Tag Archives: international

Ahmadine-jabbing American Students

Central Connecticut State University is doing its part
for international diplomacy.  The campus
newspaper, The Central Reporter,
tells us that in late September CCSU professor of political science Ghassan
El-Eid brought a dozen CCSC students “to attend a dinner with Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran,” who was in New York for a meeting of the
U.N. General Assembly. 

President Ahmadinejad, of course, has had some practice
talking to American college students. Back in 2007, Columbia University
occasioned some controversy by inviting him to speak at its World Leaders
Forum.  Stinging from criticism of the
decision, Columbia’s president Lee Bollinger announced he would use the
occasion to annoy his guest.  As the Chronicle
of Higher Education
put it:

“Mr. Bollinger said he would
introduce the president by issuing “sharp challenges” to his denial of the
Holocaust, stated goal of wiping Israel off the map, support for terrorism,
defiance of sanctions stemming from Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and suppression
of human rights and civil liberties.”

Bollinger has long been a champion of vigorous free
speech (The Tolerant Society, 1986; Images of a Free Press, 1991; Eternally Vigilant, 2002; Uninhibited,
Robust, and Wide-Open
, 2010)–at least in principle.  His record in practice is a bit uneven.  In 2006, for example, after a group of
Columbia students violently interrupted and ended a
scheduled talk by members of the Minuteman Project, he had trouble finding
anything to say, but after a few months issued an anemic letter saying that
Columbia had investigated and taken appropriate steps to discipline the
students who had jumped the stage and assaulted the speaker.   He didn’t disclose the punishments, but
eventually it came out that those found guilty were merely given “warnings”
which were put on their transcripts temporarily, to be removed at the end of
2008.  One of the students, Monique Dols, gloated, “It’s a
light punishment; it’s a slap on the wrist. It’s a victory for free speech and

When it came to Ahmadinejad’s visit to the World Leaders
Forum, however, Bollinger delivered what the Chronicle
described as “a blistering critique.” 
The event remains an odd milestone for the contemporary campus.  By inviting Ahmadinejad, Columbia University
bestowed a signal honor on one of the worst actors in contemporary world
politics, and then tried to reverse the meaning of the occasion by turning the guest
into the object of contumely.  Bollinger
earned both praise for being tough and criticism for being rude and undermining
“his own ideals of free speech and academic freedom.” 

Ahmadinejad turned Bollinger’s assault to his own
rhetorical advantage.  He began his
speech by reproving Bollinger.  The Washington
transcript noted the applause: 

At the outset I want to
complain a bit from the person who read this political statement against me. In
Iran tradition requires that when we demand a person to invite to be a speaker
we actually respect our students and the professors by allowing them to make
their own judgment and we don’t think it’s necessary before this speech is even
given to come in with a series of claims…


… and to attempt in a
so-called manner to provide vaccination of some sort to our students and our

I think the text read by the
dear gentleman here, more than addressing me, was an insult to information and
the knowledge of the audience here, present here. In a university environment
we must allow people to speak their mind, to allow everyone to talk so that the
truth is eventually revealed by all.

Certainly he took more than
all the time I was allocated to speak, and that’s fine with me. We’ll just
leave that to add up with the claims of respect for freedom and the freedom of
speech that’s given to us in this country.

Ahmadinejad, having presided over judicial murder of his
political opponents and bloody suppression of public protest of his regime, is
no one’s idea of a friend of free speech or academic freedom, but he is a
clever tactician.  Bollinger played to
his own audience of academics eager to hear a blustery put-down of a
tyrant.  But Ahmadinejad played to a
world stage as a man witnessing against the hypocrisy of the West. 

Which brings us back to the outing for Central
Connecticut State University students. 
By this point, the Iranian president has perfected his pitch.  He knows American college students have a
tenuous grasp of history and world politics and that their deepest longing is
to be “inclusive.” And he serves up exactly that.  The student newspaper reports that the
students described him as kind to everyone who asked a question,”  “not as radical as the western media portray
him,” and–of course–“inclusive.” 

