UC Berkeley was given a very substantial charitable donation to fund the hiring of a professor for their Jewish studies program. Things did not go as planned.
Daniel Pipes reports.
Smart University Giving
With a flurry of good will and generosity, the Helen Diller Family Fund gave $5 million for Jewish studies in 1999 to the University of California at Berkeley to bring an Israeli professor to the university each year. The intent was partially to balance the anti-Israel invective that permeates that university. As Diller herself put it, “With the protesting and this and that, we need to get a real strong Jewish studies program in there. Hopefully, it will be enlightening to have a visiting professor.” The appointing committee promised that visiting scholars’ political beliefs would not be considered, while Diller indicated her confidence in the committee.
But the Helen Diller Family Programs in Jewish Studies from the start went awry. The university used the funds to hire Oren Yiftachel, a viciously anti-Zionist professor who holds that “Israel has created a colonial setting, held through violent control and a softening illusion of a nation-state and democratic citizenship.” This left the donor displeased and frustrated; in the words of Moment magazine’s Liel Liebowitz, “having given the endowment, there was nothing she could do but wince.”
As Martin Kramer noted in a review of the Diller case, “academic administrators can be pretty sharp dealers on their own turf.” Having served as an academic administrator, Kramer reveals the drill: “You take the money, you cut the donor’s strings by invoking academic freedom, and you turn the resources to what you think is worthy.” He draws an important conclusion from this sorry tale: “Outside money is wasted in an attempt to cut across the political grain of a department, program, or center. It works best at reinforcing a priority that the professors have already set for themselves.”