Cash for Citations?

by Henry Farrell on December 30, 2011

“Science”: has an article behind its paywall (but available in “liberated form here”: that likely merits discussion.

bq. At first glance, Robert Kirshner took the e-mail message for a scam. An astronomer at King Abdulaziz University (KAU) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was offering him a contract for an adjunct professorship that would pay $72,000 a year. Kirshner, an astrophysicist at Harvard University, would be expected to supervise a research group at KAU and spend a week or two a year on KAU’s campus, but that requirement was flexible, the person making the offer wrote in the e-mail. What Kirshner would be required to do, however, was add King Abdulaziz University as a second affiliation to his name on the Institute for Scientific Information’s (ISI’s) list of highly cited researchers. …

bq. “I thought it was a joke,” says Kirshner, who forwarded the e-mail to his department chair, noting in jest that the money was a lot more attractive than the 2% annual raise professors typically get. Then he discovered that a highly cited colleague at another U.S. institution had accepted KAU’s offer, adding KAU as a second affiliation on

bq. Kirshner’s colleague is not alone. I have learned of more than 60 top-ranked researchers from different scientific disciplines—all on ISI’s highly cited list—who have recently signed a part-time employment arrangement with the university that is structured along the lines of what Kirshner was offered. Meanwhile, a bigger, more prominent Saudi institution—King Saud University in Riyadh—has climbed several hundred places in international rankings in the past 4 years largely through initiatives specifically targeted toward attaching KSU’s name to research publications, regardless of whether the work involved any meaningful collaboration with KSU researchers.

bq. … Academics who have accepted KAU’s offer represent a wide variety of faculty from elite institutions in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. All are men. Some are emeritus professors who have recently retired from their home institutions. All have changed their affiliation on ISI’s highly cited list—as required by KAU’s contract—and some have added KAU as an affiliation on research papers. Other requirements in the contract include devoting “the whole of your time, attention, skill and abilities to the performance of your duties” and doing “work equivalent to a total of 4 months per contract period.”

Understandably, the “regular faculty at the affected university”: are quite upset. I wonder how many researchers turned this offer down? (I’d hope that most did, but I’d be unsurprised to be disappointed)



rea 12.30.11 at 4:02 pm

If you make a list ranking anything based on objective criteria, it’s going to be gamed.


J. Otto Pohl 12.30.11 at 4:06 pm

This sounds like a good deal to me. The amount of money offered to take a second affiliation is quite high and the work load quite low. I have never made more than $18,000 a year in my life and I am now over 40. If somebody offered me this deal I would take it. I don’t know what Henry makes, but $72,000 a year is an incredibly huge sum for a poor person like me.


Rich Puchalsky 12.30.11 at 4:07 pm

Cool! I like the article’s instant reversion to boilerplate: “Academics both inside and outside Saudi Arabia warn that such practices could detract from the genuine efforts that Saudi Arabia’s universities are making to transform themselves into world-class research centers.”

Let them buy up as many academics as they like. Why shouldn’t labor benefit from this kind of capitalism for a change? Is telling an academics that they shouldn’t personally cash in on the stupid practice of rating institutions any different than telling homeowners that there’s something morally wrong with them being the ones to walk away from a house whose mortgage is for more than it’s worth?


J. Otto Pohl 12.30.11 at 4:14 pm

For once I agree with Rich Puchalsky. It must be the Holiday Season. Unfortunately, I have not received any e-mails from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.


SusanC 12.30.11 at 4:44 pm

This doesn’t seem that different from the usual academic way of doing things, in which academics with proven track record get paid by Universities/funding bodies, in exchange for citing the source of funding on any published research.

Basically, anyone with a large amount of money to spend and the ability to identify productive researchers can run a high-profile research programme. (And if you don’t personally know who the good researchers are, you can hire a consultant who does … for example, you could hire someone who has just finished a stint as a DARPA programme manager). As the usual funding bodies are being a bit tight with money at the moment, now is a good time for a non-traditional player to outbid them.