This was too much for one of my board members, Jay
Bergman, who teaches history at Central Connecticut, and to whom I’m indebted
for this glimpse into the vacancy of the soul of American higher education.
Bergman recounted the affair in the Litchfield County Times, complete
with a Bartlett’s full of Ahmadinejad’s venomous declarations. 

Professor Ghassan El-Eid, who arranged the event, is
something of a campus celebrity. 
According to the university he is a political consultant for MSNBC, has
“granted numerous national TV and newspaper interviews,” and “has also been
heard on NPR and the Pacific Radio Network.” 
Which I suppose is a way of saying that the honor granted the
undergraduate Central Connecticut students to dine with the dictator was no accident.  

Those Mealy-Mouthed Statements from Our Cairo Embassy

the beginning of Bruce Bawer’s strong new book, The Victims’ Revolution, he talks about the anti-American attitudes
that are nearly mandatory on campuses today and how they radiate throughout our
culture. Those attitudes, inculcated by so many professors, range from
apologetic and guilt-ridden to outright contemptuous and reflexively supportive
of our enemies. The incredibly abject comments from U.S. officials on the
murder of the US ambassador to Libya and the assaults on our embassies in Libya
and Egypt are fairly mild, but still stunning, examples of these attitudes in

did the US Embassy in Cairo have to say about the murder of four Americans by
mob violence? It tweeted “U.S. Embassy condemns religious incitement,”
referring to the homemade and obscure anti-Muhammad movie the mob thought
was worth killing for. Nineteen minutes later the embassy thoughtfully added
that it condemns the attack of the mob as well, perhaps because it dawned
on them that self-hatred wasn’t playing well at home. Those early tweets were
deleted, but the official statement from Cairo was just as bad: “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the
universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

same attitudes infected the mainstream media as well. The New York Times buried the mob violence and killings at the bottom of Page 4, not
mentioning that an ambassador was killed and assuring any readers who got that
far that anti-American feelings are confined to “pockets” in the Middle east.
On the First Page, however, was a big story that Mitt Romney was not opposed to
the Vietnam war as a college student in 1966. Likewise, o
n Morning Joe the all-lefties panels focused exclusively on Mitt
Romney’s statement, the point of which I 
couldn’t quite figure out from the indignant discussion. Romney’s campaign said: “It’s
disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks
on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the
attacks.” I’m not sure Romney should have jumped in at that point. However, the
statement is clearly sensible and accurate, particularly since the Obama
statement was almost as mealy-mouthed as those from the tragically inept
embassy in

Aki Peritz, a former U.S. intelligence analyst,
had the best comment: “Upon reflection, a future press release might
state, ‘We condemn the morons who overran part of our Embassy earlier today.”
Yes, whatever their hurt feelings are.


A Bastion of American Values in the Arab Middle East

American University of Beirut.jpg

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.

AUB Campus.jpg

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.

Quarantining the PC Pathology

ant.jpgLet’s face it, our noble efforts to detoxify today’s PC-infected university have largely failed and the future looks bleak. This is not to say that the problem is incurable–though it is–but it calls for a solution different from the current approach.  Here’s how.

Begin by recognizing that all our proposed cures impose heavy burdens on foes. For example, demanding an ideologically balanced faculty means fewer positions for PC zealots to fill. Asking them to abandon anti-Americanism requires revising lectures and reading assignment, no small task for those working 24/7 for social justice. And the assignment may be beyond their intellectual abilities. Why should tenured radicals surrender life-time employment to prevent professorial abuses? In a nutshell, our side insists on painful reform from within, all of which have zero benefits to the PC crowd. Victory requires measures that appear as net benefits, not bitter medicine.

My solution arrived one day in a casual conversation with a fellow political scientist. He recounted that when his university initially proposed a separate Department of Women’s Studies, the faculty objected.  Resistance was futile, however, and the separate department came to pass. There was, however, a silver lining in the defeat–with all the department’s strident feminists exported to an autonomous homeland, intellectual life suddenly improved dramatically. No more silly quarrels about inserting gender into international relations, no more struggles over subtly-hidden, invisible sexism and so on. Civility and reason reigned.

