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High Point Solutions Stadium. KFC YUM! Arena. TCF Bank Stadium.

Handing the name of your university’s sports venues over to the local biotech, banking, or fried chicken establishment in exchange for money – making your university one humongous advertising vector – is, well, pathetic, but so what. There’s only so much whining we’re going to do here about the corporatization of the university. And after all this is a capitalist culture, and the university reflects that culture, blah blah.

To be sure, things get a little dicier when you’re stuck with the Kenneth Lay Chair in Economics, or even the Lloyd Blankfein Professor of History.

The University of Miami had the Nevin Shapiro Student Athlete Lounge, etc. Many universities have dealt (some of them, like Seton Hall, repeatedly) with the embarrassment of questionable names on rooms, buildings and arenas, on academic chairs, on programs, on honorary degrees, on whatever.

But it’s one thing to deal with the consequences of honoring over-zealous capitalists; it’s another to honor authoritarian regimes whose fundamental political identity is outrageously at odds with the values of American universities.

A National Review writer notes that Harvard has a Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations:

The Sultan of Oman shackles his nation’s media with one of the most restrictive press laws in the Arab world, and Freedom House rates the sultanate, on a scale of 1 (freest) to 7 (least free), a 5.5, making it “unfree.”

Then there’s the Saudis:

In 2005, Saudi prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz gave $20 million to both Harvard University and Georgetown University to establish centers for Islamic studies. At Georgetown, the prince’s gift funds the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at the university’s vaunted School of Foreign Service. Saudi Arabia may be an American ally in the Middle East, but it is also one of the most repressive nations in the world. Leaving aside Saudi Arabia’s gross violations of the rights of all its citizens, the royal family doesn’t appear to have any more than an academic interest in “Muslim-Christian understanding”: The kingdom lacks even one Christian church.

The atrium of American University’s School of International Studies is named after the crown prince of Bahrain, another scandalously repressive country.

So I guess the point the NRO guy is making is that it’s hypocritical at best and a betrayal of fundamental values at worst when a university takes immense cash from authoritarian regimes and in exchange glorifies the names of those regimes. (Some British universities were, most recently, willing to do this with Gaddafi’s Libya.) The basic deal involves the university using its clean reputation to help cleanse not very sweet-smelling political units. And of course the deal can evolve into the university gradually incorporating nice thoughts about these units into their curricula; or let’s say overlooking some less than pleasant aspects of those regimes (Women in Saudi Arabia? You say there are women in Saudi Arabia? I didn’t see any when I was there…).

Margaret Soltan, May 11, 2012 9:11PM
Posted in: democracy

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2 Responses to “High Point Solutions Stadium. KFC YUM! Arena. TCF Bank Stadium.”

  1. Mike S. Says:

    Ok, it’s not comparable to Saudi Arabia but the USA found itself in free fall over the past year in (at least) one organization’s ranking of nations by relative freedom of press:
    From 20th to 47th place in a single year. Goodby Canada, hello Romania.

    Never mind that the USA is the world’s primary exporter of both arms and wanton violence.

  2. Norm Says:

    Another hypothesis is that these decisions do reflect fundamental values and are not hypocritical. Yale turned down $20 million of Bass money to teach Western Civ …so see they do have principles when their values are at stake.

    I’m still laughing about “You say there are women in Saudi Arabia. I didn’t see any.”

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