This blog post was funded by this space for hire.


Henry 12.30.11 at 5:03 pm

J. Otto Pohl – the people who were able to benefit from this were all on the ISI ‘Highly Cited’ list. I imagine that they are all (or nearly all – perhaps there are more defensible ex exceptions) pretty comfortably off. And Rich – I actually do think that there is something wrong with this. Academics like those targeted have a pretty nice life in a lot of ways (as do I, although I would not have been on the radar of a scheme like this). They get decent pay, good working conditions, and, nicest of all, the ability to spend much of their work lives working on topics that they are genuinely interested in. I think there is an implicit social contract that in return for these goodies, academics shouldn’t cash out their reputations. Academic honesty shouldn’t be a negotiable market good.


SusanC 12.30.11 at 5:18 pm

In the UK, creatively maximising your department’s score on the Research Assement Exercize has a long tradition, so we’re quite used to idea of the metrics being gamed…


otto 12.30.11 at 5:33 pm

And prompted by SusanC, are we sure there are no examples of UK universities hiring highly-cited US academics to visit for a couple of weeks a year in order to “obtain” their publications for RAE purposes?


Omega Centauri 12.30.11 at 5:44 pm

Not being into the academic ranking game, I see this as an easy repatriation of petro dollars. And we certainly could use any incremental help to the current account balance. Is the corruption of this list worth several million dollars per year to the country?


Steve 12.30.11 at 5:48 pm

KAU and KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology) are buying up academics from all sorts of fields at a furious pace.

I know of several scientists in my field who have recently moved to KAUST. The Saudis are throwing huge amounts of money at the problem, hoping some of it sticks. Where most universities may have one small virtual reality lab, for instance, KAUST has something like five, all equipped with the Latest and Greatest hardware. Unfortunately, they are largely disused, since there aren’t enough skilled people to properly staff or operate them.


Donald A. Coffin 12.30.11 at 5:59 pm

Would it be OK for these institutions to pay 250K (or whatever figure is necessady) to get “super-star” academics to join their faculties full-time, and for people to take the money? (Didn’t the University of Texas do something like that a couple of decade ago?)

My institution has a “conflict of commitment” policy that would (presumably) make it difficult for faculty to accept the offers as described. Any outwide *employment* (as opposed to consulting, which is OK) must be reported annually and approved annually by one’s academic supervisor…the underlying notion is that such approval will be given only sparingly.


Tom Hurka 12.30.11 at 6:04 pm

I propose an Occupy Harvard Square movement representing the 99% of academics who do not get morally dubious offers from Saudi Arabia as against the 1% who do.


Sandwichman 12.30.11 at 6:28 pm

“Academic honesty shouldn’t be a negotiable market good.”


Upton Sinclair (The Goose-Step: A Study of American Education, 1923) and Thorstein Veblen (The Higher Learning in America, 1918) answered this question nearly a century ago. Did you mean to say that academic honesty shouldn’t be SEEN to be a negotiable market good?


Red 12.30.11 at 6:31 pm

From the Science article:
Neil Robertson, a professor emeritus of mathematics at Ohio State University in Columbus who has signed on, says he has no concerns about the offer. “It’s just capitalism,” he says. “They have the capital and they want to build something out of it.”


Barry 12.30.11 at 6:42 pm

Henry: “They get decent pay, good working conditions, and, nicest of all, the ability to spend much of their work lives working on topics that they are genuinely interested in. I think there is an implicit social contract that in return for these goodies, academics shouldn’t cash out their reputations. Academic honesty shouldn’t be a negotiable market good.”

Henry, the people who run this country think otherwise (in and out of government, business and the media). And in any elite university, the administration hustles for money, gives themselves unjustified raises, while squeezing the (untenured) faculty and staff.


