation to deliver AUB’s commencement address on its magnificent campus overlooking the Mediterranean in Beirut. “Such campaigns are fundamentally dishonest and diverge from our university’s commitment to the pursuit of knowledge as grounded in intellectual integrity,” Dorman declared.

The petition was particularly embarrassing, as Wolfensohn serves on the school’s international advisory council, a group of 29 prominent scholars, intellectuals, former government officials and financiers who informally advise AUB and its board of trustees on financial and political issues.

Mr. Dorman, AUB’s fifteenth president, an Egyptologist and the great great grandson of the university’s founder, said in an interview that the university had been seeking to honor Wolfensohn for several years and that he deeply regretted his advisers’ decision not to attend the commencement or receive the honorary degree last June. The university would continue trying to honor Wolfensohn “consistent with its own rules and procedures,” Dorman added.  He said he was gratified that Wolfensohn, who declined to be interviewed for this story, had remained on the advisory council. He also insisted that the controversy would neither delay nor harm the upcoming fund-raising effort.

Seeking More American Students

The petition drive, however, is but one of several challenges confronting AUB. The university, which is ranked among the 300 top universities in the world and is widely seen as a purveyor of American values, academic standards and intellectual autonomy, is having difficulty attracting American and other foreign students given the region’s political turmoil. It now also confronts growing competition from other American colleges and universities that are seeking a foothold in Arab Middle East, particularly a presence in the oil-rich Persian Gulf. New York University, for one, has opened a campus in Abu Dhabi; Harvard’s John F. Kennedy’s School of Government, now offering classes in Dubai; Georgetown University’s school of foreign service has opened in Qatar.

Given the profound political upheavals that have gripped Lebanon for so long and now other states in the region, however, AUB’s endurance, its continuing academic excellence, and its relative independence are a small miracle.

“Despite everything,” said Shafeeq Ghabra, an American-educated Kuwaiti who teaches political science at the University of Kuwait and a prominent educational scholar, “the culture of AUB is one of freedom. That makes the university “precious and rare in the Arab world,” he says, even in the Gulf, where several American universities have opened programs, or branches and/or campuses. “AUB has a long history of turning out some of the Arabs’ most independent thinkers.”

Founded in 1866 as the Syrian Protestant College by Daniel Bliss, an American missionary who wanted to build a “center of knowledge” in the Arab Middle East, AUB has been America’s most visible and influential educational and cultural outpost in the Arab world for over a century. Since its opening, it has awarded more than 82,000 degrees and diplomas. Its 55,000 alumni in more than 100 countries include at least 3 Arab presidents, 10 prime ministers, dozens of ambassadors and diplomats, and some of the Arab world’s most prominent intellectuals.

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A private, non-sectarian college in a country of feuding and often warring religious and ethnic sects, AUB introduced American-style education to the Arab Middle East: small classes, high-faculty to student ratios (one professor for every 12 students) and modern teaching methods that emphasize independent thought and individual autonomy. The college that began with 16 undergraduates now has an enrollment of 7,828 students from 67 countries – most of them Lebanese, half of whom are women.

Without doubt, its nadir was Lebanon’s devastating civil war of 1975 to 1991. In 1982, its then president David Dodge, an American, was kidnapped and held in Iran for more than a year before being released. Two years later, its widely respected American president, Malcolm Kerr, was assassinated in his office by two unknown gunmen. A score of AUB faculty, staff and students were also killed, including two former deans, Ray Goshn and Robert Najemy. Another 30 faculty and administrators were kidnapped during the war, some of whose exact fates still remain unknown. A dean of agriculture was abducted in 1985 and not released until November, 1991. Virtually of all AUB’s American staff and students went home, as did other foreigners. AUB’s president and senior administration had to run the university out of its modest offices in mid-town Manhattan. Board meetings were sometimes held in Cyprus.

Given the 15-year war and now the region’s ongoing political upheavals, fewer and fewer AUB students or faculty are American, one of the trends that president Dorman is seeking to reverse. While between 50 and 60 percent of the student body was Lebanese in the 1960’s and ’70’s, roughly 75 percent of today’s students come from Lebanon. Less than 12 percent are American, and they are mostly of Lebanese heritage. “We treasure our legacy students,” said Dorman, “but we would also love to bring back the diversity. We want a few more of those blond, blue-eyed kids back.”

If low tuition for quality education is a draw, AUB has an edge. Undergraduate tuition in 2010 ranged from $12,342 to $14,730, depending on a student’s year and major. During the past five years, AUB has doubled its financial aid awards. More than 80 percent of financial aid applicants received financial assistance last year.

