Thoughtful Consideration, Wrong Conclusions
We appreciate the thoughtful consideration of the issues relating to agreements between MIT and the Saudi monarchy and its agencies in the February 6 letters from Associate Provost Richard Lester and President Reif. However, the conclusions that they arrive at – to essentially continue the current relationships – are profoundly distressing, morally unsound, and not in keeping with MIT’s mission and culture. We print in this issue two letters from our History colleagues and Philosophy colleagues, both deep and detailed, of the many letters from faculty sent to Associate Provost Lester.
In response to President Reif’s decision to continue the current relationships:
There is little doubt that the Saudi monarchy is harshly authoritarian, with seemingly unchecked power currently in the hands of an amoral Crown Prince. It withholds democratic rights from its own people; imprisons, tortures, or assassinates its critics; and is directly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians in its military campaign there, as well as for the widespread famine and collapse of healthcare that is affecting millions in that country.
The reports and condemnation of the Saudi actions continue to appear.
- The relationship with the Saudis legitimizes and stabilizes this anti-democratic regime and its policies, regardless of the well-meaning intent of our MIT colleagues and Saudi students.
- MIT should terminate its relationships with the Saudi monarchy, and with Aramco, SABIC, and KACST, which are all directly under the control of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
- Though MIT faculty need to have considerable freedom to pursue their research and investigations, research is a social enterprise, regulated by a wide range of societal, institutional, national, and international norms. Research projects involve not just the motivations of the researchers but those of the funding agencies and industries too, and the immediate and eventual direct and indirect impact on the communities involved. The Saudis and Pres. Reif claim that the projects they are supporting are in the interests of the Saudi people. But the criteria is not what such regimes say or what the MIT Administration claims, but how the regimes act in the world. Had Mussolini’s government in the late 1930s approached the Civil Engineering Department for assistance in rail transportation, would we have supported that?
- For research initiatives that are likely to be more broadly productive, such as water quality in arid lands, those faculty and students losing support from the Saudis should be fully supported for the next two years with MIT funds. With $16 billion in endowment generating an income stream, MIT can afford this. MIT can also support new Saudi students, who apply and are admitted to our programs through our standard admission procedures, as are other foreign nationals.
- MIT should make an equivalent sum of dollars available to Yemeni students who apply to study at MIT. Given the devastation in that country, support may first be required to rebuild Yemeni educational infrastructure.
- A broad-based committee review and standard-setting process is indeed needed, as suggested by Associate Provost Lester. However, the current proposal puts the cart before the horse: making the decision to continue the contractual relationships, before establishing the standard. The order needs to be reversed. The committee should carry out its investigations, present its findings and recommendations to the MIT community, and receive input. A set of clear standards on relationships with outside funders should be promulgated. Only after that process will it be appropriate to reexamine whether some of the terminated relationships, for example with the Saudi universities, might be reinstated or renewed.
All these points lead us to conclude that the proper path for MIT is to end its relationships with the Saudi regime and its agencies, thus upholding the humanitarian scientific, academic, and civic values represented in the MIT mission, and to which we continue to aspire.
Aron Bernstein* * * * * * * * * *
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A distinctive and disturbing feature of MIT governance, compared to other leading U.S. universities, is the absence of a Faculty Senate or equivalent. In essence all standing committees of the Institute are joint Faculty/Administration committees. This works well in many cases, but breaks down when the general views of the faculty diverge from the positions of the Administration. The current Saudi-MIT debate is an example. It can be difficult to bring faculty views forward, which are critical of the Administration, from a committee that is joint.
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