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Duke’s Brodhead Under Attack

Duke president Richard Brodhead has presided over what could charitably be termed a checkered administration. His botched handling of the lacrosse case led to a reported $18 million settlement with the falsely accused players, as well as millions of dollars in legal fees to fight off (thus far unsuccessfully) a civil rights lawsuit filed by many of the unindicted players. The university experienced a major case of academic fraud after revelations that a member of the medical faculty, Anil Potti, had exaggerated his credentials and fudged his research, prompting him to withdraw four published papers. Potti eventually resigned, and Duke belatedly halted his clinical trials. Whether Duke will suffer legal liability from any patients in Potti’s clinical trials remains unclear.

Now, reports the Duke Chronicle, Brodhead is facing faculty pressure regarding Duke Kunshan University (DKU), a proposal to create a new university, jointly funded by Duke and the city of Kunshan, in China.

Creating overseas branches of U.S. universities is always a complicated task, with the possibility of long-term financial benefits for the home institution balanced against the short-term financial risks. Faculty members complain about exclusion from the process, even though there’s no way such a venture ever could be launched with professors running things. Moreover–as perhaps was most clearly seen in NYU’s venture in the United Arab Emirates–such proposals risk compromising academic values in diplomatic negotiations with the host nation.

Some of the reaction against DKU appears to be little more than the complaints of professional complainers. For instance, Group of 88 extremist Paula McClain, who opened her tenure as chair of Duke’s Academic Council by positioning herself as a leader in “healing” the institution and offering quotes from Nelson Mandela in the process, lobbed attacks on the administration for its allegedly not soliciting sufficient faculty input.

Continue reading Duke’s Brodhead Under Attack

Prof. Bayoumi’s Lament

I recently posted on the peculiar strategy employed by defenders of a Brooklyn College committee’s selecting Moustafa Bayoumi’s book, How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America, as mandatory reading for all first-year and transfer students at the college. As I noted at the time, Bayoumi and his defenders present straw-men arguments, suggest that the only figures criticizing them are on the far-right fringe, or portray themselves (from their positions as tenured or tenure-track professors) as helpless victims. Bayoumi has taken the dodge-and-victimization strategy to a new level, in an essay just published in the Chronicle Review.
“On closer inspection,” Bayoumi mused in his column, “it became clear to me that my detractors”—note that he didn’t qualify his statement to suggest “some” of his detractors—“hadn’t actually read the book.” This interpretation, of course, allows Bayoumi to ignore the kind of devastating criticism offered by people like my Brooklyn colleague Robert Cherry. And while Prof. Bayoumi might not like what I have to say, even he presumably would concede that I have read his book.
“Next I realized how insulting those objections [of critics] were to our students, suggesting that they are unable to form independent judgments of what they read.” By this rationale, no one could criticize a Biology Department that assigned a creationist textbook, since such criticism would be “insulting” to the students forced to read the inappropriately selected text. Of course, the main criticism in this matter was directed not against BC students’ cognitive abilities, but the judgment of a faculty committee that would mandate all incoming BC students read one and only one book—a book whose sole section open to fact-checking (the afterword) contains numerous strained or outright erroneous interpretations.

