Nadav Safran will step down as director of Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) this summer, following a three-month investigation into his acceptance of over $150,000 from the Central Intelligence Agency. Michael Spence, dean of faculty for arts and sciences, accepted Safran’s resignation “with sadness and deep reservation.” Spence proclaimed that Safran’s “erudition and objectivity as a scholar have not been questioned,” and told reporters that Safran was under no obligation to resign as CMES director. Safran will retain his tenured post as Murray Albertson Professor of Middle East Studies in the Department of Government.
Spence’s report faults Safran for not telling participants about CIA funding of the conference on Islamic fundamentalism held at Harvard last October. But the report blames Harvard for Safran’s acceptance of a $107,000 CIA grant for his recent book on Saudi Arabia: Safran did inform Dean Henry Rosovsky, who then did not bother to review the terms of the contract which allowed the Agency to censor the manuscript but forbade disclosure of Agency funding. It also appears that Harvard University Press, which had denied knowledge of the book’s CIA funding, had been informed back in 1984.
Spence’s report saves its severest criticism not for Safran but for his critics. The dean denounced the three scholars on the six-member CMES Executive Committee who had earlier called for Safran’s resignation, proclaiming that they should have waited for the completion of his report. Spence offered no reproach to the other Executive Committee members who defended Safran’s overall record; one of these was Bob "Battleship" Murray, former undersecretary of the navy and an architect of the policies that rehabilitated the USS New Jersey. Spence even disbanded the Executive Committee and assigned oversight responsibility to a faculty committee, most of whose members have had little or no prior involvement in Middle East studies.
Richard Frye, whom Time termed one of the “center’s defrocked committeemen,” called Spence’s report “a whitewash” and accused the university of blaming the victims of Safran’s unscrupulous behavior. Safran responded that the Center had been “moribund” prior to his taking over in 1982; he told a television audience that it was thanks to his work in building the Center up that there was at least “something to destroy.”