Tuition Is Up, But Still Reasonable

But financial pressures affecting all universities have now forced AUB to raise tuition. Members of this year’s entering class are paying an average tuition of some $18,500 a year, a substantial increase over last academic year’s rates, “but still a relatively terrific deal,” Mr. Dorman says.

The university, which accepts about 55 percent of its applicants, is also seeking to offer shorter-term study programs for students who may hesitate to commit to a full four-year bachelor’s degree program in a region whose political trajectory is so uncertain. Mr. Dorman is exploring “study abroad” programs for a semester, or a summer, to attract such a clientele.

The U.S. State Department has complicated the university’s recruitment challenge. While the U.S. no long effectively bans Americans from traveling to or studying in Beirut, as Washington advised during Lebanon’s bloody civil war, its strongly worded travel advisory warns American citizens that traveling to, or living in Lebanon poses obvious risks. After U.S. special forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last February, the department issued an even tougher advisory for Lebanon and most other Arab countries. While AUB hoped that the advisory would gradually be softened, AUB’s senior administrators were dismayed when the department warned Americans in October “to avoid all travel to Lebanon due to current safety and security concerns.”

The advisory also warns Americans that several “extremist groups like Hezbollah,” which Washington has designated as a terrorist group, continue operating in Lebanon, and that American citizens “have been the target of numerous terrorist attacks.”

William Hoffman, who has headed AUB’s Washington office for the past 30 years, complained that the advisory clearly “scares parents if not more adventurous students away.” The advisory also “discourages American universities and colleges from entering into formal exchange programs with us,” he said.

Paradoxically, he added, AUB was now among the safest American educational outposts in the Middle East. The university had actually picked up a few of the American and foreign students who were studying at its “sister” institution in Egypt, the American University of Cairo, which was forced to evacuate some 350 exchange students when the Arab Spring protests erupted last winter. Some students who wanted to remain and witness this historic moment in Arab history came to AUB, Hoffman said. AUB has not sent students home since the outbreak of the Arab Spring, he added, as Lebanon has remained largely peaceful. AUB’s last evacuation of students occurred in 2006 during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. AUB and AUC are separate, unaffiliated institutions, despite their common emphasis on American-style higher education and similar names.

Although AUB remains a quintessentially American institution that operates under a charter from New York State’s Department of Education and is fully accredited by American educational boards, it is vitally important to Lebanon. In addition to having produced many of Lebanon’s and the region’s most eminent leaders and dissenters, AUB is the country’s largest private employer – and second only to the government in terms of overall employment.  “It is a unique institution in the Middle East,” says Makram Rabah, a Lebanese “AUBite” who now lives in Washington, and the author of “A Campus at War: Student Politics at the American University of Beirut, 1967-1975.”

“It’s a pluralistic institution with high academic standards that has one campus where all of the region’s different sects, religions, and nationalities intermingle and debate.” Calling it a “hybrid” — an “American institution with Arab values,” a “small island of academic freedom and excellence in a troubled sea,” Rabah says that Lebanon would be “immeasurably poorer without it.”

American University of Beirut students.jpgAUB’s medical center is Lebanon’s crown jewel, attracting patients from throughout the region. Because it is also a major source of revenue for the university, the medical center is also the centerpiece of the upcoming fund-raising campaign. At least $300 million of the $400 million AUB will seek to raise is to be allocated to the medical center to renovate and expand its 420-bed teaching hospital, labs and classrooms to maintain its preeminence in the region. Throughout the bloody civil war, the hospital remained open to all, a haven of sorts that helped shield the university from the worst of the bloody war’s most egregious excesses.

Dorman anticipates that most donors will be wealthy Arab donors, some of whom were treated, or had relatives who were treated at AUB’s hospital. But individual philanthropy remains yet another challenge. “Arabs are very generous, as generous as Americans,” he said. “But they have a different concept of philanthropy.” In Arab society, gifts are made “based on those who are closest to you – family, tribe, community and sect. There is little tradition of giving to private, non-profit institutions that enhance society in general.”

Moreover, the Lebanese government does not offer automatic deductions or other tax breaks or incentives. For many years, in fact, Lebanon taxed large gifts.

A Drive to Attract More Faculty

American-style fund-raising campaigns are relatively new to the region. AUB’s first large campaign, launched under its former president, John Waterbury, a scholar from Princeton, after the country’s devastating civil war in 2003, raised $170 million in five years — $30 million above its targeted $140 million, a million for each of what was then AUB’s years of existence. Since then, Dorman said, AUB has raised between $20-$30 million, “not much,” he concedes, by American standards.

