Whose University is it?

Whose University is it?

Whose University is it? was an event held last Wednesday with the goal of grappling with opaque university partnerships.

On March 30th, 2018, MIT opened its doors to Mohammed bin Salman - the crown prince of Saudi Arabia sparking questions about the elite institution’s obligation to the wider Cambridge community and its willingness to be transparent. Almost a year later, a group of Cambridge residents are still demanding that the institution reckon with these questions. Grif Peterson, Caitlyn Olson, Ryan Costello, Yarden Katz, and Alonso Espinosa Dominguez organized the Whose University is it? Conference which occurred on Wednesday, February 27th. The conference hosted a variety of speakers who spoke on a wide range of topics all related to the issue of transparency in elite institutions.

“I feel like we were able to bring together a wide range of speakers and really drive home the point that we’re not here reckoning with all of these harms in real time but we’re painting a picture to justify why future action is needed,” Grif Peterson said after the conference finished.

The conference was divided into three parts. The first, entitled “Reckon,” featured speakers discussing the harms caused by opaque university partnerships. “MIT influences laws to benefit itself rather than the community,” said Lee Farris, Vice President of the Cambridge Residents Alliance during her speech. This part of the conference, through powerful and impassioned talks, illustrated the damages caused by a lack of transparency from elite institutions.

The second part, entitled “Disclose,” featured speakers discussing why it is pertinent for universities to disclose their partnerships. Sally Haslanger, a Professor at MIT, charged elite institutions with perpetuating a plutocracy, or a government run by the wealthy. She suggested that as long as the elite institutions lacked transparency it will be impossible to hold them accountable.

The third part, entitled “Repair,” featured speakers discussing past, ongoing, and imagined ways to repair a broken system. Ryan Costello, one of the organizers of the event, utilized this section to encourage audience members to challenge the assertion that a university’s endowment is apolitical.

“Hearing other student leaders and community leaders talk about divestment strategies and just having an overall uplifting message is really exciting,” said Sophie Bartholomew, herself a community organizer who was in attendance of the event. Bartholomew applauded the event for calling audience members as well as the wider community to action. “I think sometimes events can get bogged down by all the work there is to do and I think this event had a really good energy [and felt] really uplifting,” she concluded.

“We’d like to keep pushing this model forward on [college] campuses,” said Grif Peterson, expressing a desire to continue to raise awareness of the issue and to continue grappling with opaque university partnerships. “It’s our right to know,” Peterson concluded and encouraged community members to get involved in similar events and to continue seeking transparency from elite institutions.

For more information about ways to get involved in this effort, visit whoseuniversityisit.github.io