“These organizations are supporting important research and activities at MIT on terms that honor our principles and comply with our policies,” he said. “They are also providing critical resources to support the education of outstanding Saudi students and women scientists and engineers, who will surely be in the vanguard of social change in that country.”
Still, Lester said the killing has likely put an end to earlier discussions about a major expansion of the school’s work in Saudi Arabia. In previous conversations, he said, some at MIT have suggested that by building wider ties, the institute could help steer the kingdom toward more progressive policies.
“The Khashoggi murder has deflated many of those hopes,” Lester wrote.
The report revealed what Lester called a “disturbing” connection between the Khashoggi murder and MIT’s campus. When Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited the school in March, his entourage included Maher Mutreb, who was later identified by the U.S. government as one of 17 Saudis who organized and carried out the killing of the Washington Post columnist.
“This individual had engaged with members of the MIT community at that time — an unwelcome and unsettling intrusion into our space, even though evident only in retrospect,” Lester wrote.
His report suggests that the school should welcome only “appropriate” Saudi visitors in the future, but does not elaborate on the recommendation.
Lester’s report was based on input from students, faculty and alumni, along with outside experts on Saudi Arabia. It now goes to MIT President Rafael Reif, who called for the review, and will make a final decision.
Since the killing, some on campus have pushed for an end to all financial ties with the kingdom. In an open letter in October, more than 20 graduate students in political science urged MIT leaders to take a stand against Saudi Arabia. Along with the murder, they pointed to the kingdom’s alleged human rights abuses in neighboring Yemen and against women in its own country.
“MIT’s continued collaboration with the Saudi government sends the message that human rights violations can be overlooked in favor of financial considerations,” the letter said.