In The News

Before Killing Of Journalist, Elite US Universities Took $600 Million From Saudi Arabia And Affiliates


by Luke Rosiak

  • Saudi Arabia and affiliates have given over $600 million to U.S. universities.
  • The gifts and contracts are sometimes intended to influence opinion regarding the kingdom.
  • Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi was reportedly murdered by Saudi Arabia operatives in Turkey.

Before the death of a Washington Post contributor in a Saudi Arabian embassy, elite U.S. universities took more than half a billion dollars from the country and its affiliates between 2011 and 2017.

These gifts and contracts, in some instances, are intended to influence students’ and faculty experts’ views on the kingdom.

Saudi Arabian interests paid $614 million to U.S. universities over a six-year period, more than every country but Qatar and the United Kingdom, Department of Education data analyzed by The Daily Caller News Foundation shows. That includes $120 million from the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission to the U.S., whose website says it “disseminate[s] information that reflects Saudi culture, tradition, and heritage through our active participation in academic, cultural, and social activities.”

About $200 million came in the form of gifts, while the rest were contracts. U.S. law requires universities to disclose “information about gifts received from any foreign source, contracts with a foreign entity, and any ownership interests in or control over the institution by a foreign entity.”

The oil-rich nation’s relationship with the U.S. is under scrutiny after it was revealed that Saudi Arabia reportedly killed a Washington Post journalist. The Gulf nation has been a hotbed of inequality, human rights violations and religious extremism.

Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi’s “murder” was a “tremendous mistake” as part of a “rogue operation” in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Khashoggi was reportedly dismembered with a bone saw, and the kingdom’s explanation has been inconsistent.

Saudi-Affiliated Funding to U.S. Universities
Source: Department of Education
Institution Amount
Massachusetts Institute of Technology $77,675,000
George Washington University $76,017,693
George Mason University $63,136,496
Tufts University $46,065,215
Johns Hopkins University $40,295,468
University of Kansas $30,066,721
Harvard University $28,167,613
Stanford University $27,759,040
University of Southern California $22,670,154
Northwestern University $14,408,243
Georgia Institute of Technology $13,433,882
University of California, Berkeley $13,385,510
Eastern Washington University $13,079,062
New York Institute of Technology $12,260,853
University of California, Los Angeles $12,032,553
Ball State University $10,386,082
University of Washington – Seattle $10,150,738

Much of the international affairs literature that informs the U.S. posture toward foreign nations is developed at elite institutions like George Mason University and George Washington University in the D.C. area, whose experts are widely cited. Those universities are among the top recipients of Saudi government funds.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology ranks first in Saudi-affiliated funding, thanks to a $73 million gift from Saudi business magnate Mohammed A. Jameel.

A spokesman for George Washington University did not respond to questions about the $76 million it has received.

George Mason University has frequently been criticized by liberals who say its financial support from the Koch brothers renders it open to influence by political conservatives.

Michael Sandler, a spokesman for GMU, said the Saudi Arabia Cultural Mission money pays tuition for 230 to 270 Saudi students to study there. The Saudi government spends some $6 billion a year, sending its students to top universities abroad.

Other funds pay for collaborative research. The King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology has steered $14 million to Northwestern University, where the two entities have partnered on “a world-class research center that encourages and promotes research in nanotechnology.”

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has carefully cultivated his, and the kingdom’s, public image. Saudi Arabia also employs lobbyists in Washington and donates to think tanks unaffiliated with universities.

But one of its most subtle and effective campaigns might be waged in universities.

In a 2016 Vox article titled “How Saudi Arabia Captured Washington,” a foreign affairs expert said this kind of funding doesn’t generally have a quid-pro-quo attached. Instead, the article explained, this subtler form of influence can be more effective.

Saudi money funding the work of a scholar who studies international affairs “doesn’t mean that he’s bought and paid for,” the expert said. “It’s more about what doesn’t get written about … I could write about Saudi sectarianism, but then I might lose some money … there may be some self-censoring on certain topics you don’t raise unnecessarily, topics that are sensitive to the Saudis.”

The problems that critics now say have gone largely unspoken among Washington’s chattering classes include the kingdom’s relation to religious extremism. A congressional investigation into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks contained pages dealing with Saudi Arabia’s alleged involvement that remained classified until 2016.

One passage says: “While in the United States, some of the September 11 hijackers were in contact with, and received support and assistance from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi Government.… [A]t least two of those individuals were alleged by some to be Saudi intelligence officers.”

Largest Payments
Source: Department of Education
Institution Gift Type Payer Amount
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Monetary Gift Jameel. Mohammed, Abdul $73,000,000
George Mason University Contract Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia $56,675,210
George Washington University Contract Government of Saudi Arabia $55,378,271
Johns Hopkins University Monetary Gift $40,295,468
Tufts University Contract Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission $38,940,121
Stanford University Monetary Gift $27,759,040
Harvard University Contract $24,917,563
University of Kansas Contract Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission $24,888,384
George Washington University Contract Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia $18,293,212
Northwestern University Contract King Abdulaziz City for Sci/Tech $14,363,243

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