Continue reading Prof. Bayoumi’s Lament

Ahmadinejad’s Beachhead at Yale

On Sept. 23 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on a visit to U.N. headquarters in New York, told the U.N.’s General Assembly that “some segments within the U.S. government orchestrated the attack” that killed 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001. Within hours of Ahmadinejad’s speech, which prompted walkouts by U.N diplomats from the United States, Britain, Sweden, Australia, Belgium, Uruguay, and Spain, as well as a condemnation by President Obama, who declared that Ahmadinejad’s remarks were “offensive” and “inexcusable,” the Iranian president was sitting down to a chit-chat at a New York hotel with—graduate students at Yale. The meeting—at which any discussion of 9/11 or what Ahmadinejad had said about it, was off-limits—had been arranged by their teacher, Hillary Mann Leverett, one of eight senior fellows at Yale’s brand-new Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.
Indeed, the meeting with Ahmadinejad and several of his aides could be said to have been a kickoff event for the Jackson Institute, which had celebrated its official opening only four days before, on Sept. 19. Funded with a $50 million gift in 2009—one of the largest ever donated to Yale–from former pharmaceutical CEO John Jackson, Yale ’67, and his wife, the poet Susan Jackson, the stated aim of the institute is “training tomorrow’s global leaders,” as a headline on the institute’s website states. The Jackson Institute will oversee Yale’s undergraduate major in international relations and several graduate programs. Yet there seems something odd about a global-leader training program that within less than a week of its inception featured a softball session with perhaps the most vitriolic of today’s global leaders, one who, besides elaborating in his U.N. speech on various conspiracy theories about the events of the 9/11 massacre, is notorious for denying the Holocaust and declaring that there are no gays in Iran (not surprising, because the penalty for homosexuality there is death).
It also seems odd that two of the Jackson Center’s eight senior fellows—a full fourth of the total—consist of Leverett and her husband, Flynt Leverett, director of the Iran Project at the New America Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that generally advocates a reduced U.S. military presence in the Islamic world. Both Leveretts have careers stretching back several years of tireless article-writing that defends the legitimacy of Ahmadinejad’s government and blames the United States and Israel, not Iran, for Iran’s nuclear buildup and the generally frosty relations between Iran and the West.

Continue reading Ahmadinejad’s Beachhead at Yale

“Diversity” Goes Abroad (Or Doesn’t)

Casual or even close readers of the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed could be forgiven for concluding that higher education in the United States these days is fixated on — indeed, consumed by — an overweening concern with “diversity.” Indeed, if all the reports on and studies of and efforts to promote more “diversity” were suddenly to cease, the resulting reduction in productivity and increase in employment would make the recession in the rest of the economy seem mild by comparison.
Consider, for example, Peter Schmidt’s article in the Chronicle on Tuesday, Race Plays Key Role in Decision to Study Abroad or to Stay Home, Study Finds. “If colleges want their minority students to undertake foreign study at the same rate as white ones,” it begins, “they need to take into account big differences in how racial and ethnic groups respond to the forces influencing students’ decisions to go abroad, a new study concludes.”

If we are serious about trying to diversify study abroad, we have to reach students where they are and design programs which meet their varied needs and concerns,” said Peggy Blumenthal, chief operating officer of the Institute of International Education, which is joining the American Institute for Foreign Study and other groups in hosting a workshop on Tuesday in Washington for study-abroad directors and advisers looking for ways to diversify participation in their programs.

Continue reading “Diversity” Goes Abroad (Or Doesn’t)

The Great Brain Race

Ideas In Action, which airs on PBS, recently featured a half-hour program on the Globalization of Higher Ed, featuring Ben Wildavsky, Senior Fellow at the Kauffman Foundation and recent author of The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World, Peter Stearns, Provost at George Mason University, and Beth McMurtrie, Senior Editor of international news at The Chronicle of Higher Education. It’s an especially timely topic in a week when Yale and the National University of Singapore just announced a collaborative campus in Singapore. If interested in this global future, do take a look.

Ben Wildavsky at the Manhattan Institute

Those of you in the New York City area may be interested in an upcoming Manhattan Institute event featuring Ben Wildavsky, author of The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities are Reshaping the World and Senior Fellow at the Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation. Introductory remarks will be provided by John Leo, MindingtheCampus editor.
If you are interested in attending please contact Barb Golecki at 646-839-3317

