Mention Babson Global to the average student, and you’ll hear one consistent response: “Babson what?”
Babson Global has operated for years without the knowledge of Babson’s most important community segment, its students. This mystery alone is cause for concern. Add in divided faculty opinion and its investment in repressive nations, and it becomes clear that Babson Global is in need of a change.
In April, faculty voted on a referendum requesting the Board of Trustees change “the name and associated logo to one that clearly separate Babson College from Babson Global…and [change] the current structure of Babson Global and its relationships to the college.” 98 faculty voted in favor, with 36 opposed and nine abstaining.
Yet faculty opinion is more nuanced than the raw numbers capture. Some vehemently oppose the project; others support the original goal, but are skeptical of certain aspects; still others support the program in its entirety. Taking note of faculty feedback, administration established the College Integration Working Group and the Legal Financial Working Group to work over the summer and study ways of restructuring Babson Global.
And restructuring is unquestionably needed.
“The important point is we are not creating a branch campus,” Babson Global CEO Shahid Ansari, referring to the Saudi Arabian project, said in a 2013 interview. Yet while the campus as a whole will not hold the Babson name, it will feature the Babson Global Entrepreneurial Leadership Center. A January 2014 e-mail to staff from the Office of the President describes “important step[s] forward in our efforts to support the establishment of a new entrepreneurship-focus college in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” including meetings with the Saudi Minister of Higher Education.
It is important to note that Babson Global started, and continues to operate, with good intentions. But the corporation must align with Babson College’s core values.
Saudi Arabia is infamous on the world stage for its human rights violations. The Human Rights Watch 2015 World Report describes the country’s conditions. “Saudi Arabia continued in 2014 to try, convict, and imprison political dissidents and human rights activists solely on account of their peaceful activities. Systematic discrimination against women and religious minorities continued. As in past years, authorities subjected hundreds of people to unfair trials and arbitrary detention.”
It is hard to reconcile these human rights violations with Babson’s core values. Actions speak louder than words, and Babson cannot justify investment in such an oppressive nation, no matter the opportunity for income. Education is important for progress, and money is important for education, but it is impossible to ignore Saudi Arabia’s status as one of the world’s most repressive regimes.
Like any college, much of Babson’s value to its students comes from its brand. Affiliation with Saudi Arabia, if widely publicized, could only detract from the College’s image. Changing Babson Global’s identity to separate it from Babson College would therefore protect students’ investments in the community.
Yet while a name change may aid its image, Babson Global’s true ties to the College cannot be so easily dissolved. “Babson Global, Inc was formed…exclusively to perform internationally and to carry out certain educational purposes of, and otherwise advance and support the educational objectives of Babson College,” according to the company’s IRS Form 990, a return for tax-exempt non-profits. Despite its independent legal status, the corporation is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Babson College, and was established to further the College’s own goals. A mere name change would obscure, rather than address, the initiative’s problems.
It is important to note that Babson Global started, and continues to operate, with good intentions. Establishing another revenue stream for the College by spreading entrepreneurship education globally makes sense. But the corporation must align with Babson College’s core values. By investing in Saudi Arabia, Babson is helping to enable the nation’s activities.
“Many faculty have made [Babson College] their life’s work, so they feel that if the institution does things that perhaps do not represent them well, they want to be heard. And in this instance they were,” Professor Fritz Fleischmann, a member of the Babson Global Faculty Oversight Committee, said.
One of the summer committees, the Legal Financial Working Group, acknowledged in its report that “fulfilling the Saudi and Indonesia contractual obligations is a necessity.” This is true; the College can’t back out of contracts. Yet it begs the question: Why we were involved in Saudi Arabia in the first place?
No matter what happens, greater transparency is needed. The vast majority of Babson students, the veritable core of the institution, do not know that Babson Global even exists, never mind understand its various involvements. While the Saudi Arabian investment is a prominent example, there are others. The Babson Global website is thin on concrete information, and its scattershot initiatives are difficult to track. Information should be made more readily available to students, parents, faculty, and alumni. And if these community members don’t agree with Babson Global’s doings, it shouldn’t exist.