Opinion letter to the editor

A letter to Associate Provost Lester on Saudi Arabia

Biology professor Frank Solomon responds to Lester’s report on MIT-Saudi relations

Professor Richard K. Lester
Associate Provost

Dear Professor Lester,

Thank you for inviting comments on the report you wrote on MIT’s engagement with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

I read the report with great interest, and with memories of previous discussions of related issues. 

One illuminating guideline for considering MIT’s connections with governments or businesses or individuals whose values contradict those we avow comes from Professor Stanley Hoffman. He was a professor of government at Harvard, and he participated in the debate over divestment from South Africa because of that country’s policy of apartheid. In that case, Harvard took a position similar to the one you propose that MIT take with respect to Saudi Arabia. I will paraphrase Hoffman: 

He asked, are there any circumstances under which our institution would end relations with such an agent as Saudi Arabia? And if so, how would those circumstances differ from those we face with Saudi Arabia? That is, could a government behave worse than Saudi Arabia did with respect to Khashoggi, and continues to behave in its horrendous campaign in Yemen, and MIT would still do business?

Frank Solomon.
Professor of Biology