Opinion open letter

An open letter to the MIT Corporation concerning MIT’s ongoing relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

We are members of the MIT community concerned about MIT’s relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its state-controlled subsidiaries. Saudi Arabia is an authoritarian state with​ one of the worst human-rights records in the world. Its shameful record is by now familiar from international press coverage: thousands dead and millions on the brink of famine in the Yemeni Civil War since 2015, the 2018 assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, and the list goes on. Collaborative agreements with an authoritarian state with this record are antithetical to the mission, interests, and values of MIT and of open, democratic societies worldwide. MIT’s choice on this issue should take into account the needs and interests not only of researchers and students at MIT, but of those directly affected by Saudi Arabia’s actions: civilians being bombed in Yemen, women activists being tortured for their efforts to secure basic civil rights, and the millions of children at risk of starvation.

After the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, President Reif solicited input from the MIT community on MIT’s engagements with Saudi Arabia. A subsequent report by Associate Provost Richard Lester states that 74 percent of MIT faculty who submitted comments either strongly objected or leaned against continuing engagements with Saudi Arabia, alongside 76 percent of non-faculty commenters. Yet MIT continues to accept funding from the Saudi Arabian government and government-controlled sources at the level of about $8 million per year. The Saudi Arabia controversy underscores the need to build ethical principles deeply and fundamentally into MIT's international engagement policy.

Given the gravity of Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations, we urge the Corporation to heed the judgment of a significant majority of those who weighed in and to end MIT’s relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

We call upon MIT to:

  1. Terminate all sponsored research programs, partnerships, investments, and financial engagements with Saudi Aramco, SABIC, and KACST. These are state-controlled entities that do not serve a primarily educational mission. MIT’s relations with these entities impugn the good name of the Institute and, by association, lends its prestige to the Saudi regime and risks being counted among its allies.

  2. Provide a transparent justification for why continuing any other relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is consistent with the values of the MIT community. This should take the form of a clear, detailed, and publicly accessible account of MIT’s relationship with each remaining major Saudi sponsor, university, or donor, with avenues for MIT community input. We ask that the MIT Faculty Policy Committee, in coordination with the MIT International Advisory Committee, be charged with this task. If no such justification is possible, end the relationship.

  3. Provide funds and resources to fully replace Saudi funding for any faculty member or student reliant on it. Continue to welcome students and researchers from Saudi Arabia to our campus, as we would students and researchers from any other country, and provide financial aid as appropriate.

  4. Present to the MIT community a comprehensive statement on MIT’s “Ethics of Engagement.” This statement should address both research partnerships and endowment investments. It should describe the decision-making process regarding the ethics of investment in and engagement with companies, governments, and individuals; identify the MIT offices and individuals who are responsible for making such decisions; and clarify what avenues the broader MIT community has for providing input on these decisions.

MIT has the power to make a difference in the world, but not only through its ability to support science and engineering. It is a powerful symbol of credibility and integrity. We object to MIT’s ongoing relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in our name.

Patricia-Maria Weinmann, Associate Coordinator, Radius at MIT
Roger P. Levy, Associate Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Alonso Espinosa Dominguez ’20
Rose Lenehan G
Jonathan King, Professor
Alice Pote, Staff
Sally Haslanger, Ford Professor of Philosophy and Women's & Gender Studies
Ceasar McDowell, Professor of the Practice of Civic Design
Patrick Brown, Postdoctoral associate
Nina Lytton SM ’84, Humanist Chaplaincy Intern
and 223 additional co-signatories listed at https://www.mit-ksa.org/