J. Otto Pohl 12.30.11 at 6:45 pm

Steve: The picking up of qualified scientists and scholars by institutions outside the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia was bound to happen sooner or later. Actually the Saudis are being far more generous than most places including the vast majority of the very few academic jobs still available in the US. I don’t see anything wrong with this. If it were not for foreign universities hiring American citizens with British PhDs I would still be unemployed.


hellblazer 12.30.11 at 6:51 pm

Perhaps, being an academic, I am misreading or misinterpreting the comments above. It seems some of them are saying that since academia has dishonest aspects, or aspects which fail to live up to the nobility it claims for itself, the KAU(ST) behaviour is no big deal.

To use academic jargon, this comes over as horseshit. Academic honesty may only be an ideal, but it seems an ideal worth aspiring to. (If you do cash out your reputation: well, each to their own, and to each according to their need, etc. But I don’t think the community should encourage or condone it.)


hellblazer 12.30.11 at 6:55 pm

To clarify: it’s KAU I’m criticizing, not so much the academics – although I do instinctively share Henry’s opinion that there is a kind of social contract that is weakened by acceptance of such offers.


hellblazer 12.30.11 at 6:57 pm

To J.O.P.

a bigger, more prominent Saudi institution—King Saud University in Riyadh—has climbed several hundred places in international rankings in the past 4 years largely through initiatives specifically targeted toward attaching KSU’s name to research publications, regardless of whether the work involved any meaningful collaboration with KSU researchers.

is to me a rather different kettle of fish than offering proper positions to foreign faculty. IIRC, you actually work and teach at the institution you’re affiliated to?


J. Otto Pohl 12.30.11 at 7:02 pm

Yes, I actually do work and teach at UG. I was replying to Steve who was talking about faculty moving to the KSA to work at KAUST which is the same kettle of fish, but higher paying.


tomslee 12.30.11 at 7:03 pm

“A kind of social contract” is one thing, but I would have thought along with Donald Coffin that real-life binding employment contracts would also speak to the issue. Is it really true that some academics can claim affiliation with multiple institutions with no consequences?


Jawbone 12.30.11 at 7:04 pm

I’m thinking along the lines of #10. It seems the Saudis could (and do) come up with far worse uses for their oil-$$–so this practice should be encouraged. Who cares if a citation-ranking list is “corrupted”? Everyone will know why the Saudi Universities are rising.


Colin Danby 12.30.11 at 7:07 pm

The end of the article in _Science_ has an interesting bit about gaming citations:

” … the publication record of Khaled Al-Rasheid, a zoologist who directs DSFP [Distinguished Scientist Fellowship Program]. … started as a professor at KSU in 1992 … For the next 15 years at the university, he averaged about four research publications a year… Since 2008, however—when the university started DSFP under his leadership… has been a co-author of 139 research papers, including 49 papers in 2010 and 36 to date this year. Most of these publications, co-authored with researchers around the world, acknowledge financial support from the Center of Excellence for Research in Biodiversity at KSU, which Al-Rasheid directs. Some of the papers have been co-authored with researchers hired by KSU under the distinguished scientist program.”

If you build a botnet like this there are all kinds of ways you can use it.


Colin Danby 12.30.11 at 7:13 pm

Not to add to the cynicism too much, I agree with Donald Coffin and Professor Hellblazer. “Conflict of commitment” seems like the key standard, though there’s also something to be said for just not participating in other people’s scams. Tomslee has a great question — my impression is that academics are little-regulated in terms of what claims they make, but it may not be too long before institutions start putting items in the contract about how you identify yourself in places like


Marcus Pivato 12.30.11 at 7:15 pm

SusanC :

This doesn’t seem that different from the usual academic way of doing things, in which academics with proven track record get paid by Universities/funding bodies, in exchange for citing the source of funding on any published research.

Actually, it is different in several ways.

A university directly benefits from being associated with star researchers, because universities with better reputations are able to attract more and better students (= tuition dollars), better faculty, and donations from wealthy benefactors (e.g. endowed chairs). If they are public institutions, then universities with better reputations are more likely to receive enhanced government support (e.g. funding for new buildings or new programs or faculty expansion). A university whose reputation worsens suffers the opposite in all these dimensions.

