Columbia has released a list of the donors to the Edward Said chair in Middle Eastern Studies under pressure from groups that cited the University's legal and moral obligation to reveal the names.
The list appeared in the March 12 issue of the Record, the publication of Columbia's Office of Public Affairs. The donors, who contributed a total of $2.1 million, include 16 individuals, one charitable foundation, one corporation, and the United Arab Emirates.
The University's decision to publish the names comes after months of clamoring for their disclosure, largely on the part of Martin Kramer, editor of the Middle East Quarterly, and Campus Watch, a Web site run by the conservative think tank Middle East Forum, both longtime critics of Middle East studies at Columbia.
Rita Hauser, a New York philanthropist and eventual donor, originally proposed the chair in 1999 to honor University Professor Edward Said. Last fall, Rashid Khalidi arrived from the University of Chicago to become the first Edward Said professor of Arab Studies.
The list of donors appeared in the third-to-last paragraph of an article on the memorial service for Said, who died in September. Susan Feagin, vice president for University Development and Alumni Relations, said the memorial article provided an "appropriate opportunity" to acknowledge the donors.
The release of names comes in the wake of accusations that the University's failure to provide a level of transparency "points to the sense of guilt that they have that they are doing something this shady," in the words of Campus Watch founder Daniel Pipes.
Pipes, who is also director of the Middle East Forum, called the information in the Record "too little, too late."
"With the list now public, it is clear why Columbia University preferred not to disclose the donors' identities," a Campus Watch press release said.
"The University took months to disclose this information," Pipes said. "They released it in the most minimal possible fashion, without an announcement on the Internet." He would have preferred more figures and identifying information about the donors. Pipes said he is "hoping they'll release more, but not expecting it."
The Record article was posted online yesterday.
Before releasing the names, Columbia obtained permission from each donor individually. According to Feagin, "any donor has a right to request that their name not be released" for a number of reasons, including a desire to avoid solicitations from other charities.
Kramer, who led the call for disclosure of the names, wrote in an e-mail that although individual donors might justifiably request anonymity, gifts from foundations and corporations should be revealed. "But above all," he wrote, "there are no circumstances--and I repeat that--no circumstances whatsoever, that justify the anonymity of a foreign government that has given to a university."
Universities regularly accept donations from foreign governments, according to Feagin. In 2002-2003, Columbia received four such gifts from the governments of Japan, Sweden, Canada, and Taiwan. These donations went toward research in physics, earth science, and social science. Feagin also cited cases in which universities have accepted donations from Turkey and Germany for studies of their languages.
However, some critics have pointed to the political nature of the Said chair as distinguishing its case from disinterested pursuits such as language studies. The inclusion of a foreign government among the donors, moreover, exacerbates the politicization of the already controversial chair.
"Unlike persons or corporations, [governments] have expressly political interests," Kramer wrote. "If they are allowed to give secretly, especially for the purposes of teaching or researching politics, it could have a potentially corrupting effect."
Pipes voiced concern that Khalidi, as director of the Middle East Institute, oversees the federal funds allocated to that institution by Title VI of the Higher Education Act, which amount to $300,000 over a three-year period. He called the fact that the United Arab Emirates has contributed to Khalidi's salary "worrisome," considering the control Khalidi will have over the dollars of American taxpayers.
"It makes me queasy," Pipes said.
Judith Jacobson, assistant professor of epidemiology and a Columbia representative to Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, noted the potential danger of donors' expectations influencing the selection of the chair's occupant.
However, donors have no input in selecting a professor for their chair, according to Feagin. "We make it very clear to donors that it will be a faculty member who is perceived to be a terrific scholar ... and you will have no influence over who that is," she said.
Lisa Anderson, dean of the School of International and Public Affairs, put it even more bluntly: "The United Arab Emirates or Rita Hauser or any other donor have equal influence over who occupies the chair, which is none."
Nonetheless, Columbia's handling of the donor names may have contributed to a perception that it was guarding them.
While soliciting donations, University Development did not ask whether donors would allow disclosure of their names, according to Anderson, who oversaw the creation of the chair. But once it became clear that the anonymity of the donors was only exacerbating the chair's controvery, Feagin and colleague Dan Baker began contacting individual donors for permission. All of the donors agreed to have their names disclosed.
According to Feagin, Columbia was not trying to withhold the names. "I think that's the way it may have looked from the outside," she said.
"We weren't really self-conscious about 'releasing the names' until people outside the University began to suggest there was something untoward in the campaign or the chair," Anderson said.
Somehow the list of donors leaked outside the University. As early as July 2003, the New York Sun had obtained a list of names, and published three of them after University Development confirmed those names. The Sun also shared the complete list with Kramer, "to ask whether there were any names that warranted special attention, but they also did so with the proviso that I not reveal the list," Kramer said.
The University's failure to immediately disclose the donation from a foreign government has raised questions as to the legality of its actions. Federal law requires that institutions of higher education report details regarding gifts from foreign entities exceeding $250,000, and New York State law requires disclosure of such gifts above $100,000 by the end of the fiscal year.
Nine of the gifts are under $100,000, and therefore law does not require disclosure of the donors' names and specific amounts, according to Feagin. The remaining ten gifts, however, range from $100,000 to $600,000. Federal and state laws vary regarding each of these gifts, depending on amount and origin. Some cases require disclosure of only the amount donated but not the donor, while gifts from domestic sources require no reporting at all.
The only contribution requiring both a name and amount donated is that from the United Arab Emirates, which gave $200,000 to the chair.
Most of the donations to the Said chair were made in 1999-2000, but were not filed until recently. "When the Sun did its reporting, it came to our attention that we had not been dutifully filing those reports," Feagin said. "We filed for 2003, and now we're catching up." The donations were received under the auspices of Richard Naum and Ann McSweeney, before Feagin took over for them as vice president for University Development.
Feagin also pointed out that, according to New York State's Board of Education, there has been little compliance with the law on the part of peer institutions. Just last year the State Senate passed a law to penalize institutions that fail to report the necessary gifts. However, the bill has not yet come to a vote in the Assembly.