American government contributions to AUB have also steadily declined as a percentage of overall operating costs, administrators say. Whereas the U.S. Agency for International Development once provided $8.7 million in grants and contracts back in 1975 – over 40 percent of AUB’s operating budget, excluding the medical center, in 1975 – it has given an average of $6.9 million a year for the last five fiscal years, Hoffman says.

Dorman is also pushing hard to recruit top-tier faculty and administrators from the United States. Towards this end, he is exploring reinstating tenure for faculty at a time when American universities are abandoning that system. “Creating a permanent community of scholars and guarantees of their ability to do independent research would help us a lot,” Dorman said, noting that he gave up a tenured post at the University of Chicago, where he chaired the university’s department of Near Eastern languages and civilizations, to accept the president’s post at AUB. The university suspended tenure in 1984 when the civil war made it impossible to guarantee independent academic reviews of faculty members.

Another obstacle is the university’s struggle to remain aloof from the internal Lebanese ethnic, religious, and sectarian struggles and the growing influence of Hezbollah. Some scholars and analysts said that the petition campaign against Wolfensohn last June was actively promoted by Hezbollah, the “Party of God,” a powerful political player in Lebanon well represented in the Lebanese parliament and Cabinet. To be sure, al-Akhbar, a daily Arabic-language newspaper, and other media outlets sympathetic to the militant Islamists actively supported the anti-Wolfensohn campaign. But so did former Prime Minister Salim Hoss and other Lebanese political luminaries. Because Israel is such an emotional, “hot-button” issue – Lebanon and Israel are still technically at war and AUB students, faculty and administrators are forbidden from traveling to Israel or participating in international forums with Israeli citizens – Wolfensohn’s connections and ties there were bound to be controversial.

Sources close to AUB’s administration said that while Dorman considered side-stepping the Wolfensohn controversy by honoring him at a special ceremony in New York, the school’s rules and traditions require that recipients of honorary degrees collect their degree on campus, as were this year’s other honorees – composer Marcel Khalife, journalist Anthony Shadid, science historian Owen Gingerich, cancer researcher Mostafa El-Sayed, and Mary Robinson, the former Irish president who was also UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In her commencement remarks, Ms. Robinson chided AUB by expressing regret that her “friend, Jim Wolfensohn” was “not here to share his thoughts.”

The rest of the commencement ceremonies were unremarkable, according to several who attended the gathering. But Dorman knows that the challenge posed by the anti-Wolfensohn protestors will remain dicey, as faculty members opposed to various university stances and practices are likely to have been emboldened by Wolfensohn’s withdrawal.

Four College Buzzwords and a Shameless Plug

These days, the agenda of the academic elite can be boiled down to a few liberal buzzwords. The most important buzzword is “diversity,” which is usually nothing more than a code word for reverse discrimination and skin-deep identity politics. Recently, at Northwestern, they held a “race caucus” where 150 people gathered to discuss their experiences with discrimination on campus. Students then gathered at the school’s House of African-American Affairs to form a new group called “The Collective.” It was an ironic venue for the first meeting since the purpose of the group is to encourage “desegregation” on campus. In keeping with this ironic approach to fighting racial injustice, Columbia University president Lee Bollinger recently celebrated Martin Luther King’s dream of racial equality by promoting institutionalized racism in the form of racial preferences in college admissions.

The second item on the left’s checklist is “activism,” by which they mean recruiting your kids for various left-wing political causes. For example, professor Joel Rogers at the University of Wisconsin sent an email asking his students to work on his private political project called ALICE, where volunteers could aid him in “identifying, supporting and assisting 10,000 progressive local elected officials.” Over at Penn, they are hosting an anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction conference this month with an address by Noura Erakat–a woman who refers to suicide bombers as those “fighting for their freedom and liberation.”

A third buzzword on the left’s checklist is “tolerance,” a value paradoxically enforced by silencing those who disagree with the prevailing liberal orthodoxy. Robert Klein Engler–a conservative professor at Roosevelt University–was fired after telling a politically incorrect joke that offended someone in his class. The university called him to appear before an investigatory committee, but refused to even inform him what the charges against him were. Meanwhile the University of Michigan was busy planning an alumni field trip to the communist dictatorship of Cuba, where, presumably, sophisticated alumni, who swear by the principle of academic freedom, could gain appreciation for authentic Cuban culture by interacting with locals pre-screened by the Cuban government. They could then move on to relax on sunny beaches pre-selected for American visitors by Fidel and Co. Nothing signals a support for tolerance like vacationing in a land where even leaving the country is a privilege forbidden to everyday citizens.