If a university gains its good reputation for the right reasons, then its increased share of the resource pie is likely to be an (approximately) efficient reallocation of resources. But if KAU gains its reputation by gaming the system (e.g. by “buying” the reputation of researchers around the world who have nothing to do with KAU), then the likely result is inefficiency. Given the chronic scarcity of resources in academia, this is an inefficiency we cannot afford.

In contrast to KAU, private and public research granting agencies (e.g. DARPA, NSF, NSERC, Rockefeller foundation, etc.) receive only one spin-off benefit from funding star researchers: they are more likely to have their own funding renewed (and hence, to perpetuate their own existence) if they maintain a reputation for funding high-quality research. Thus, in this case, incentives are aligned in a way which is more likely (although far from guaranteed) to produce an efficient allocation of resources. This is why it is considered good manners (and in some cases, mandatory) to acknowledge your funding sources in your research publications.

Furthermore, grant agencies generally do not give open-ended grants to people just because they are “star researchers”. Typically, these agencies fund specific research projects with a clear mission. (Rockefeller is perhaps the exception). This means there is transparancy and accountability in the funding process.

There is another difference as well. When you receive an ordinary research grant from most granting agencies, the use of funds is tightly controlled and audited. You must spend the money on research-related expenses (e.g. lab equipment & personnel, conference travel, etc.). You cannot spend it on a new Ferrari. This makes it credible that this grant is “supporting research”, and nothing else. In contrast, the no-strings-attached $72,000 from KAU looks less like a research grant, and more like bribery.

Finally, some people say, “Why shouldn’t a star researcher be able to cash in on his reputation?” (The pronoun “his” is appropriate, because women are conspicuously absent from KAU’s list of rent-a-profs, for reasons which should be obvious). But in fact, there are many more socially constructive ways that a star researcher can cash in on his/her reputation. These include:

Write a best-selling academic textbook (e.g. Greg Mankiw).
Writing a book for nonspecialists about his/her area of expertise (e.g. Pinker, Dawkins, Gould, Hawking, etc.)
Go on the public lecture circuit (same examples).
Have a semi-regular column in a major newspaper or other journalistic forum (e.g. Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz, etc.).
Accept a senior cabinet post in government (e.g. Stephen Chu).
Work as a consultant for industry (e.g. Hal Varian is now Google’s “Chief Economist”)

You may quibble about whether some of the specific examples on this list count as “socially valuable”. But the fact remains that they are at least trying to make a social contribution, rather than accepting bribes from a third-rate university in a tin-pot dictatorship.


Salient 12.30.11 at 7:27 pm

I’m kind of surprised to discover that the primary academic institutions didn’t make a “you will not claim affiliation with any other academic institution without our approval, with the following exceptions […]” type thing part of the employment contract.


leederick 12.30.11 at 7:50 pm

I think it’s totally reasonable. Loads of academics collaborate with others over email, I can’t see why you couldn’t run a research group or contribute to the research life of another university on that basis. Hell, most research fellows do most their collaboration by email and only have a week or two’s direct contact a year with other workers at their university in seminars and stuff. I don’t see why it’s a scam. I think most the hostile reaction is a combination of (justifiable) contempt for Saudi politics and (unjustifiable) mild racism.


Slocum 12.30.11 at 8:25 pm

@13: Also see NYU Philosophy’s development over the last few years.


Colin Danby 12.30.11 at 8:40 pm

The point leederick is that what you describe is apparently not what’s going on. From Bhattacharjee’s_Science_ article

“would be expected to supervise a research group at KAU and spend a week or two a year on KAU’s campus, but that requirement was flexible, the person making the offer wrote in the e-mail. What Kirshner would be required to do, however, was add King Abdulaziz University as a second affiliation to his name on the Institute for Scientific Information’s (ISI’s) list of highly cited researchers.”

“The recruits Science spoke to say they have a genuine interest in promoting research at KAU, even though none of them knew how their individual research plans would match up with the interests and abilities of KAU’s faculty members and students.”

