Last spring, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited Harvard on his tour of the United States, a visit that was only the latest in a long string of ties between Harvard and the Saudi royal family. In 2005, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, another prominent member of the royal family, donated $20 million to the University. This donation established the Alwaleed Islamic Studies Program and created three professorships in his name. Harvard's ties with Saudi Arabia don't end there — The Saudi royal family funds at least two programs at the Kennedy School, and it even sponsors leadership courses held during Harvard's summer programs.
In light of Saudi Arabia's alleged involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and its egregious human rights violations elsewhere — including its ties to the 9/11 attack and its actions in Yemen that have resulted in a devastating worst humanitarian crisis — we believe it is necessary for Harvard to act. Harvard must publicly condemn the killing of Khashoggi, but that is not enough. The University must go a step forward and critically assess its relationship with the Saudi regime, and begin by making its history and current involvement with the Saudis public.
We have previously opined that Harvard's funding sources should be evaluated in a nuanced way, and we recognize that Harvard cannot and should not unequivocally reject donations from all controversial donors. Furthermore, we are not equating other controversial donors with the brutal Saudi regime. However, when it comes to funding from controversial sources, Harvard's transparency problem is obvious and can be easily corrected. Even if Harvard accepts money from such places, it is still crucial for the University to be as open as possible with its financial sources. Thus, we demand that when it comes to funding, Harvard improve transparency across the board, specifically by making public lists of sources and direct funding.
Furthermore, by associating itself with the Saudi regime, Harvard – one of the best universities in the world – runs the risk of legitimizing both the authoritarian nature of the regime and the brutal policies it carries out abroad. By continuing to strengthen this relationship, Harvard turns a blind eye to Saudi atrocities. For Harvard to continue to cultivate close ties with a regime almost certainly engaged in serious human rights abuses and war crimes is clearly unethical, and the University must do better. Furthermore, the secretive nature of these ties seems to reflect the University's own qualms about the optics of this situation. Thus, it seems clear that rather than continuing to build a strong relationship with the Saudis, Harvard should take a critical look at the money it is benefiting from.
Finally, we wish to honor Khashoggi for his courage and determination to speak the truth, for which he paid the ultimate price. The murder of a columnist for speaking out against injustice is a direct affront to the values that journalists and editorial boards such as this one hold dear. It is as critical as ever to continue speaking truth to power and exercising our freedom of speech — especially at a time when leaders from Riyadh to Moscow to Washington work their hardest to make that challenging. We hope that Harvard will consider its own motto in the light of Khashoggi's murder, and will honor him adequately. More than anything, we hope that Harvard will reconsider its ties to the Saudi regime and will seek to ensure that all ties that the University builds truly further our commitment to veritas.