Flanked by security guards and an armored vehicle, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his entourage descended on Harvard Saturday evening to discuss higher education with Boston-area university leaders and faculty.
Prince Mohammed specifically requested to visit Harvard during his multi-week tour of the United States, University spokesperson Tania deLuzuriaga wrote in an email.
Boston is one of several U.S. cities the crown prince is visiting to court investors to back his economic and social reforms, changes aimed at reducing Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil.
While at Harvard, Prince Mohammed participated in two private roundtable conversations at the University's faculty club—one with Harvard professors who focus on Saudi Arabia and other areas pertinent to the reforms he outlined in his Saudi Vision 2030 document, according to Vice Provost of International Affairs Mark C. Elliott.
Elliott said research universities and startups in the area drew Prince Mohammed to Cambridge.
“He’s very interested in the connection between research, entrepreneurship and innovation and how they fit together to fuel the economy,” Elliott added.
The second event involved presidents of local universities and colleges, who spoke about higher education and technology-related education. University President Drew G. Faust could not attend because of a prior commitment, according to deLuzuriaga, but Provost Alan M. Garber “greeted the prince and facilitated the discussions.”
Elliott said the conversation was more abstract than it was policy-focused.
“There was no discussion of particular areas of reform in education or anything else for that matter,” Elliott said.
Elliott also said the crown prince mostly listened to the commentary during the meetings, rather than sharing his own thoughts.
“He really spent 90 percent of the time simply listening and making polite but limited responses to what he was hearing,” Elliott said.
During the meeting, the prince said he was impressed by what he saw at Harvard. He also said he shared the concerns of some speakers about the need to prepare young people for jobs that do not yet exist.
Prince Mohammed visited MIT for a forum entitled “Innovation to Impact” earlier Saturday, where dozens of protesters criticized Saudi actions in Yemen, according to The Tech, MIT’s newspaper. An online petition calling for MIT to cancel his invitation amassed more than 6,000 signatures.
Harvard did not widely publicize the crown prince’s visit prior to his arrival in Cambridge and Prince Mohammed did not participate in any public events on campus.
Prince Mohammed met with U.S. President Donald Trump a few days prior to his arrival at Harvard. At that meeting, Trump vowed to assist the crown prince in executing a long-stalled arms deal between the two countries.
Prince Mohammed's tour comes in the wake of controversies surrounding the crown prince's ascent to power, especially his alleged purging of possible challengers to his rule, including members of the royal family.
Harvard has a history of ties to the Saudi royal family. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal gave $20 million to Harvard in 2005, prompting the University to establish the Alwaleed Islamic Studies Program and to endow three professorships in his name. Those professorships are held by Divinity School Professor Ousmane Kane, art historian David Roxburgh, and religious studies scholar Malika Zeghal.
Prince Mohammed imprisoned Alwaleed, his cousin, in the fall for several months.
A heavy security presence accompanied the crown prince during his Cambridge visit Saturday evening. Nearly 30 security vehicles and roughly 10 motorcycles lined Quincy St., which security officials kept closed to vehicle traffic for more than an hour while the crown prince remained inside the faculty club. An armored tactical vehicle also parked next to the Barker Center on Prescott St.
Police briefly closed the sidewalk near the faculty club before Prince Mohammed's exit. Shortly after 7 p.m., dozens of onlookers snapped photos of the crown prince and his entourage as security personnel whisked him out of the building and into a waiting car—and at least one waiting bag of Tasty Burger.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: March 26, 2018
Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly indicated that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman requested to meet with Harvard faculty and administrators. In fact, he only requested to visit Harvard.
—Staff writer Edith M. Herwitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @edith_herwitz.
—Staff writer Luke W. Vrotsos can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @luke_vrotsos.
—Alexandra A. Chaidez, Delano R. Franklin, Cecilia R. D’Arms, and William S. Flanagan contributed reporting.