NYU’s Perilous Adventure in Abu Dhabi

New York University will open its vaunted campus in Abu Dhabi this fall, and so far it does seem to be the best campus that money can buy—Gulf oil money, that is. The story of the NYU-Abu Dhabi linkup, the brainchild of John Sexton, NYU’s strategically ebullient and relentlessly donor-courting and expansion-minded president, is a story of many paradoxes. The greatest paradox of all is that this first step toward creating what Sexton calls a “global network university” of NYU campuses all over the world is being entirely bankrolled by the government of oil-rich Abu Dhabi, which is a good thing for NYU because the university’s $2.2 billion endowment (shrunken by nearly one-third in the recent financial crisis) is by far the smallest of any private U.S. university with the world-class ambitions that Sexton claims for NYU.
In fact, because NYU enrolls more than 50,000 at its various schools, its endowment works out to about a mere $50,000 per student, according to figures calculated in a recent Business Week article. (Harvard’s $26 billion endowment, by contrast, amounts to $1.3 million per student, while Yale has $1.4 million per student and Princeton $1.7 million). The Abu Dhabi campus is a feat of Sextonian sleight-of-hand in which other people’s petrodollars pay for what NYU hopes will be a boost in academic prestige without spending a cent of its own scarce money. NYU was happy to publicize Abu Dhabi’s initial contribution of $50 million to the joint venture—a down payment on which NYU insisted as a condition of lending its name to the new university—but now neither the university nor the Gulf city-state will reveal how many more millions Abu Dhabi has sunk into the venture, but it must be plenty. Abu Dhabi has not only committed itself to a glitzy brand-new campus for NYU on Saadiyat Island about 500 yards offshore, but is bankrolling some of NYU’s expansion in New York.
Back home at NYU’s flagship campus at Washington Square, students complain about stingy financial aid packages that often leave them heavily in loan debt and more heavily reliant on poorly paid part-time faculty than any of the top-tier universities with which NYU hopes to compete. NYU’s efforts to grow its campus in New York—by acquiring Greenwich Village real estate and demolishing what’s there—have made enemies out of many of its neighbors, especially when NYU pulled down the historic Provincetown Playhouse, which it owned, in order to construct a new law school building (it did save some of the playhouse’s facade and replaced the theater). The Abu Dhabi campus has also sparked protests among NYU professors over government policies in Abu Dhabi and other United Arab Emirates states that discriminate against gays (homosexual acts are crimes in the Emirates), Israelis (none of the Emirates has formal diplomatic relations with Israel and all frequently deny entry to citizens of the Jewish state), and the foreign guest-workers who form 80 percent of the Emirates’ 4.5 million population but have little practical recourse against employers who confiscate their passports, house them in squalid camps, charge huge fees for their job, and pay them less than promised.

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”Gender Gap” Mania

Inside Higher Ed had a brief notice yesterday, “Worldwide Gender Gap in Academic Salaries in Science,” that, though accurate as far as it goes, is revealingly, almost humorously, incomplete and misleading.
Here is the IHE piece in its entirety:

A worldwide analysis by Nature of the salaries of men and women in academic science has found that men’s salaries were 18 to 40 percent higher in countries for which there were significant sample sizes — Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Spain and the United States. The general pattern was for salary gaps to grow over the course of careers, with men’s salaries starting to gain relative to women in the three-to-five year period after the start of a career in Europe and after six years in North America.

The American higher education establishment, and apparently those who report on it, suffer from gap mania. Everywhere they look there is some “gap” to be corrected, and some uncorrected, often hidden (read “structural”) discrimination causing it. To see that attitude at work here, I encourage you take a look at the Nature article linked above. If you do, you will see that it is not “a worldwide analysis … of the salaries of men and women in academic science” at all. Entitled “For Love And Money,” the Nature article begins by noting, in bold, that “[t]he self-reported contentment of researchers with their chosen profession depends on more than just salaries, according to the results of our international career survey.”
The purpose of the survey, in short, was only incidentally to examine men’s and women’s salaries. Rather, it aimed “to track contentment with one’s job by region or by job attributes such as health care, the degree of independence or mentoring potential,” and it was not limited to “academic science.”

