To visit Vassar College in New York state is to appreciate what philanthropy can do when it comes to education. The college was set up originally by a brewer called Matthew Vassar for the liberal arts education of young ladies.
I had read about Vassar in literature and heard references to it in American films, so it was truly a pleasure to walk around its beautiful buildings dating back to the Nineteenth Century. I was in architecture heaven and would have loved to live on campus.
This is what money can do when it is used for causes more worthy than buying a football team. But money can also be used as a bribe and as a tool for propaganda.
We must be wary of the undue influence of foreign governments who want to invest in our educational facilities. We must question what a government such as Saudi Arabia wants to achieve by supporting an Islamic faculty in an Australian university.
What does Saudi Arabia expect from its financial outlay to Griffith University in Queensland?
We have already seen how students from Saudi Arabia demanded that university timetables in Victoria be altered to suit their prayer schedules. Will they also demand that they have a say in the curriculum at Griffith otherwise they won’t cough up the cash in future?
Will they try to exert secret pressure on the Vice-Chancellor of Griffith University so that he discriminates against lecturers who criticise Wahabism? A word here and a word there and before you know it, the country which spawned the 9/11 terrorists, has undue influence on our democratic nation.
In my opinion, it is quite acceptable to receive donations from philanthropists as long as there are no foreign strings attached or we will become puppets attached to those strings. As I have already stated, you get nothing for nothing. There’s always a catch. Matthew Vassar wanted to give young ladies a liberal education. And that was admirable. Supporting female education was a welcome ideal in 1861. Other philanthropists such as Carnegie and Stanford also supported universities, but they were Americans whose loyalty was to America. To me that makes a world of difference.
My question is, to whom are the Saudis loyal first and foremost? Whose interests do they represent when they hand over money to our universities? The interests of Australian students or their own?