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Anthony Badami '11: If I was president...

Brown University's recent appointment of recording artist and activist Wyclef Jean to a visiting fellowship in the Department of Africana Studies was severely ill-guided. It represents an aspect of this University's character that I ardently believe we should push against: the tendency to be a stature escalator for political and cultural figures.

While I will not address these other instances in this column, allow me to make my case for why Wyclef Jean should have never been appointed to this position and why he should be ousted now.

My first concern is the strain his fellowship creates. The brunt of this financial commitment is resting on the shoulders of the Department of Africana Studies, an already under-funded branch of this school, which has defied expectations in recent years and gained a position of prominence in the world of elite academia. Could not the University forgo this spectacle of celebrity and instead offer more research funding to Africana professors? I know that the Alumni of Color Initiative would benefit seriously from increased support.

Keep in mind as well that Jean will not be lecturing or instructing solely (if at all). He is here to observe, to learn and to reflect. In his own words, his year at Brown will be "a gift to prepare for leadership more thoroughly." Does this not ring of euphemism for professional advancement? Is Brown really just a political stepping-stone? Is that the shallow role this University would like to serve?  

There is a distinction to make here. This institution provides space and funding to certain political heads in which the ultimate goal may be just reputation enhancement, but the key difference in the case of visiting political fellows, such as those housed at the Watson Institute for International Studies, is that they have already been in positions of political prominence. They are the former heads of state, chairs of international lawmaking bodies, formulators of international economic order. In other words, they have actual knowledge and experience to share with undergraduates and faculty. Academics can teach the theoretical underpinnings for world issues; former political leaders provide vivid insights into policy-making and diplomacy.

Jean failed in his bid for leadership. Why is it Brown's responsibility to revamp his humanitarian image? Why give him a political leapfrog to the Haitian presidency?

Keep in mind also the fact the Jean's past financial dealings have been of a very dubious nature. Wyclef's foundation was able to raise over one million dollars for Haiti relief. Indeed, that is laudable and admirable. But this foundation, as the investigative website the Smoking Gun revealed, contributed  "$410,000 for rent, production services, and Jean's appearance at a benefit concert," and only after repeated failures to file tax returns on time.

It was also uncovered that the foundation paid $31,200 to Jean's Manhattan recording studio in 2007. Just a year before, the group had given nearly $100,000 to the same studio for the "musical performance services of Wyclef Jean at a benefit concert," not to mention the $300,000 shelled out to consulting companies between 2005-2007. Explanation for these various expenses has not been spelled out clearly, though Jean has tried weakly and vaguely to respond to these allegations several times.

If another Brown fellow, say Romano Prodi, had engaged in such shady financial dealings, I would be equally incredulous and critical. It is my deep belief that those in distinguished positions at this University should be held to the same standards morally and academically. Unfortunately, Jean seems to have some questionable moral conduct in the past, and his academic credentials are nil.

Perhaps the question boils down to this: What is the proper role of the University? I would think the answer is rather obvious — to enhance the academic environment for its students, faculty and fellows. What contribution does Jean's appointment make? It seems to me that it is strictly a public relations one.

If fame is the only prerequisite for receiving a visiting fellowship at Brown, then why not recruit names like Bono or Angelina Jolie?

They too have zero academic credentials but a record of humanitarian publicity. It is demoralizing to think that the Department of Africana Studies went from a successful recruitment of Chinua Achebe, author of the most widely read novel in modern African literature, to the selection of such a vacuous and uninspiring persona.

This is not, of course, to disparage him as a musician. Nor is this a rebuke of the cultural and political messages his music has transmitted. Rather, it is a fervent plea to the administration to avoid hypocrisy and embrace fairness. Hold everyone to the same standard. Is that really so radical a notion?

To gain some perspective on this issue, I approached some faculty in the Department of Africana Studies. They, I thought, will show me what I had been missing. As it turned out, no one was willing to speak on the subject. I hope the reader understands like I do what such passivity indicates.

I do not desire for the administration of this school to be passive on this issue any longer. Fine, perhaps we are stuck with Jean for now. But, I implore you, eschew such emptiness in the future. The long-term reputation of this University, and its attending students, depends on it.


Anthony Badami '11 is a political theory concentrator from Kansas City, Mo. He can be reached at


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