Guest FC: Human rights concerns surround Fuqua's entrance into Kazakhstan

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✔✔ By a member of the faculty: The Fuqua partnership to run a business school with Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan should raise eyebrows.

First reported by Fact Checker on August 9, it was confirmed by the administration for publication in The Chronicle and the Triangle Business Journal, conveniently just as students return. It allows Duke to trumpet its international reach and conveniently distracts attention from Fuqua's Kunshan project, widely seen as dead in the water with the departure of Dean Blair Sheppard of Fuqua and nigh-on insurrection among its faculty.

But perhaps the rather more sordid story is the willingness of Duke to cavort with Kazakhstan's leader, Nulsultan Nazarbayev -- who built the Nazarbayev University and had it named after himself -- and associate itself with Kazakhstan's less-than-gleaming human rights record.

The international monitoring group Freedom House categorizes Kazakhstan as "not free" on a score of the country's political rights and civil liberties record, rating its political rights as being second from worst on its scale, and civil liberties only a notch higher. In its 2010 report, Freedom House notes that these assessments continue on a downward trend due to media crackdowns, arbitrary arrests and "grossly deficient judicial proceedings" against a human rights activist, Yevgeny Zhovtis.

In a 2011 report, the US Diplomatic Mission to Kazakhstan lists an even greater litany of complaints about human rights abuses: "severe limits on citizens' rights to change their government; military hazing that led to deaths; detainee and prisoner torture and other abuse; unhealthy prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of an independent judiciary; restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association; pervasive corruption, especially in law enforcement and the judicial system; prohibitive political party registration requirements; restrictions on the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); discrimination and violence against women; trafficking in persons; and societal discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender persons, and those with

Administrators in the Fuqua Business School have sought to assure faculty and students that they would not enter into partnership with an institution if, according to a report in The Chronicle, "they were unsure that Kazakhstan would make education and academic freedom top priorities."

The same Chronicle report quoted Dr. Michael Merson, director of the Duke Global Health Institute and interim vice president and vice provost for global strategy and programs, as describing Kazakhstan as “a region of the world that has been a bit turbulent and is trying to invest in terms of human capital.” This is an astonishing outburst of chutzpah, and a strong a contender for the most euphemistic statement of 2011. This quote might well have been applied to the US during the era of slave transportation.

Jennifer Francis, senior associate dean for programs and Douglas and Josie Breeden professor, and Valerie Hausman, assistant dean of global business development and executive education, are the Fuqua administrators behind the plan and are less shy about their descriptions: “Fuqua believes that in order to effect change in the world, it is important to actively engage in the regions of the world that matter,” Francis and Hausman said. “We will be involved to the extent that we can help promote innovation and critical thinking around global business issues. This is consistent with our global strategy.”

It is intriguing to note that for Francis and Hausman, effecting "change in the world" means "innovation and critical thinking about global business issues."

Global businesses have consistently been at the bulwark of thwarting human rights, and the only "innovation" in changing the world has usually been to find ever more cunning ways to get round the weak international standards that do exist. Their further comment, that Kazakhstan "could be a major player in the world economy because of its wealth of natural resources, including oil" belies the real thrust behind the current Duke administration's extension of its international tentacles.

All this suggests that either Fuqua has a cavalier attitude towards human rights, and is happy to engage with odious dictators with the right money, or that, despite the spin, entities like Fuqua are driving Duke's global strategy even while, with the departure of Dean Sheppard, they remain effectively rudderless. Either interpretation does not bode well for the current administration, Duke's academic reputation, or its "global strategy".

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