What would redeem this would be evidence that these folks really are supervising research groups at KAU.

Genuine academics in Saudi Arabia are not thrilled with this either:


christian_h 12.30.11 at 8:43 pm

I’d see this as a symptom rather than a problem in its own right. Some comments here – for example identifying highly cited academics with brilliant researchers as if those two were tautologically the same, or defending more usual practices by universities driven by competitive behaviour learned from the corporate world – point to how far the cancer of commodifying research and education (which of course necessitates inventing fake measures of value) has grown and how it has seeped into people’s consciousness.

Of course as with all “free” markets, now that academics has become a commodity regulations will be developed to protect the brand, as it were, or keep new entrants out of the market. Good for KAU for inadvertently shining a light on what’s going on. Now if I was the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, then I would fire a bunch of people – after all these highly cited people do not in fact teach any students, train any researchers or for that matter do anything at all at KAU.


christian_h 12.30.11 at 8:47 pm

To add I’d never seen that “highly cited research” site, and was better off not having done so. The utter tosh they spew on that page is much worse than what KAU has done…


Frowner 12.30.11 at 9:29 pm

I think it’s totally reasonable. Loads of academics collaborate with others over email, I can’t see why you couldn’t run a research group or contribute to the research life of another university on that basis.

I happen to have been closely acquainted with several research groups over the past few years, including two in which the PI spends a lot of time at another institution overseas (though for much more legitimate reasons than those in the article above). Let’s just say that a couple of weeks a year of hands-on PI-ship is not enough to maintain a research group, nor are matters all beer and skittles when the PI is doing serious work (even if only for a few weeks) at another institution. Seriously, you’re going to direct your postdocs and graduate students (even if you’re never in the lab yourself), write papers based on their work, manage your funding and administrative responsibilities and in general be an accessible member of an academic community in a couple of weeks a year? No, you’re not. And if you think that “collaborating by email” is as good as being present, you have never had the unhappy experience of seeing a lab have to trash several weeks of work because of a miscommunication that could have been avoided if the collaborators had been in regular, day-to-day contact in the lab.

Honestly, I’m not all that impressed when already-privileged white-guy academics (I imagine that most of these dudes would be white, since white dudes IME are considered better academic catches in these situations) accept a fat chunk of change to pretend that they are doing serious scholarship so that an institution in a country which does not value the scholarly work of women can pretend that it has a real faculty in order to game the rankings. I would have plenty of sympathy for someone who was financially up against it and marginalized and who took a dubious job for lack of better alternatives, but that’s not what’s going on here.


Steven 12.30.11 at 11:38 pm

[aeiou] There is a huge bias towards appearance over substance in the Gulf. This is just another example of it. In my mind, it comes from a culture of laziness that prevails at the highest levels of society there.

The people in charge of everything are extremely rich because they British ceded them a peninsula that has a lot of oil in it. The pay other people to come in and extract it, and keep enormous profits. They sit around, buy very expensive things, and grow fat.

Now old money over here may be lazy, and there are plenty of lazy rich people generally, but usually the people running things, no matter how detestable we may find them in some ways, are not lazy. They are pretty hard working, for all of their greed and malfeasance.

In the Gulf, the people running things can barely trouble themselves to get up in the morning, but sometimes their dozens of servants wake them up. Once awake, they covet what the West has–usually ridiculous consumer goods–and they endeavor to purchase it. They want to purchase academic cachet, to complement everything else they’ve already purchased from the West. And so they are.

“Working hard on actual research? You must be joking. That’s for the schlubs we’re paying a paltry $72k a year to partially own and wholly manipulate. We prefer to sit here and eat, surrounded by what we own.”

It’s no different than when they hire some famous consultant to reform some government practice, then tell everyone they have lured the best consultant in the world to develop them in some way, then ignore everything the consultant says while proudly proclaiming that the best minds in the world have endeavored to solve the given problem.

Somebody here’s got to know what I’m talking about.


