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5 Midwest Universities Suspend Aid Programs in Saudi Arabia

July 2, 1975
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A consortium of five state universities in the Middle West has suspended participation in an evaluation project for the University of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia following the refusal of government authorities there to grant a visa to a Jewish professor. The suspension marks the first time an American university or group of educational institutions has halted an aid program abroad on grounds of anti-Jewish discrimination, according to the American Jewish Congress, which made public the details of the action.

The Midwest University Consortium for International Activities, Inc, acted at its regular monthly meeting in Chicago last week. The suspension was hailed by Phil Baum, associate executive director of the American Jewish Congress as “an eloquent demonstration that the importation of foreign religious prejudices to our shores is rejected by the American academic community.”

The consortium is composed of Indiana University, Michigan State University and the Universities of Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Founded in 1964, it has provided evaluation and other services to institutions of higher education in Indonesia, Ethiopia, Somalia, Thailand and other countries. Under an agreement with the University of Riyadh, the consortium sent a team of 10 experts to Saudi Arabia in May and June to evaluate the university’s programs in agriculture, education, engineering, medicine and other subjects.


Earlier, however, the faculty committee on international programs at Michigan State University had voted not to participate in the project without assurances of non-discrimination from the Saudis. Dr. Clifton Wharton, president of Michigan State, wrote in March to the University of Riyadh requesting an invitation for Dr. Ralph Smukler, dean of international programs at Michigan State, to make an on-site review of the program. Dr. Smukler, who is Jewish and a member of the consortium’s board of directors, applied for a visa to Saudi Arabia in April.

Despite repeated letters and cables, no response was ever received from the University of Riyadh, Dr. Smukler told the AJCongress. Earlier this month, he said, “I was informed that after numerous visits to the Saudi Arabian Embassy, the travel service in Washington which had forwarded my visa application received a letter from the embassy stating that the necessary ‘certificate of no objection’ had not been received from Saudi Arabia and that the visa officer did not think they would ever receive one due to the fact that I am of the Jewish faith.” Dr. Smukler said he had listed his religion as Jewish on the visa application form and had supplied a letter from his rabbi attesting to his religion.

In response to this refusal, the consortium adopted a resolution declaring; “The exclusion of persons of Jewish faith from Saudi Arabia, as demonstrated by the failure to issue a visa to a member of the consortium board of directors who is Jewish, is a governmental policy which the consortium cannot accept and which prevents our consortium from continuing participation in the project.”

Dr. David B. Johnson, Dean of Foreign Studies at the University of Wisconsin, said that if a non-discrimination agreement could be reached with the University of Riyadh, the project would be resumed. “If not,” he said, “the consortium will further act to withdraw totally.”


In welcoming the action, Baum called on Secretary of the Treasury William B. Simon and Secretary of Commerce Frederick Dent “to adopt a comparable public stand to insure that all projects initiated under the auspices of the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation will be free from both the fact and the threat of religious discrimination.”

The suspension of the consortium’s programs in Saudi Arabia follows the breakdown last month of negotiations between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Saudi Arabia over a guarantee for the entry of Jews to work on a water resources project. The negotiations collapsed when Prince Mohammed Ibn Faisal, chairman of the Saline Water Conversion Corporation, refused to sign a contract providing that Saudi Arabia would not deny a visa to any member of the work staff or academic personnel assigned to the project by M. I. T.

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