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Harvard Extension School Ends Agreement with Saudi Crown Prince’s Foundation to Allocate Seats to Its Affiliates

Extension School Layoffs
Harvard Extension School

Harvard Extension School will no longer allocate 100 spots in its summer school program to students sponsored by MiSK, Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s personal charity, according to University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain.

Though Harvard never publicly touted the Saudi Arabian partnership, a MiSK press release first advertised the five-year agreement in 2016. The release stated that Harvard promised it would allocate 12.5 percent of its summer school program’s 800 seats for MiSK students, alongside a photograph of Saudi-sponsored students in Cambridge.

“The partnership between MiSK Foundation and Harvard University reflects the Foundation’s interests in establishing International partnerships, supporting Saudi youth and developing education in the Kingdom,” the press release said.

Spokespeople for the House of Saud and MiSK did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. Swain’s statement did not address why Harvard was no longer reserving the seats for MiSK-sponsored students.

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Harvard, MIT, and other American universities’ ties to Saudi Arabia have come under increasing scrutiny since Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi was killed last October. Although Saudi royals expressed shock at Khashoggi’s death, experts on the regime and intelligence organizations have concluded Prince Mohammed was almost certainly responsible.

The MiSK program’s closure marks the second time Harvard has cut one of its ties to Prince Mohammed and the Saudi royal family. Last November, the Kennedy School cancelled a scheduled lecture by Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, who had previously spoke at the school five times. He said at the time that Kennedy School administrators told him they made the decision because of Khashoggi’s murder.

The school’s financial connections to Saudi Arabia have also prompted sharp rebuke from both Harvard affiliates and Cambridge residents.

In April 2018, the Cambridge City Council passed a unanimous resolution calling on Harvard and MIT to dissociate themselves from the Saudi government — a directive not followed by either institution at the time. Nearly a hundred city residents, including Harvard and MIT affiliates, also organized an event in February to raise awareness about the schools’ connections to Saudi Arabia and its heir apparent.

In response to the increasing criticism, MIT administrators released a statement in February affirming faculty engagement with partners in Saudi Arabia and offering guidance on how to evaluate new and existing partnerships.

Aside from the lecture and summer program, Harvard has maintained some of its other connections to the Saudi royal family. These are largely in the form of gifts royals have made to several schools and departments over the past two decades.

Several endowed professorships across Harvard’s schools are named for the Saudi royals that funded them, including some in the Islamic Studies program and at Harvard Law School.

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at shera.avi-yonah@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @saviyonah.

—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at alexandra.chaidez@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.

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