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Building a Curriculum Around a Plane Crash

My last post looked at the latest troubling educational initiative from the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U). The organization is especially pernicious not simply because of its agenda—which is, after all, quite mainstream in the contemporary academy. What distinguishes the AAC&U is its contempt toward students at non-elite schools, its belief that such students can’t flourish in an education stepped in the liberal arts. Instead, the AAC&U contends that only a presentist education will do for such students. It terms this approach “interdisciplinary,” but “nondisciplinary” is a more appropriate term.
The AAC&U touts its “General Education for a Global Century” project as “innovative” partly because it employs “social networking.” (The internet—how innovative!) The group’s social networking site provides a sense of the topics that, according to the AAC&U, deserve more attention in general education curricula.
What demonstrates “a need for the deep, interdisciplinary education that global learning offers”? According to project coordinator Chad Anderson, “the deliberate plane crash into the IRS building in Austin, Texas,” which “must raise complex questions about politics, the economy, and domestic terrorism.” Really? This would be a little bit like a cranky conservative professor demanding that Columbia, in 1970, reorient its gen-ed curriculum around to focus on the explosion of the Weathermen townhouse in Greenwich Village.

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Whatever Happened to the Group of 88?

A few years ago, Cornell University spokesperson Thomas W. Bruce rejoiced that the Ivy League school had brought to Ithaca a man whose “distinguished background in contemporary global cultural studies,” and whose “unique perspectives and talents” would “add to the range of reasoned intellectual discourse at Cornell.”
The professor about whom Bruce gushed was Grant Farred, whose latest contribution to “intellectual discourse at Cornell” came when he labeled two graduate students “black bitches.” One of the most extreme members of the Group of 88 (the Duke faculty members who issued a guilt-presuming public statement two weeks into the lacrosse case), Farred had denounced as “racist” those Duke students who registered to vote in Durham; and had wildly charged that unnamed lacrosse players had committed perjury. Duke’s settlement with the three falsely accused players shielded him from civil liability for the latter remarks. Cornell knew this record of contempt for the students he taught when it not only awarded Farred a tenured position, but promoted him to full professor, with a median salary of $154,300.
Farred’s experience typifies the Group of 88’s rebounding from their rush to judgment in the lacrosse case. Indeed, at least three Group members moved on from Duke to endowed chairs at other institutions. Charles Payne, who violated Duke rules by authorizing departmental funds to pay for the Group of 88’s ad, is now Frank Hixon Professor at the University of Chicago. He has moved on from presuming the guilt of his own school’s students to receiving fellowships to fund his work on urban schools. Payne’s most recent book, Teach Freedom: Education for Liberation in the African-American Tradition, is an edited volume published by Columbia Teachers’ College Press; it features contributions from self-described “educator-activists” on how principles of African-American “liberation” education remain relevant today.
Rom Coles, who denounced an early 2007 from Duke economics professors that affirmed that the economics professors would welcome all Duke students, even student-athletes, into their classes, is now McAllister Chair in Community, Culture & Environment at Northern Arizona University. He’s involved himself in a host of pedagogically predictable causes, ranging from learning communities to “sustainability” initiatives.

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Why Do Anthropologists Have Their Own Foreign Policy?

newaaacentlogo.jpgShould the American Anthropological Association “denounce the current human rights violations in Honduras” and “support Hondurans that… continue to resist the June 28, 2009 military coup in their country”? This question, put to a vote of AAA members, passed by a margin of 656-166 in online voting that ended last Friday. Taking a stand on a Central American coup may seem like an odd topic of concern for an academic organization. Increasingly it seems that no such organization is complete without a foreign policy of is own; from Iraq to Afghanistan to nuclear disarmament.

Organizations based on academic disciplines, traditionally balanced and detached from politics, have been sliding toward political advocacy since the 1960s. The American Anthropological Association was founded in 1902 to “promote the science of anthropology, to stimulate and coordinate the efforts of American anthropologists, to foster local and other societies devoted to anthropology, to serve as a bond among American anthropologists and anthropologic[al] organizations present and prospective, and to publish and encourage the publication of matter pertaining to anthropology”. The relation of Honduran policy to this purpose remains unclear.