A fourth buzzword on the list is “open-mindedness,” which means embracing moral relativism and occasionally submitting to weird sexual agendas in the classroom. At Western Nevada College, students were instructed to masturbate twice as often as normal, and to report detailed accounts of their sexual lives. Female students were told, write down “your views of your breasts and vulva,” and were given the instruction: “Your orgasms. Draw them!” At the University of Winchester in England, professor Eric Anderson claims that it is natural for men to cheat on their partners. Those who practice monogamy, he says, are subjecting themselves to “socially-compelled sexual incarceration.” After studying these stimulating topics, and learning to embrace the total liberation of the libido, students may find it informative to contemplate social factors behind a recent study by Dr. Maura L. Gillison of Ohio State University, in which she reports that 7% of U.S. teens and adults now carry the sexually-transmitted, cancer-causing HPV virus in their mouths.

Here Comes the Plug

The above stories might seem alarming, but as editor of The College Fix (you are now passing the shameless plug)–a campus news site that features original, student-reported news from around the nation–these are the kinds of stories I encounter every day. In fact, all of these stories were culled from just the last few weeks’ worth of articles on our site. It’s no secret that the left dominates academia. But it’s only by reading the details that one realizes how bad things really are.

Students come to us to share their stories. They tell us about the latest wacky diversity agenda on campus, or the latest scheme to demonize capitalism. They report when college administrators try to suppress free speech or undermine student groups whose beliefs don’t mesh with the prevailing liberal groupthink. Their stories confirm that those entrusted with training up the leaders of tomorrow are, oftentimes, doing a lousy job.

When we debate the value of a college education, we often speak in terms of high tuition costs, escalating levels of college debt, and uncertain unemployment prospects. But no debate about the value of college is complete without a discussion of values. What colleges are teaching is at least as important is how much we are paying them to teach.

The political indoctrination and moral assault that students are subjected to at most schools–that’s the real rip-off. It’s bad enough that you may have to pay a small fortune to send your kids to college. Worse yet when you consider that the ideology pounded into their brains for four years may well contradict all the principles you hold most dear.

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Update: This article originally attributed a quote to Penn BDS speaker Ali Abunimah, which should have been attributed to another scheduled speaker at the Penn conference, Noura Erakat. We regret the mistake.

Rituals Performed for the Elite

The U.S. News & World Report rankings of America’s “best” colleges and universities amount to nothing more than an annual ritual, a predictable coronation of entrenched wealth and power.
Even more importantly, for aspiring students and parents who hope to transcend their present class status, the yearly “guide” serves as the handmaiden to the elite. U.S. News rankings are like a public relations agency, a public persona standing at gates of admission to our “best” colleges, conveniently reminding aspiring Americans of the well-guarded paths to wealth and power.
Does anyone really believe that the students, parents and counselors at elite, mostly private, high schools pay any serious attention to the U.S. News rankings? Of course not. These schools and these families understand deeply how the system works and, especially, how to make the system work for them. They do not need U.S News to tell them which schools matter, and they follow the rankings with bemused disinterest.
That is not to say that the rankings are unimportant to elites. The annual ritual is a vital source of propaganda disguised by a pseudo-scientific calculation reminding our aspiring classes to “get in line and follow the rule” if they want a lottery chance at passing the gates. While the rankings purport to demonstrate to the public what separates good colleges form ordinary ones, the rankings are also the equivalent of the strict school marm, wagging her proverbial index finger at the strivers, the unwashed students and families who seek admission to the elite.
While the aspiring classes slavishly believe in its informative power, the rankings tell us little besides an institution’s wealth and prestige and position in the higher education hierarchy. According to U.S. News’s world view, a college or university is to be judged, not by what they actually do for students during their years on campus, such as how much chemistry, math, sociology and economics students actually learned while there.
Rather, in this upside-down world, colleges are judged by the “quality” of students they enroll. Quality, in essence, is measured by institutional selectivity – the percent of applicants who are accepted for admission. For the bulk of institutions in this universe, the direct correlate of selectivity is the average SAT score of entering freshman. The direct and powerful correlate of individual SAT scores is the cultural, educational and social capital which students acquire from their families. Families pass this human capital from generation to generation, and the so-called meritocracy is more than happy to oblige these privileges.
And so it goes, like a cascading river of wealth and power that obliterates all other considerations that bear on what higher education should mean in a democratic society. If one appreciates the status of inherited privilege, then let’s congratulate U.S. News on a job well done.

