Take the money and run

Posted: 27 May 2011 in Uncategorized
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The Harvard Boys took it from Saif Qaddafi, and they were only too willing to do his bidding.

The most ambitious courtier was the Monitor Group, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, consultancy that assists countries with economic reform. Co-founder ­Michael Porter, a professor at Harvard Business School, began traveling to Tripoli to meet with Saif, bringing with him energy consultant and Pulitzer Prize–winning author Daniel Yergin. In June 2004, Porter, Yergin, Fahmy-Hudome, and C&O head Sandra Charles attended an economic forum Saif was overseeing at Tripoli’s Corinthia Hotel. Saif, the Americans found, was a refreshing change from Muammar, who, dressed in one of his quasi-military getups, was known to provoke visitors by decrying the hypocrisies of the West. In a natty suit, with shaved head and eyeglasses gleaming, Saif directed the proceedings with the efficiency of an executive. “It was the seminal meeting of launching the new Libya. This was the team that was going to help him do it,” says Fahmy-Hudome.

That night, Saif sent cars to collect the team and bring them to his beach house for a seafood dinner. Having changed out of his suit, he received them in a flowing white thaub and traditional taqiyah cap. They toasted to the future of Libya.

Two years after that toast, in 2006, Porter presented the Qaddafis with a plan for the rehabilitation of the country that called for a “unique model of ‘popular capitalism’ ” starting with the energy sector, which would revive the economy and, eventually, Libyan society. Muammar could do all this, they promised, by 2019, the 50th anniversary of his coup.

For a yearly fee that reached $3 million, Monitor also mounted an international public-relations campaign to “enhance international understanding and appreciation of Libya and the contribution it has made and may continue to make to its region and to the world,” according to a memo. This entailed bringing to Libya a who’s-who gallery of public intellectuals, including Harvard’s Robert Putnam and Joseph Nye and former LSE director Anthony Giddens. Some, like Barber, were paid consulting fees. Others wrote glowing stories about the new Libya in the press, and Monitor offered, for an additional $2.4 million, to ghostwrite a book under Muammar’s name.

Universities have been taking it from rich conservatives for a long time, and the economic crisis has created even more openings.

The movement to buy conservative beachheads within academia and vilify leftist professors is clearly not new. What’s new today is that universities are incredibly vulnerable to conservative encroachment and attack. A debilitating economic crisis has dried up state revenue amidst a long-term move to casualize academic labor so that part-time adjuncts scurry from school to school with no hope of tenure, while tuition continues to rise while household incomes plummet. Those professors lucky enough to land full-time jobs are not very often eligible for tenure. Students shut out of enrollment-capped community colleges are forced to try their luck at for-profit “colleges” like the University of Phoenix, where record numbers of students accumulate record debt with few job prospects.

“The neoliberal attack on the university is now backed by so much money and so many resources that it’s almost overwhelming,” says [Henry] Giroux. “You couple that with deficits, and it’s a perfect storm.”

Clearly, both liberal and conservative professors are willing to take the money and run, peddling their influence both on and off campus. And, in this “perfect storm,” it’s probably only going to get worse in the years to come.

Update

Texas A&M University faculty members, alarmed by the apparent influence of the right-wing Texas Public Policy Foundation on their university, have urged the system’s regents to distance themselves from the foundation’s educational reform proposals that are moving the university toward a “for-profit mentality.”

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