Monday, March 28, 2011

Does Being a Harvard Professor Mean Never Having to Have to Say Your Sorry?

At his web site, David Warsh has broken down how the Libyan crisis has unclothed some at the heart of eltist education, who played  footsie with the Gadaffis. Warsh also shows the significantly different ways it  was handled at the top of the London School of Economics versus the way Harvard's Michael Porter is handling his involvement with Libya.

Warsh writes:
There at the bottom of the front page of the Financial Times [in February 2006] was a story that no one else had that day, or any other – a scoop. It turned out that [Michael] Porter, [the Harvard Business School management guru], and his friend Daniel Yergin and the consulting firms which they had respectively co-founded and founded, Monitor Group and Cambridge Energy Research Associates, had been working for a year on a plan to diversify the Libyan economy away from its heavy dependence on oil...

A year later, in February 2007, BusinessWeek trumpeted the relationship, first on the eve of another Porter lecture on the “New Dawn” in Tripoli, then again a month later. The Cambridge, Mass., firm that Porter had started fifteen years before with seven other HBS professors had become. BW reported, “deeply engaged in overhauling the Mediterranean petro-state.” It wasn’t clear, the magazine noted, that partial bank privatization and “mini-MBAs” for some 250 emerging leaders would prevail over statism and red tape.

We now know that Khadafy’s son bribed his way into his PhD from the London School of Economics (LSE); that Monitor Group had been paid to help him write his dissertation there (much of which apparently turns out to have been plagiarized, anyway); that the Libyan government was paying Monitor $250,000 a month for its services; that, according to The New York Times, Libya’s sovereign wealth fund today owns a portion of Pearson PLC, the conglomerate that publishes the Financial Times and The Economist...

Sir Howard Davies resigned earlier this month as director of the LSE after it was disclosed he had accepted a ₤1.5 million donation in 2009 from a charity controlled by Saif Khadafy.

It turns out that Monitor also proposed to write a book boosting Khadafy as “one of the most recognizable individuals on the planet,” promised to generate positive press, and to bring still more prominent academics, policymakers and journalists to Libya, according to Farah Stockman of The Boston Globe...

Among those enlisted were Sir Anthony Giddens, former director of the LSE; Francis Fukuyama, then of Johns Hopkins University; Benjamin Barber, of Rutgers University (emeritus); Nicholas Negroponte, founder of MIT’s Media Lab; Robert Putnam and Joseph Nye, both former deans of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Nye received a fee and wrote a broadly sympathetic account of his three-hour visit with Khadafy for The New Republic. He also told the Globe’s Stockman he had commented on a chapter of Saif’s doctoral dissertation. (When The New Republic scolded Nye earlier this month, after Mother Jones magazine disclosed the fee, Nye replied that his original manuscript implied that he had been employed as a consultant by Monitor, but that the phrase had been edited out).

Connoisseurs of the consultant’s art will relish Monitor’s 2007 proposal, with its elaborate plan to write and sell a book about Khadafy as a world-historical figure to a major publisher, and its hints of prospective visits from Cass Sunstein, future constitutional adviser to President Barack Obama (“positive preliminary conversation”) and Nelson Mandela....

Curiously enough, Porter’s name didn’t appear in the Boston Globe account until the twelfth paragraph under the headline “Local Consultants Aided Khadafy/Cambridge firm tried to polish his image”, well below the continuation of the article on an inside page....

It’s true, too, that Harvard University was in no way institutionally involved. After its mission to advise the Russian government on behalf of the US State department collapsed in 1997 amid a welter of conflict of interest charges, Harvard closed its Institute for International Development. After losing a long court battle, and partly as a consequence of it, the university relieved Lawrence Summers of his presidency (but made him a university professor) and revoked economics professor Andrei Shleifer’s endowed chair.

But Porter is also a university professor, one of just twenty who hold Harvard’s highest honor. Monitor consultants and journalists writing about the Libyan program have indiscriminately brandished the Harvard name. How can he have been so personally reckless?

I’ve followed Porter’s career with interest for twenty-five years. Some part of the explanation for his interest in Libya surely has to do with a nearly boundless sense of personal efficacy....

But there is also all that Libyan oil and money. The sovereign wealth fund at its peak was worth $70 billion or so, all of it operating under the indirect control of Saif Khadafy. Income from Libya’s oil production is as much as $40 billion a year....

In a statement last week, Monitor wrote that “just a few years ago many saw a period of promise in Libya.” That was certainly true in Cambridge. What dissenting Libyans in Tripoli witnessed was a parade of well-paid visitors flattering their half-mad dictator, and a squad of Harvard-connected consultants bent on creating a National Security Organization for the government, designed to augment the existing security apparatus with a new corps of MBA-trained personnel officers.

I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for Porter to give some evidence of contrition about his mission to Tripoli. Sir Howard Davies may have resigned as director of the LSE (“The short point is that I am responsible for the school’s reputation and that has suffered”), but being a Harvard professor apparently means never having to say you’re sorry. Perhaps instead the university will find some way to rein in on its professors’ more self-serving ambitions.
Read Warsh's full overview here.