These are two writers' opinions, both opposing the appointment of Karl Eikenberry as executive director of the Buffett Institute. For more background on General Eikenberry's appointment, read our Eikenberry Explainer.
A brand new position was recently created within the Buffett Institute, that of “executive director.” The former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry has been appointed to this position amongst great controversy, resulting in a petition signed by 67 Northwestern faculty members. The lack of faculty involvement in this pivotal decision is surprising, and the dialogue surrounding it has become inappropriately hostile.
Professor Jorge Coronado, the chair of the Spanish and Portuguese department, helped organize the petition and is staunchly opposed to Eikenberry’s appointment. His largest concerns with Eikenberry’s appointment are his lack of qualifications, and Eikenberry’s past comments about how U.S. foreign policy interests should play an integral role in studying the humanities. In his 2014 speech at the Chicago Humanities Festival, Eikenberry controversially advocated "instrumentalizing the humanities and social sciences research to advance U.S. soft power." He went on to say that “sitting in one’s arts and humanities classroom worrying about declining enrollments, cursing the STEM god, might be good grist for Shakespearean tragedy, but it does little to help the cause.” The Buffett Institute “addresses critical global issues through collaborative research, public dialogue and engaged scholarship,” which Coronado believes should not be colored by government policy.
The Buffett Institute facilitates independent research in the humanities and social sciences, yet its future executive director publicly discredited the humanities as not being “outside of the box” or competitive “in this year of 2014.” Eikenberry’s appointment aligns Northwestern and the Buffett Institute with his controversial views. These comments downplay the research of the same humanities scholars he is slated to work with.
Coronado also points out that President Schapiro and University deans are all scholars who “embody the ideals of a research University.” However, Eikenberry does not have a Ph.D., nor has he published a single peer-reviewed piece of research. Coronado’s petition goes on to state that although Eikenberry has taught at Stanford, he is not a “regular member” of their faculty and is by no means an academic – he is a political figure and a career military professional. His connections and qualifications as such are impressive, and he could function as a bridge between Northwestern and other government/policy officials. While the administration has pointed out the values of such a relationship, it does not change the fact that he has never held a directorial position at a university.
The holes in Eikenberry’s track record should concern students and faculty, particularly since the Buffett Institute recently received $100 million to expand research and programming. Roberta Buffett Elliott’s donation is meant to take global studies at Northwestern to new levels, and as executive director, Eikenberry would supervise these funds. Based on his previous comments on the humanities, faculty are concerned with how he will use the donation; if research that is currently supported by the Institute will continue to be funded, and if controversial research will be supported in the future. Coronado worries that the fund will only be used to support research which aligns with government policy, which is a “violation of academic integrity.”
Additionally, the tone surrounding this issue has been, frankly, shocking. President emeritus Henry Bienen referred to the petition signed by 46 respected faculty members as “uninformed, narrow-minded and extremely foolish.” This statement’s insulting tone fails to foster a healthy discourse between administration and faculty. Whether or not they are on the appointment committee, Northwestern faculty have the right to issue a petition and question the actions of the administration. This new position will directly affect Northwestern undergraduates, the research of our professors and one of the newest and best funded institutions on campus. Right now the University aims to revamp the Buffett Center into a world-class global studies research institute, and students and faculty alike should have a stake in who will lead this transformation.
I have personal reservations about blurring the lines between academia and U.S. foreign policy. I have been learning Persian, spoken in Afghanistan as the dialect Dari. This summer I will be doing an intensive language study in Tajikistan through the Critical Language Scholarship, funded by the State Department. It is deeply important to me that I have the freedom to choose how to incorporate my language skills into my career; I very explicitly noted on my application that I am considering going into academia.
In addition to his position on the humanities and social sciences, Eikenberry’s qualifications are shaky. Even at the retired general’s alma mater, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the directors of academic research institutes hold Ph.Ds. President Morton Schapiro and provost Daniel Linzer, however, have stated that Eikenberry’s career and connections would provide students “access to a broad array of scholars, government officials and world leaders.”
The general’s illustrious career is continuously referenced as a selling point, despite Eikenberry ending his time as ambassador to Afghanistan amidst controversy. In 2010, classified comments he made about the leadership potential of former Afghan president Hamid Karzai were leaked to the New York Times. Karzai later expressed frustration that NATO forces were “here for their own purposes, their own goals, and they’re using our soil for that.” In response, Eikenberry said it was “inappropriate” for Karzai to say these forces were “only [there] to advance their own narrow interest.” However, I think Karzai’s analysis is consistent with the former ambassador's comments on the advancement of U.S. soft power.
Political science professor Jacqueline Stevens has also done research on Eikenberry’s support of Rwandan president Paul Kagame, whom he claims is an exemplary leader. Although markers such as education and health-care have improved under Kagame’s party, extreme violations of freedom of expression rank Rwanda 161 out of 171 countries by the 2015 World Press Freedom Index. The alarming nature of this endorsement is made worse by a piece in which Eikenberry wrote that purchasers of U.S. arms may be enticed not only by their quality but, “opportunities to study in advanced civil and military institutions.” It should be no small issue that we want to give leadership to someone who believes in this sort of relationship between the U.S. military and universities.
Unfortunately, faculty opposed to Eikenberry are being denied a platform to voice their concerns. A Faculty Senate vote was announced under highly questionable terms shortly before ASG’s vote regarding Eikenberry’s appointment. Coronado said in an email:
The Faculty Senate meeting on April 6 and in particular the vote to support the Eikenberry appointment made a mockery of faculty governance. In violation of FS rules, the agenda item was only announced 2.5 hours before the meeting. No vote of the senate majority seems to have been taken in order to waive the rule that an agenda be issued 3 days before. During the meeting, only information in favor of the appointment was given, and faculty who held opposing viewpoints were hardly allowed to speak. It was an example of governance structures being subverted in order to stifle dialogue and any dissent.
Oftentimes, it’s easy to forget the power we have to hold our University accountable, but we are in that position now. Coronado and Stevens noted that the administration began to respond to concerned parties only after students involved themselves in this dialogue. The ASG vote on Eikenberry’s appointment has been postponed until next Wednesday, April 20, and I encourage my peers to inform themselves at this pivotal moment and make their voices heard.