Colin Danby 12.30.11 at 11:52 pm

Steven, I think we can discuss the issue at hand without generalizing into bigoted rants.


Steven 12.31.11 at 12:23 am

I know, I sound a little like Kant when he makes his broad, nation-based distinctions in his discussion of the differences between the beautiful and the sublime (“The Italians? Beautiful! The Germans? Sublime!”), but I insist that beneath my badly overgeneralized rant there is something at work.

There are traces of this througout the comments: first-rate labs that go unused, infrastructure expansion that far outpaces the institutuion’s ability to field quality faculty and students, and essentially paying accomplished people to affiliate themselves with the institution in a way that consists of an appearance only.

If you did not value reputation more than substance, you would simply not do these things.

Now it could be the case that these attempts at purchase are not unique to the region in any important way, or are not a part of the regional culture any more so than other cultures which I have not indicted in my rant. If that is the case, then I will widen my indictment accordingly.


Tony Lynch 12.31.11 at 12:48 am

Just to let you know you are not alone here Steven, much the same analysis can be found in Jonathan Raban’s book “Arabia”.


John Quiggin 12.31.11 at 12:52 am

I think rea nailed it at #1. This kind of thing is going on, in a more decorous fashion, at lots of Australian (and I suspect UK) universities, where rankings of various kinds are a big deal. But since people are happy to visit these places for a few weeks a year, the arrangements don’t cross the line into outright fraud, even if they aren’t really optimal in purely academic terms.

The big difference is that very few academics are going to want to spend significant amounts of time in Riyadh, mainly because of the political climate (the physical climate doesn’t sound too bad, but I’ve never been to check). So, we get the kind of ghost affiliations described in the article. I suspect this will also prove to be a big deal for China – the authorities want to attract outside academics and universities with the promise of something like a free speech zone, but panic at the prospect that such speech might not be contained to the campus.


Tedra Osell 12.31.11 at 1:17 am

There are a lot of circumstances where I’d say “take the money and run,” but in this case I’m on the “this is an asshole move” side of the argument. Because OF COURSE the people benefiting from these are the people who are already at the top of their particular heap. Sure, you can make a cynical argument that the role of academia has always been to prop up the pretensions of the well-to-do, but you can’t do so while at the same time pretending that this is somehow a huge blow for fairness.


Antti Nannimus 12.31.11 at 2:28 am


The prestige of academic institutions has been a purchased commodity for a long time now. It seems to me this particular practice is a pitifully short, narrow, shallow feeding trough compared to those many corrupt wallowing lagoons in the financial industries, professional sports arenas, political salons, executive and corporate board rooms, and other natural habitats of the voracious and swinish 1%. It doesn’t bother me much that some few academics might also have a small venue at which to feed a bit. Perhaps trickle-down does actually work sometimes, although this trickle, by comparison, is a miserly drop-by-drop. In any event, its good to see some small pittance of the oil money coming back home.

Have a great new leap year!


mpowell 12.31.11 at 2:51 am

I think it’s odd that people who are willing to call this academic dishonesty are okay with it as long as the people need the money.

Also, I’m familiar with actually pernicious forms of academic dishonesty at at least one of the most prestigious institutions in the US. I don’t really see the damage this would do to the system, in comparison.


maidhc 12.31.11 at 3:04 am

I once had a taxi driver try to recruit me to teach in Saudi Arabia. “They will pay you 100 thousand American dollars! In gold!”

I’m not sure if this is a typical part of the employment process. (I think this was for high school level though.)


Steven 12.31.11 at 3:23 am

{aeiou] “It doesn’t bother me much that some few academics might also have a small venue at which to feed a bit.”

One of the reasons why a person isn’t a pig because he doesn’t feed at the trough with the pigs.

People here are giving too much away, too easily.


logern 12.31.11 at 4:50 am

Up to 72k rings a bell for me as the amount that Saudi Arabia offered to U.S. citizens that wouldn’t be taxed if you worked over there. But that was back in 1990 when I was there.


