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US: Gulf states biggest donors

American neo-conservatives claim that Arab donations to US universities are improperly influencing professors and students of Middle Eastern studies. In the latest critique, the online conservative FrontPage Magazine raised the issue last Monday (9 June) in a lengthy interview with a fellow of the free-market Manhattan Institute, Professor Jay P Greene. The magazine is published by David Horowitz, an advocate of right-wing causes and founder of the activist group Students for Academic Freedom.

In the interview, Greene said the Arabian Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and United Arab Emirates donated millions of dollars to American universities that were out of proportion to their wealth. According to Greene, who is also head of the department of education reform at the University of Arkansas, donations from the Gulf Arabs are the source of 16.4% of all foreign gifts and contracts to US universities but they represent only 1.95% of foreign GDP.

"To put it in perspective, our top 10 trading partners (excluding Saudi Arabia) give 47% of all foreign gifts and contracts and represent 44% of foreign GDP," he said. "Their giving is roughly proportionate to their wealth."

But by adding up all donations from the Gulf Arabs over the last 13 or so years, Greene created the impression of a huge sum of money flowing to US universities:

"Clearly, Gulf Arab countries have a particularly strong interest in US universities. If we focus only on gifts and exclude contracts, most of which seem related to oil production and research, Gulf Arabs gave a total of $88 million to 14 US universities between 1995 and the present. The biggest recipients (in order) are the University of Arkansas (where I am a professor), Georgetown University, George Washington University and Harvard University."

Greene claimed the donations provided "a louder megaphone to people articulating their interests and shift the selection and development of future Middle East experts toward their way of thinking".

He was then asked about the 14 recipient universities "being the homes of a disproportionate 16 of Horowitz's 101 most dangerous professors". This was a reference to a 2006 book Horowitz wrote called The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America whom he accused of being just the "tip of the iceberg" of a large group of scholars who had permeated American universities with anti-Americanisms and left-wing bias.

In his response, Greene said he was not sure if there was any causal relationship but added: "I think it is interesting to note. Most of the money went to people and universities that were already inclined toward what the Gulf Arabs wanted. Some of those same people are among the 101 professors that David Horowitz has identified as dangerous. But the same people that Horowitz views as dangerous may be viewed by Gulf Arab donors as wonderful."

He admitted, however, that other non-political factors also played a significant role. The Arabs wanted to be able to send students from their own countries for training at these universities and large donations would facilitate that. They were also determined to build their own world class universities and the donations would help secure expert advice on how to achieve this goal.

Qatar had built an 'Education City' with satellite campuses operated in Qatar by Cornell, Georgetown and Virginia Commonwealth universities. Saudi Arabia had committed $25 billion as an endowment for their elite university and Greene claimed investments in US universities should help transfer the know-how to these new institutions.

As for the influence of Arab donations, Greene noted the gifts were smaller and had less impact than he would have expected: "While $88 million sounds like a lot of money, it is quite small relative to university endowments and budgets. As of 2007 university endowments totalled $524 billion, making Gulf Arab donations .02% of the total and even at the 14 recipient institutions, the money is generally less than 2% of their endowments - [and only] a fraction of 1% of their spending."

Despite suggestions from FrontPage that the money was intended to influence university policy and teaching, Green said gifts of this size could not significantly alter the priorities of universities. He said for the most part, the money went to universities and individual professors who were already pursuing agendas favourable to Gulf Arab interests.

"They didn't buy the universities or professors, they just gave them a louder megaphone for what they were already saying," Greene said. "In other ways, these gifts have had a profound impact, particularly within the small world of Middle Eastern studies: $88 million may be a small part of total university resources but it is quite a lot to a Middle Eastern studies department or programme."

He argued that students wishing to eventually become a professor of Middle Eastern studies had to know that if they avoided certain questions, "like the abuses of authoritarian Arab regimes", and focused on other questions such as the alleged shortcomings of Israel or the US, "they might get several million dollars dropped in their lap".

Students of favoured professors who received millions of dollars were more likely to advance further in the profession. Students of other professors without the status of multi-million dollar gifts would fare less well, Greene said.
For the full interview go to: www.frontpagemagazine.com

geoff.maslen@uw-news.com
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