(Originally appeared 10/12/11, BlueOregon.com)
There is a rather curious side note to the growing controversy surrounding the October 19 keynote speech by former US Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice at the Simon Benson Charity Awards Dinner to benefit Portland State University.
A review of the long list of co-sponsors for the annual event turns up Oregon Health & Science University. At first glance, no surprise there, especially with the new alliance between the two schools, the OHSU/PSU Strategic Partnership Task Force, formed by PSU President Wim Wiewel and OHSU President Joe Robertson to make recommendations to best work together to leverage state resources and meet educational needs in the Portland region and Oregon as a whole, according to their publications.
It is unfortunate, however, that this alliance also appears to involve a political green washing, if you will, of the image and reputation of Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the former national security advisor and Secretary of State under for the previous Bush administration.
Even according to the right-leaning Fox News in 2009:
“As national security adviser to former President George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice verbally approved the CIA’s request to subject high-ranking Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah to waterboarding in July 2002, the earliest known decision by a Bush administration official to OK use of the simulated drowning technique. Rice’s role was detailed in a narrative released . . . by the Senate Intelligence Committee. It provides the most detailed timeline yet for how the CIA’s harsh interrogation program was conceived and approved at the highest levels in the Bush White House. The new timeline shows that Rice played a greater role than she admitted (previously) in written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.”
Whatever you may think about waterboarding and its recent legal standing, it is instructive to recall that the US has historically considered the practice as torture. On the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidate and US Senator John McCain (himself a victim of torture during the Vietnam war) said as much:
“There should be little doubt from American history that we consider (waterboarding) as torture otherwise we wouldn’t have tried and convicted Japanese for doing that same thing to Americans.”
The OHSU sponsorship of the charitable event featuring Dr. Rice is therefore so curious exactly because this institution of health care and higher learning has since 2000 operated the renowned Torture Treatment Center of Oregon.
Under the founding guidance of Dr. J. David Kinzie MD and now his son Mark Kinzie MD, the Torture Treatment Center (as part of OHSU’s Intercultural Psychiatric Program), describes its work:
“[S]erves victims of torture and severe war trauma from Afghanistan, Bosnia, Central and South America, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and other parts of Africa. The Torture Treatment Center of Oregon is a national leader in research and knowledge building in the effects of torture and trauma on adults, children and families”.
So I thought to myself, any fair-minded person has got to think, how do I understand the apparent incompatibility of this institution providing support and treatment to victims of state-sponsored torture on one hand, while at the same time its parent institution is lending its support and prestige to an event honoring an individual directly involved in the commission of these specific actions on the other?
So I posed this very question to the Director of the Torture Treatment Center, Dr. Mark Kinzie. I emailed him and I phoned him.
I posed this same question to the founder of the Torture Treatment Center, Dr. J. David Kinzie. I emailed him and I phoned him.
Okay, perhaps these doctors felt they were in no position to address this rather sensitive topic. So I posed my question to the President of OHSU, Dr. Joseph Robertson Jr. I emailed him several times and phoned him.
I even contacted Portland State University President Wim Wiewel about all this.
Again, no answer.
According to local news reports, President Wiewel has refused to release the speaking fee for Dr. Rice at this charity benefit, remarkably stating it was “classified” information.
Daniel W. Drezner at Foreign Policy has stated:
[T]he foreign policy speaker ecosystem is pretty straightforward and pretty hierarchical: 1) Top tier: former policy principals and mainstream elite pundits. Examples: Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Tom Friedman . . . . These are the people that large associations, private colleges, and consultants with deep pockets will invite to give talks. Payment ranges from high-five figures to low-six figures.”
Perhaps Dr. Rice took pity on PSU and offered a steep discount for this charity event. We can only hope.
OHSU and PSU certainly don’t owe me any answers regarding all this. However, any fair-minded person would have to think that these publicly funded institutions certainly owe the people of Portland and the state of Oregon some explanations. Hopefully they will find the proper channels to do so in the very near future.
Oct 14, ’11
I did finally receive an email Thursday afternoon from the PSU University Communications office. It says, in part, “(President Wiewel) did respond to your letter in an Oct. 3 letter. We always try to respond to questions or concerns about important matters like this one. If you didn’t get this, I apologize. We try to log in e-mails and letters, and our log shows this was sent Oct. 3.”
For whatever reason, I did not receive any communications from PSU until the email Thursday noted above. Before yesterday, no mail, no email, no phone call. But hey, stuff happens.
Regarding the speaker’s fee, the letter does not give an amount, only that “Speakers are paid by the proceeds of the fund-raising event, not state funds.”
The complete forwarded letter that arrived to me on Oct. 13 reads as follows:
Oct. 3, 2011
Thank you for your recent letter regarding Dr. Condoleeza Rice’s upcoming appearance at the Simon Benson Awards Dinner.
The Simon Benson Awards Dinner is an annual event sponsored by the private, non-profit Portland State University Foundation at the Oregon Convention Center that honors local philanthropists who support the community and the university, celebrates the successes of Portland State and raises private money for student scholarships and other university goals. The event features a well-known public figure each year to speak. Past events have included speakers across the political spectrum, such as Madeline Albright, Colin Powell, Mario Cuomo and Robert Dole. Speakers are paid by the proceeds of the fund-raising event, not state funds.
The Foundation selected Dr. Rice to be this year’s speaker largely because of her personal story, not her politics. Her parents in Alabama were educators and through her own education and career achievements, she rose to become the first African American woman to serve as U.S. secretary of state. I’m told she will discuss the transformational power of education in her own life at the event, which speaks to our mission at Portland State.
Part of that educational mission is to value robust debate of ideas, including controversial ones. That’s the underpinning of a liberal arts education at a public university.
I’m reminded of what my fellow university president Lee Bollinger said in regards to a similar complaint: “In the moment, the arguments for free speech will never seem to match the power of the arguments against, but what we must remember is that this is precisely because free speech asks us to exercise extraordinary self- restraint against the very natural but often counterproductive impulses that lead us to retreat from engagement with ideas we dislike and fear. In this lies the genius of the American idea of free speech.”
Oct 14, ’11
I received the following today (Oct. 14) from PSU University Communications when I asked a follow-up about the speaker’s fee for Dr. Rice:
“She is paid by the non-profit Foundation, not by PSU, and the terms of her contract are confidential, which is standard for speakers at the annual Simon Benson event.
“Her speaking fees come from money raised at the event, not tuition or state money. Speaker fees are part of the overhead cost of these kind of fund-raising events.
“My understanding is that it is a fixed fee, not a percentage.
“Last year, the Simon Benson Awards Dinner raised about $550,000 for PSU after expenses, which goes to support students, faculty and campus programs, including scholarships.”