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Some Harvard professors run international development organizations in their spare time. Others participate in the governing of our country, advising the president on human rights or economics policy. Others run public service think tanks. Others, it turns out, advise and abet internationally despised dictatorial regimes. In the past few weeks, the authority of Libya’s leader—Muammar Gadaffi, who once accused foreign nurse workers of spreading HIV and who many believe to have personally ordered the bombing of PanAm 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland—has been admirably challenged by the Libyan people. And as much as we are inspired by these protests in the name of liberty, we are deeply concerned by an associated discovery here at home.
In a disheartening sequence of events, The Monitor Group, a Cambridge-based management consulting firm, received over $1 million from Gadaffi's government. The Monitor Group provides strategic advice to international clients and derives most of its revenue from Fortune 500 companies and their international equivalents. It has strong ties to Harvard Business School, having been founded in part by Michael Porter, the Bishop William Lawrence University Professor at Harvard Business School, and Mark Fuller, a former assistant professor of business administration at HBS. Four out of 17 of its “thought leaders,” Chris Argyris, Bruce Chew, Fuller, and Porter, advertise current or former HBS faculty affiliations on their company biographies. Yet other Harvard professors were involved in peripheral ways.
As reported by The Boston Globe, the firm received $250,000 per month from 2006 to 2008 from the Libyan government for activities such as, “writing the book proposal, bringing prominent academics to Libya to meet Khadafy ‘to enhance international appreciation of Libya’ and trying to generate positive news coverage of the country.”
Even though the group has officially apologized for its involvement with the Libyan regime, its actions are still problematic. Given that several of the individuals involved were Harvard professors, it’s a shame that we find ourselves in a situation where professors have not only sacrificed intellectual honesty but social responsibility. Regardless of its intent, The Monitor Group—and, by extension, the Harvard affiliates associated with it—nevertheless used the credibility of this institution to put forth opinions that seem to have been informed by factors other than intellectual curiosity alone: Let us not forget the amount of money the firm received from the Libyan government for its services, which even went so far as to include items as academically questionable as a proposal for a book applauding Qaddafi’s alleged belief in “individual freedom.”
To a certain extent, the Harvard name lends a significant amount of authority to its faculty members, above and beyond their individual accomplishments in their respective fields. In the case of Monitor and these professors, it is an utter shame to see that authority so abused. In other words, few would take issue with an individual academic who genuinely believed that working within the framework of a regime as cruel as Gadaffi’s was the most practical course of immediate action and the best way to inspire change. But individuals bestowing their own academic authority—which, in many cases, does much to legitimize a cause—on Libya, for a firm that accepted money from the Libyan government for doing so?
The distinction is an important one, especially given that the authority the University affords its faculty affiliates reflects on the entire Harvard community. Were these professors genuinely interested in Libya’s potential for change rather than its surprisingly deep pockets, our community could hold its head high, and the Harvard name would remain untainted. But because The Monitor Group accepted such large sums of money, we are skeptical of any pure intellectual motive behind its services and are ashamed that the Harvard name has been devalued to such a degree. We regret our community’s culpability in facilitating the Qaddafi regime, no matter how small that culpability may have been.
In short, professors like these who consent to undertake paid consulting work for entities such as the Libyan government (before making academic pronouncements related to these cases) should be held accountable for their actions. This is not to say that the University should take any action against them, but rather that such individuals are aware of their community’s judgment on their decisions.
That said, it would be unfair to blame Monitor and these Harvard professors alone. For years, individuals, businesses, and governments have lent their tacit support to the regime, via diplomatic dialogue, financial stimulus, or tacit agreement. We encourage individuals in all parts of society to evaluate whether their everyday decisions are effecting institutions and organizations whose values do not align with their own.
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