In 2006 the American Historical Association passed a resolution urging members to “do whatever they can to bring the Iraq was to a speedy conclusion.” The resolution declared that “interrogation techniques at Guantanamo,” “the re-classification of government documents” and other practices, were “inextricably linked to the war.” It passed by a margin of 75% to 24%. The resolution flatly identified the war as a danger to the historical profession itself, asserting that the conflict and the Bush administration’s related policies imperiled “the unfettered intellectual inquiry essential to the practice of historical research, writing, and teaching.” On questions from the Iraq war to affirmative action to statehood for the District of Columbia and same-sex marriage, academic associations now regularly issue partisan resolutions that present opinions on contentious political issues as professional certainties.

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The Rankings Go Global

The Times Higher Education Supplement has now come out with its sixth annual listing of the world’s top universities. Harvard continues to top the list, followed by the denizen of that other Cambridge across the Pond, which has now edged out Yale. The big news this year: the number of North American universities in the top 100 dropped from 42 to 36 from last year, while Asian universities are coming on strong.
I typically react to such news items in three stages. First, OMG, American higher education is tanking. Then I begin to fear that U.S. News & World Report copy-cats are taking over the world. Then the left side of my brain checks in and I ask myself whether such international comparisons are worth the bother.
Let’s take these reactions one at a time, not necessarily in chronological order.

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NYU’s Middle East Problem

This past winter, Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich, a men’s doubles team who captured the 2008 Australian Open championship, announced plans to enter the ATP tournament in Dubai. Normally, tennis players’ schedules aren’t big news. But Ram and Erlich are citizens of Israel, and the government of the United Arab Emirates prohibits holders of Israeli passports from entering the country. (Indeed, a UAE visa page can’t even bring itself to concede that the country’s name is legitimate: “Nationals of ‘Israel’ may not enter the UAE.”) At the last minute, despite ATP rules that should have guaranteed both their entrance into the tournament and their safety while in Dubai, the duo withdrew – acting under pressure, it was widely believed, from the ATP tour and the UAE government.
Given the contemporary academy’s professed celebration of “tolerance” and “diversity,” at first blush it might seem inconceivable that a major research university would establish a co-equal branch of its institution in a country that discriminates on the basis of national identity. Yet NYU is planning to do just that. A university press release described “NYU Abu Dhabi,” which will open in 2010, as “a major step in the evolution of NYU as a ‘global network university.”

The university, which the Abu Dhabi government will fund, “will be a residential research university built with academic quality and practices consistent with the prevailing standards at NYU’s Washington Square campus, including adherence to its standards of academic freedom. The development of all the programs at the Abu Dhabi campus will be overseen by the New York-based faculty and senior administrators.” And graduates will receive the same NYU degrees given to students who attend the university in Manhattan.

NYU Abu Dhabi is the handiwork of NYU president James Sexton, who sees the new university as a step ahead in globalization. It’s also a step ahead for NYU’s finances. The Abu Dhabi government has already given a $50 million “down payment” for the institution, with promises of more money to come – including assistance for NYU’s endowment, which lags well behind that of Harvard, Yale, or Princeton.

In an interview with New York, Sexton came across as at best a naif and at worst an academic version of George W. Bush peering into Vladimir Putin’s soul. The NYU president recalled an instant “electric” connection in which “the crown prince told me that he felt it in my handshake, in my eyes, in my aura at that first meeting… I knew right then and there that we had found our partner.”

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American Campuses In The Mid-East: Not For Everyone.

U.S. universities pride themselves on their tolerance – religious, ethnic, gender-based, sexual orientation-based, whatever. But when it comes to lucrative consulting fees for partnering with universities in Mideastern countries where none of the above categories of toleration seems to exist, the campus open-mindedness apparently evaporates, and a strange variety of mulitculturalism takes over. Case in point: the California Polytechnic Institute, a highly regarded state-funded university in San Luis Obpispo, Calif., that prides itself on its 21-year-old Women’s Engineering Program, designed to encourage female students to enter an overwhelmingly male-dominated field.
All well and good – except that Cal Poly is in the process of negotiating a $6 million consulting deal in which its faculty would develop an engineering program at Jubail University in Saudi Arabia. Since the Saudi government forbids co-education, the program would be male-only, at least at the beginning. Later maybe, women might also be able to study engineering at Jubail, but only if the campus hires an all-female faculty to teach them, for Saudi law also prohibits academic instruction of students by members of the opposite sex. Jubail currently enrolls women students, but in separate classes taught by female professors.

