Princeton University announced last month that Shirley M. Tilghman, the University’s president, will serve as “one of the founding trustees for King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, a new international, coeducational, graduate-level research university that is being created near Saudi Arabia’s second largest city, Jeddah.”
Isn’t that an odd choice for a high commissar in the higher education nomenklatura ? We’re talking about the Shirley Tilghman described thus by Steven M. Warshawsky:
In Tilghman, the student radicals of the 1960s finally have succeeded in occupying the university president’s chair, not just his office. Since becoming Princeton’s president in June 2001, Tilghman (who graduated from college in 1968) has pursued an activist feminist agenda to remake Princeton into a liberal paradise that even Kim Gandy would love. Today, despite its long-outdated reputation as a ‘conservative’ Ivy League college (F. Scott Fitzgerald famously described Princeton as ‘the pleasantest country club in America’), Princeton is rife with political correctness, multiculturalism, and liberal groupthink.
Warshawsky, who graduated Princeton ten years later than I did, may perhaps lack the long view — the school was more or less what he described in the early ’80’s, in fact, when a fairly conservative president, economist William G. Bowen, presided over Nassau Hall. Tilghman’s achievements are not so much in her politics, which are standard fare among college presidents, deans, administrators and the trustees who perpetuate this professional class of college royalty. It is the manner in which she, the first non-alumnus president in the school’s recent history, has consolidated the management of everything Princeton, including the flow of information through organs once semi – independent (such as the Princeton Alumni Weekly), into the politically correct hands of the administration. This aggregation and centralization of Princeton’s tax-exempt corporate empire is worthy of the best Soviet ministry builders… gloved in velvet, of course.
Princeton's Alexander Hall
Still, his description is entirely correct: As reminded on at least every third page of the Weekly, which essentially serves as a publicity vehicle for President Tilghman and features her face, her quotes or both on at least every fourth page, she is indeed entirely politically reliable, as is virtually all of her faculty. So what could possibly make such a progressive and visionary woman agree to become a trustee for a Saudi college? Engagement from the inside, that’s what!
“I have been very selective in taking on outside responsibilities, and I deliberated carefully before accepting this commitment,” Tilghman said. “Having devoted so much of my career to expanding educational opportunities for women, especially in the sciences and engineering, I decided that I should join with the other members of this board in encouraging the development of such opportunities in a region of the world where historically they have not been available.
“It was critically important to me that KAUST is committed to providing a Western-style education, to attracting students and faculty from around the world and from all ethnic and religious backgrounds, and to educating men and women from different religious traditions together,” she said. “In my view, these are important steps for Saudi Arabia, and as a trustee I will be carefully monitoring the university’s success in achieving these objectives.”
Well, that will be interesting. I wonder which religious traditions are going to be allowed to drink the waters of scholarship in the deserts of Arabia at Jeddah? As the writer of the Bedu Blog explains:
I have had queries from some readers wanting to know that since there are not cordial diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, whether those who practice the Jewish faith are in fact allowed into the Kingdom. I will share based on what I personally know. To begin with, when one completes a visa application to come to the Kingdom, one must designate (among other things) nationality, place of birth and religion. You may ask, why does one have to identify their religion on a visa application? This is due to the fact that only muslims are allowed into the holy cities of Makkah and Medina so as a result, ones visa (and subsequent iqama if applicable) will indicate whether one is a muslim or non-muslim.
In general, if one cites Jewish as their religion but not born in Israel or from Israel, then it is likely the visa will be granted. However the odds of a visa being denied increase if one was born in Israel. I am personally not aware of anyone who is a Jew and from Israel being granted a visa to enter the Kingdom.
Sounds fair, right? After all, who are we to judge? Sure, during my time on campus, we learned that the only possible strategy for dealing with the apartheid regime of South Africa was condemnation, divestment, disengagement and boycott. But it’s different with Saudi Arabia, because.
And, the current dip in oil prices notwithstanding, I am every bit as sure that Dr. Tilghman’s view of the matter is not colored by the precipitous fall in the value of Princeton’s endowment, which the PAW describes as a “double digit drop” but this article estimates is more likely “down 25% or more since June 30 if they were to assign realistic values to their illiquid investments.” Certainly the prospect of a gooey flow of black gold into those orange and black coffers for a change could not have anything to do with that liquidity crisis.
I suppose Saudi Arabia’s religious Jim Crow laws will not be a problem as long as the Muslim-only “holy cities of Makkah and Medina” aren’t the site of the next meeting of trustees of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, or none of the diverse members of the student body needs, I don’t know, a book from a library there — oh, never mind.
UPDATE: Nice point from Soccer Dad: Remember when Yale turned down a $20 million endowment because the donor wanted it to fund study of Western Civilization? The New York Times praised Yale at the time, “No self-respecting educational institution can allow an outsider — no matter how well-meaning or generous — to dictate its education priorities.” I wonder how they feel about a prestigious college – in this case Princeton – ceding its control, not to a generous donor but to a government that seeks to stifle free inquiry? My guess is that if the Times editorializes, it will ignore the restrictions the partnership with Saudi Arabia will impose on Princeton and praise the university for being open to new ways of thinking.