The Harvard Case: Donors Cannot Co-opt AcademiaDecember 5, 2023
The article discusses a controversial whistleblower complaint by disinformation scholar Joan Donovan, who claims that Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and Dean Doug Elmendorf sidelined and eventually fired her after she discussed potential research into the leaked Facebook Papers. These documents revealed that the company now known as Meta was aware of its products’ real-world harms, drawing the ire of the Meta boss, who was a big donor. At the same time, Harvard was arranging to receive a $500 million donation from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, started by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan.
The article argues that it’s unnecessary to find direct evidence of Meta demanding Harvard to muzzle Donovan, as the looming donation and selective grumbling can be as effective as a direct demand. It also points out other instances where Meta used its financial influence to get what it wanted behind the scenes, as well as similar tactics used by other companies and donors. The article concludes by discussing the potential damage to Harvard’s reputation and mission if it continues to prioritize pleasing elite interests over academic scholarship.