Columbia economist decries accolade given to Meles Zenawi

September 21st, 2010 Print Print Email Email

In an email message sent to Columbia Economics faculty, world-renowned economist, Jagdish Bhagwati, vehemently denounces the ill-advised tribute earlier accorded to Ethiopia’s dictator, Meles Zenawi.

Characterizing the Columbia faculty who were behind the invitation of Zenawi as “entrepreneurs,” Professor Bhagwati writes:

… as soon as you dilute these objectives [i.e., teaching and high-quality research, the twin pillars of universities' functioning] by giving unaccountable power and funds to “entrepreneurs” whose objective is to use the University to advance their own agendas, you get into situations like the one you object to. It seems probable that the President’s office was merely reproducing uncritically the rubbish that was supplied by one of these Columbia entrepreneurs whose objective is to ingratiate himself with influential African leaders regardless of their democratic and human-rights record, to get PR and “goodies” for themselves at African summits, at the UN where these leaders have a vote, etc.”

He went on to affirm:

In short, the rot begins with these people, NOT with President Bollinger who is merely a victim of these “unacademic” Professors on campus who have gotten close to him, I am afraid.”

Jagdish Bhagwati is a University Professor at Columbia University and a Senior Fellow in International Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations. He has been Economic Policy Adviser to Arthur Dunkel, Director General of GATT (1991-93), Special Adviser to the UN on Globalization, and External Adviser to the WTO. He has served on the Expert Group appointed by the Director General of the WTO on the Future of the WTO and the Advisory Committee to Secretary General Kofi Annan on the NEPAD process in Africa, and was also a member of the Eminent Persons Group under the chairmanship of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso on the future of UNCTAD. Five volumes of his scientific writings and two of his public policy essays have been published by MIT press. The recipient of six festschrifts in his honor, he has also received several prizes and honorary degrees, including awards from the governments of India (Padma Vibhushan) and Japan (Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star). Professor Bhagwati’s latest book, In Defense of Globalization, was published by Oxford University Press in 2004 to worldwide acclaim.

The full text of Professor Bhagwati’s message is cut and pasted below.

Sent: Sat 9/18/2010 6:11 AM
From: Professor Jagdish Bhagwati
University Professor, Economics and Law
Columbia University

I understand the anguish of Professor Nagash over the Columbia University invitation to PM Zenawi of Ethiopia who is allegedly a man deserving of condemnation, especially as regards academic freedom and independence in his country (especially since Columbia is a university).

I understand also that the objection is not to the invitation per se but particularly regarding the encomiums extended to this PM on the Presidential website (without President Bollinger even knowing about its contents, I am sure).

Columbia has correctly decided to be a global university, like some others, like Yale. But this must mean bringing foreign universities and faculties and students, and our own, into mutually rewarding contact: i.e. through teaching and high-quality research, the twin pillars of universities’ functioning through centuries.

But as soon as you dilute these objectives by giving unaccountable power and funds to “entrepreneurs” whose objective is to use the University to advance their own agendas, you get into situations like the one you object to. It seems probable that the President’s office was merely reproducing uncritically the rubbish that was supplied by one of these Columbia entrepreneurs whose objective is to ingratiate himself with influential African leaders regardless of their democratic and human-rights record, to get PR and “goodies” for themselves at African summits, at the UN where these leaders have a vote, etc.

In short, the rot begins with these people, NOT with President Bollinger who is merely a victim of these “unacademic” Professors on campus who have gotten close to him, I am afraid.

In short, the real issues are different from what you worry about. We need a dialogue on how Universities are being “captured” by such entrepreneurs who should NOT be in universities, or at least in prominent positions at Universities. And we need full transparency on their activities and University funding (which is often diverted in effect to them at the expense of scholarly research and teaching.

Warm good wishes,

Professor Bhagwati
www.columbia.edu/~jb38

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