The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Ford grant raises questions

By Michael Barnes

Macalester was selected in December as one of 27 colleges and universities to receive a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation as part of an initiative to promote tolerance and academic freedom on U.S. campuses.When the contract for the grant money arrived in February, however, there was a clause that required Macalester to agree ƒ?oenot to promote or engage in violence, terrorism, bigotry or the destruction of any state.ƒ??

The anti-terrorism language, adopted by the Ford Foundation in Jan. 2004, and added as a stipulation to all grant contracts and solicitation letters, raised concerns at the time among university officials around the country that the new policy might inhibit academic freedom within institutions of higher education.

Helen Warren, the director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, the campus department that oversees the administration of all grants to the college, said Macalester never contested the change in grant language, and signed and returned the most recent grant contract on Feb. 15.

Warren discussed the anti-terrorism language with Dean of International Studies Ahmed Samatar, Classics Professor Andy Overman, and Provost Diane Michelfelder, who all agreed that the language posed no challenge for Macalester.

ƒ?oeWe had a discussion about whether there was a problem in signing [the contract], so the issue was carefully considered,ƒ?? Warren said. ƒ?oeThe consensus was that we should move forward.ƒ??

The grant money will support an ongoing archeological excavation in Omrit, Israel, led by Overman, and an on-campus conference on the Middle East, Warren said. The programs will be administered by Samatar and Overman.

ƒ?oeI donƒ?TMt feel in any way inhibited by this grant,ƒ?? Overman said.

Overmanƒ?TMs only concern is whether the Macalester community will be open and receptive to listening to the people who may come to campus for the conference.

ƒ?oeThe biggest challenge is for us as a community to decide what voices we want to hear,ƒ?? he said. ƒ?oeIs our culture able to receive really diverse views?ƒ??
The grant is part of the ƒ?oeDifficult Dialoguesƒ?? initiative the Ford Foundation launched in April 2005 to promote ƒ?oecampus environments where sensitive subjects can be discussed in a spirit of open scholarly inquiryƒ?Ýwith respect for different viewpoints,ƒ?? according to a press release from the foundation.

In April 2004, provosts from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell and five other universities sent a letter to the Ford Foundation protesting what they described as a possible infringement on academic freedom.

The foundation did not alter its policies, but did address the concerns of the university provosts in informal letters that said only the ƒ?oeofficial speechƒ?? of the college or university would be considered under the anti-terrorism stipulation included in the grant letters and contracts.

In October 2004, The New York Times reported that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) turned down $1.15 million in grant funds, and returned another $68,000 because it could not agree with the new grant language.

Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the ACLU, told The Times that the language of the contracts was broad and ambiguous, leaving them open to interpretation that could impede free speech and limit advocacy work not only at his organization but also at other nonprofits.

ƒ?oeWhat do they mean by terrorism? What constitutes support for terrorism? We need to know precisely what those words mean,ƒ?? Romero said in The Times. ƒ?oeIt is certainly appropriate for Ford ƒ?Ý to require grantees to comply with existing federal law, but in a climate of fear and intimidation, vague language that goes beyond the legal requirements is regrettable and ill advised.ƒ??

In response to pressure from universities and the ACLU, the Ford Foundation began a public relations campaign that included a public memorandum and a ƒ?oevaluesƒ?? letter that identified a formal rationale for adding the anti-terrorism language, and clarified the foundationƒ?TMs support of academic freedom.

ƒ?oeWe have stated unequivocally that we support academic freedom and do not intend to interfere with the speech of faculty and students on university campuses,ƒ?? the public memorandum said. ƒ?oeOur grant letter relates to the official speech of the university and to the speech that the university explicitly endorses. In other exchanges, we have stated clearly the distinction between promoting the destruction of a state, prohibited by our grant letter, and expressing a critique of government policy.ƒ??

By the end of 2004, eight of the nine universities had made a compromise with the Ford Foundation.

ƒ?oeI donƒ?TMt know if any of the language changed, but the clarification that the provosts sought was enough to allay their concerns,ƒ?? Warren, who closely followed the outcome of the dispute, said.

Stanford University, whose provost signed onto the initial letter of protest sent to the Ford Foundation, engaged in protracted discussions with the foundation before finally agreeing to the new language in January 2005. Until that time, Stanford had adopted a moratorium on accepting funds from the Ford Foundation.

The Ford Foundation added the anti-terrorism clause as a response to charges that foundation money had supported the efforts of anti-Semitic groups in attendance at a conference in Durban, South Africa in 2001.

ƒ?oeWe made these changes in response to heightened concerns among the public and policymakers about violence, terrorism, and bigotry and the possible misuse of philanthropic money for these purposes,ƒ?? the Ford Foundation public memorandum said.

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