Columbia University’s newly established Edward Said Chair in Middle East Studies is noteworthy for several reasons. The position is named for the recently deceased professor best known for his defense of Palestinian “resistence.” And Rashid Khalidi, an overt supporter of Palestinian violence and – according to a just-published biography of Yasir Arafat from Oxford University Press – a former PLO press spokesman[i], has joined Columbia to fill the post.
But there is something even more objectionable about this chair: It is anonymously endowed and Columbia University – perhaps against the law – refuses to disclose the donors. According to Columbia, the donors’ names are confidential. “We don’t disclose them without their permission,” said spokeswoman Katie Moore, adding that Columbia has “the same policy that every school would have.”[ii]
But what “every school” does is not the issue. What counts are Columbia’s own regulations.
Several donors to the chair’s endowment fund have been identified. The Hauser Foundation, headed by New York philanthropist Rita Hauser, is one of them. Ms. Hauser’s former law firm, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, has been registered as recently as 2001 with the Justice Department as an agent for the Palestinian Authority.
Another donor is the Olayan Charitable Trust, a New York-based charity affiliated with the Saudi-based Olayan Group. The vice president of corporate communications at Olayan’s New York offices, Richard Hobson, has said that while the trust does not publicize its donations, that he believed it is, “one of the lead donors but not the lead donor.”[iii]
And Martin Kramer, editor of the Middle East Quarterly, reports he has a list of contributors to the chair that includes a foreign government.[iv]
Hiding the donors goes against Columbia’s own rules, which stipulate that a “principal investigator” involved in any university grant or contract is mandated to release information for “dissemination to members of the University community” when such requests are made.[v] An endowed chair is not specifically a university grant or contract, but neither is it that different.
“It is highly unusual, to say the least, for the donor or donors of an academic chair to hide their identity,” says Columbia’s Awi Federgruen, a former dean of the graduate business school. “In the face of various precedents,” he continues, “at Berkeley, Michigan and most recently the Zayed chair donated by the United Arab Emirates to the Harvard Divinity School, one cannot blame the public for being concerned.”[vi]
(Harvard Divinity School recently came under fire for accepting a $2.5 million dollar donation from Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the President of the United Arab Emirates’, in July, 2000. Zayed was also the namesake sponsor of the Zayed Center in Abu Dhabi, a center known for forwarding anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. Surprisingly, the storm of criticism resulted in the Zayed Center’s closure but Harvard Divinity School is yet debating whether or not to keep the gift.)[vii]
To keep a gift from a foreign government secret is at minimum a major lapse in judgment and perhaps illegal, on two grounds:
· Khalidi now heads Columbia’s Middle East Institute and in this capacity will oversee nearly $1 million in federal funds over the next three years. Funding for the Said Chair is not simply Columbia’s business, given the incumbent’s oversight of public monies. The public needs to know how the person disbursing taxpayer funds is himself paid.
· Federal law requires that a higher education institution accepting gifts from foreign entities valued at $250,000 or more disclose these contributions and their source,[viii] and New York State law further requires donations of $100,000 to be disclosed.[ix] Research in 2002 by the New York Senate Higher Education Committee revealed there is little, if any, compliance with this law.[x]
Even apart from Khalidi’s shameful bias and Columbia’s blind acceptance of it, the new professor’s clandestine chair puts the entire university under a cloud of impropriety and the only way to fix this is by fully disclosing the funds for his appointment. Federgruen correctly observes that “the sooner matters are out in the open, the better it will be for all parties concerned.”
Columbia needs to come clean and reveal who is funding the Edward Said Chair in Middle East Studies.
Jonathan Calt Harris is managing editor of www.Campus-Watch.org, a project of the Middle East Forum to critique and improve Middle Eastern studies in America.
[i] Rubin, Barry, and Rubin, Judith Colp, Yasser Arafat, A Political Biography, Oxford University Press, 2003. Pg. 78. Notes 8 and 9.
[ii] “Hauser Helps Fund Professor of Hate”, By Adam Daifallah, New York Sun, July 23, 2003.
[iii] “Hauser Helps Fund Professor of Hate”, By Adam Daifallah, New York Sun, July 23, 2003.
[vi] Awi Federgruen, Charles E. Exley Professor in Management at the Graduate School of Business, Columbia University, interview, August 2003.