This sort of compromise, in which colleges seem willing to abandon vaunted principles of equality in exchange for lucrative partnerships with Mideast institutions, is surprisingly common on U.S campuses. The University of California at Berkeley, for example, is currently in confidential negotiations with another Saudi university, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (known by the acronym Kaust), in which UC-Berkeley professors would collaborate on research projects and help King Abdullah hire faculty for its mechanical engineering program. Stanford University and the University of Texas at Austin are in the process of negotiating similar arrangements with Kaust to consult in engineering departments – deals that total a reported $25 million for each. Kaust also has partnerships with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and an array of foreign universities. Although the yet-to-open Kaust, set up with a $10 billion endowment and aiming to turn itself into a world-class research facility, has said that it will not be subject to the usual Saudi sex restrictions, it remains unclear whether and how women will participate. Even more ominously, the New York Times has reported that no Israelis would be allowed to join the Kaust faculty – a prohibition that probably applies to Jubail as well.

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American University Preferences For Americans?

An op-ed “Aid, Discrimination, and Justice” in Monday’s Columbia Spectator speaks to an increasing conception of universities not as American institutions, but as world institutions, with a responsibility to a global audience, and, in this case, student body.

Columbia just announced an overhaul of its financial aid policies, of considerable benefit to poor and middle class-students. They did not appear to address the author’s concern – the absence of need-blind admissions for foreign students, a policy which he decries for ensuring that “international students are drawn largely from foreign elites.” He demands that Columbia offer need-blind admissions to all students, at any means.

And in the worst case, if equality in financial aid policy for GS and international students must come at the expense of increased financial aid for BC, SEAS, and CC students, so be it. It’s a matter of justice.

Nowhere in the column, unsurprisingly, is there any exploration of substantive reasons why American students might hope to enjoy an easier path to Columbia than foreign students, such as Columbia’s location in the same nation-state, or munificent federal research grants to the University, or its government accreditation, or federal students loans, or any number of ties. No, the author simply issues a demand for justice that requires considering foreign and native students exactly similarly in the application process. There’s no doubt that universities could afford more generous aid to foreign students; Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Dartmouth already do. This is a kindness; the movement to establish broader need-blind admissions frames it as a moral dictate, in terms that paint privileges that American universities very logically provide only to Americans as xenophobic. This author, very typically, wonders if “Perhaps Columbia’s goal is in fact only to train the next generation of the ruling and managerial classes for the U.S. and its allies and client states.” Don’t be surprised to see much more of this in coming years. Even the most prosaic details of universities’ national identification some.

The Study Abroad Scandal

The New York Times has headlined yet another scandal in higher education: colleges and sometimes individual college officials have been receiving generous “incentives” to steer students into particular study abroad programs. The incentives include financial bounties and free trips abroad for the officials. As the Times points out, the self-dealing by college officials in these programs looks a lot like the self-dealing by college officials caught up in the student loan scandal.
How big a scandal is it that some colleges and some college officials have found another way to line their pockets at the expense of students? Not very big by itself, but coming on the heels of the student loan imbroglio, the study abroad scandal has stilts. From that height we can wonder if study abroad and financial aid are the whole of it: How many other aspects of the university enterprise offer college officials the opportunity to receive “gifts” at the ultimate expense of students?

Once upon a time, a certain kind of student yearned for a semester abroad or sought out opportunities to take a summer course in Salzberg or Poitiers. This was the American version of the “grand tour” with which wealthy Europeans once capped off the education of gentlemen. But Americans, being a pragmatic people, usually made sure that the venture included academic credit for courses that would meet degree requirements at the college back home.

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