Summer School on World Threats

nuke.jpgMatthew J. Connelly, a historian at Columbia, is busy preparing for a second summer of scholarly doom. Last May, he presided over “Nuclear Summer,” an intensive 12-week course of study, research and collaborative writing about coping with nuclear proliferation and various nuclear scenarios. Next week, he is scheduled to announce that his 2011 summer course, also for a limited number of graduate students and undergrads from around the country, will focus on “Pandemics and Global Public Health.”
The continuation of his “total immersion” summer course at Columbia is a victory of sorts. Connelly conceived the course and sold the idea to Roger Hertog, a New York businessman, chairman emeritus of the Manhattan Institute, and a philanthropist who last month won the Philanthropy Roundtable’s William E. Simon leadership Prize for innovative giving aimed at advancing the power of ideas. Writing in the Philanthropy Roundtable’s magazine, Philanthropy, Bret Stephens estimated that Mr. Hertog has invested well over $140 million in such philanthropic ventures.
Hertog’s Foundation agreed to underwrite a two-year, $250,000 gift so that Connelly could experiment with a summer “total immersion” course focused on some of the greatest challenges confronting the U.S. and the planet.

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Sail with Condi And Gorby For $40,000 Or So

At several universities this summer, hope will float and perestroika will pay. At the end of August, Princeton, Harvard, Smith, Stanford, and Yale are taking the currying of favor with wealthier alumni seabound. For the fifth straight year, Princeton and other sponsoring universities are joining forces with a for-profit, West-coast speakers and travel bureau, this time offering a new five-star “post-perestroika” cruise along the Black Sea.
The 15-day voyage from August 30 to September 15th along the shores of Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Turkey features three Perestroika superstars — President Bush’s former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Defense Secretary William Perry and Russia’s own Mikhail Gorbachev as guest speakers. Only one of the “distinguished world leaders,” as the Princeton brochure advertizing the cruise calls them, will keep company with the alumni aboard ship for the entire cruise, mind you. The brochure notes, and a spokesman for Princeton’s alumni relations office confirms, that Ms. Rice will be aboard ship for only three days, and Mr. Gorbachev for only one. Indeed, Ms. Rice and Mr. Gorbachev will not even overlap. But when the three foreign policy celebrities are not on board, passengers will be hearing from other expert speakers – among them, James H. Billington, a former history professor at Princeton and the Librarian of Congress since 1987, Marvin Kalb, the former chief diplomatic reporter for NBC and professor emeritus at Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center, and Vinton G. Cerf, vice president and chief Internet promoter for Google, widely regarded as one of the “fathers of the Internet.”
The brochure says that this floating faculty at sea, including the Perestroika superstars, will lead fellow passengers in discussions of such topics as “Russia’s relations with Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan” and “how the West can best engage Russia and the former Soviet republics in facing global challenges such as nuclear proliferation, increasingly scare energy resources, and economic decline.”
Alumni in personal economic decline, however, might hesitate signing up for the voyage. Education aboard the Silver Wind, a small luxury cruise liner owned by an Italian company that the travel company charters, is pricey. The ship’s least expensive of its 149 cabins, the “Vista Suite,” which features a 240-square foot bedroom and a picture window, goes for $23,990 per person in a two-person cabin, or $39,990 for a single passenger. Its luxury bookend, the Grand Suite, 1,019 square feet of space with a teak veranda and floor-to-ceiling doors, costs $39,990. That is not counting the airfare to Moscow, where the program originates – a round-trip $1,558 per person (economy) ticket, or $3,658 per person for business class seats.

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Massad Got Tenure (Don’t Tell Anyone)

Fourteen Columbia professors are protesting the university’s apparent decision to award tenure to Joseph A. Massad, a controversial anti-Israel professor of Arab studies.
The professors are from the schools of law, business and public health. They expressed their concern in a five-page letter to the incoming Provost, Claude M. Steele. The letter asserts that the university’s decision to guarantee Massad a life-time teaching post “appears to have violated” Columbia’s own rules, thus raising profound questions about the university’s academic integrity. The university’s administration, weirdly, still refuses to confirm or deny that Massad won tenure, but yesterday the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department let the cat out of the bag—it announced a beginning-of-term party next week congratulating Massad on gaining tenure.
This week Provost Steele belatedly issued a polite, noncommittal response. In a four-paragraph “Dear Colleagues” letter to the fourteen professors, Steele, a former Stanford psychologist, says he would “welcome” a meeting to discuss their concerns. After he learns more about Columbia’s tenure process, Steele writes, he may “want to make some changes in our procedures.” But nowhere does he state that Massad has, in fact, been awarded tenure. Nor does he acknowledge that the professors raise deeply troubling concerns, that if true, go to the heart of what many regard as the core of a university’s integrity.

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