Down and Out of Sài Gòn 12.31.11 at 6:28 am

JQ@39. The actual climate’s pretty horrible as well. In summer you have 40+ temperatures of dry heat at Riyadh, and then you have 40+ temperatures of extreme humidity on the Gulf. Any westerner there would organise a three month overseas holiday for their children, their spouses, and preferably themselves. Or so I remember from living there in 1979.

As for the whole sorry episode: I feel that if the Saudis have enough cash to sign up astrophysicists, they might as well form their own space race to get the foreigners doing useful work there. The Ghawar field isn’t going to be around for ever.


J. Otto Pohl 12.31.11 at 12:49 pm

I am not a huge fan of the House of Saud, but I do not see anything wrong with foreign researchers collaborating and working at Saudi Arabian universities. I find most of comments here to be motivated by anti-Arab racism which because of the Israelization of the US and parts of Europe is the last acceptable form of racism for western ‘liberals’ and ‘leftists.’ Imagine if we replaced KSA in these comments with the RSA or some other fairly wealthy country in Sub-Saharan Africa? Or even better we substituted it with Israel and talked about how those ‘sneaky Jews’ were trying to game the rating system because it was part of their culture? Am I only the only person who sees this as a problem? Or racism against Arabs become so acceptable among the western intellectual left that anything goes?


Anon 12.31.11 at 1:27 pm

I think the difference in laziness between cultures (say Western and Saudi) is minimal, what is different is the cultural convention about how the rich express their privilege. There are conventional forms of words which sugar the pill (no doubt in all cultures, but we notice the omission of the words we are used to). We have a lot of Saudi students and I really notice the jarring cultural dissonance.

I was in the staff room of my University last July, and a young female lecturer was crying because a Saudi student had told her ‘if you were in my country I would have you killed’. In practice what he was doing – using money power to intimidate a lecturer into giving better grades – is done all the time in all countries. But his cultural expression of that intimidation was shockingly different from what one is used to. I am sure he was not actually threatening to kill her, he was just using a form of words to express his entitlement. Incidentally she was a Moslem woman, and I wonder if that had any impact on how he chose to address her.

I am not using my normal Crooked Timber id, just because I don’t want to identify myself or the University.


Barry 12.31.11 at 3:22 pm

“But in fact, there are many more socially constructive ways that a star researcher can cash in on his/her reputation. These include:

Write a best-selling academic textbook (e.g. Greg Mankiw).”



Andreas Moser 12.31.11 at 3:55 pm

I knew why I didn’t believe in ranking lists of universities.


Andreas Moser 12.31.11 at 3:56 pm

But I could use the money.

Any Saudi university that wants to add a lawyer to their ranks?
I have even written about Saudi election law already: – albeit in a way that your king might disapprove of.


Steven 12.31.11 at 9:04 pm

If you’re going to deprive my comments of vowels because I use the term pigs (witness the failed devowelization attempt in comment 44), then please do so knowing that I am directly referencing the use of the term “swinish” in comment 41, which says that professors should be able to score some cash at the trough alongside the swinish 1%. To which my reply is that not behaving like a swine is one of the reasons you aren’t a swine.

It is also very lazy to dismiss the sharp criticism of the Saudis as anti-Arab racism born of a pro-Israeli bias. It is based on the common western misconception that there is such a thing as a unified Arab world. There are lots of reasons to have a specific dislike of Saudi Arabia and its culture, and this citation issue is just another one. As a US citizen, you cannot get a tourist visa to simply visit the nation. If you are a woman, you need to request the permission of your patriarch before you can leave the country, you are not permitted to drive a car, and, well, need I go on about women? If you eat in public during Ramadan, you will be jailed. For eating. The last public beheading for sorcery was in 2011. Being gay is a capital offense.

Perhaps more significantly, the nation advocates a Salafist form of Islam that makes most other Muslims quite wary for the radical way in which it portrays Islam to non-Muslims. I assure you that that my criticism of this nation, rather and being anti-Arab, hits on a vein that runs very deep in the Arab world itself. Ask an Egyptian or a Jordanian how she feels about the House of Saud one day.

So please understand my bias to be strictly anti-Saudi, which it is and which I will not back down from, and not anti-Arab, which it isn’t. Most of the time you just can’t make meaningful generalizations and stereotypes along national lines, but sometimes you can. I think you can when the nation is:

1) an absolute monarchy, AND
2) an absolute theocracy, AND
3) culturally homogeneous, AND
4) racially homogenous, AND
5) relatively small

And there you have it: Saudi Arabia. A theocratic, non-diverse and culturally homogeneous country where the sole source of its immense wealth is the abundance of one type of natural resource. It is bound to be a very disagreeable place to an atheistic pluralist liberal like myself. Never mind how friggin’ hot it is, the only thing worse than a plutocracy is a rigidly theocratic plutocracy. My heart goes out to anyone fighting for change or justice there.

To get back to to the subject matter at hand. This deeply-troubled nation is engaging in a practice which tempts accomplished professors away from their ideals and invites them to impugn their integrity to serve the ends of appearance, and not substance, in a way that only benefits a select few who have endeavored to purchase a type of commodity, namely academic prestige.

Isn’t the idea that ultimately modest sums of money waved in front of everyday people by the 1% as an invitation to sell their integrity and pride for the benefit of a plutocracy one of the things that’s driven us to the brink of madness these days?


an adult 12.31.11 at 9:44 pm

“You may steady your arms, I will go without a struggle.”
“Your decision is a wise one, yet perhaps you would have
been better off had you forced death,” the soldier’s mouth
wrinkled to a sadistic grin of knowing mirth as he prodded his
prisoner on with his sword point.


Jawbone 12.31.11 at 9:54 pm

Cautionary note on Saudi Arabia being racially homogenous–at least 10% or so are of African origin, due to the slave trade.


C.C.Fuss 01.01.12 at 12:49 am

To me, the more interesting issue is not about Saudi Arabia or even this particular practice. It’s about the way in which many academics have allowed themselves to be coopted into this system of reward based on proxy metrics, and are eagerly participating in universities’ efforts to game the system.

As others have noted above, this is but a more egregious example of practices that are now ubiquitous, and widely accepted, at UK and Australian (and I assume US) universities. I was recently at a ‘strategic meeting’ where we were told, firstly, to refrain from publishing papers if we did not think they would be well cited (or if we did publish them, to hide this shameful fact from the official record), and secondly, to make sure that our publications cite our departmental colleagues as much as possible, regardless of relevance (including self-citation, since this counts in the citation metrics). Someone whose job it apparently was to puff up the average departmental citation rate spoke proudly about their efforts to ‘get rid of’ all of these embarrassing less-cited papers by assigning them Field-of-Research codes that would land them in someone else’s lap.

In my opinion, these practices go against the professional integrity that academics – just like any other professional group – ought to have. We all like to grumble about the managerialist takeover of academia, but by and large, academics go along with it. Instead, we ought to be thinking about what our responsibilities are to society, and whether it is possible to meet these responsibilities while spending so much energy jostling for advantage in a system which is increasingly incompatible with the production of anything of value.

I’d also add that this is yet another way in which the spoils of academia (money, reputation, resources) become concentrated at the top, at the expense of junior academics.


John Doe 01.03.12 at 12:55 pm


Jonathan Katz 01.03.12 at 5:50 pm

While I agree that the notion initially seems wrong, I’m not sure I can put my finger on what is actually wrong with it. For those who think it is clearly wrong, consider the following hypotheticals:

– What if the academic in question really spends two weeks at KAU, meeting with faculty, students, etc.? How is that fundamentally different from serving on the advisory board of a company?

– What if the amount of money were lower? Say the professor got $10,000 for 2 weeks of their time. (For what it’s worth, that works out to about $125/hour, which is a reasonable consulting rate.) Or $1000 for 1 day of their time?

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