On Wednesday, March 29, the University of Connecticut Foundation hosted a dinner honoring the philanthropy of Gary and Phyllis Gladstein and their contributions to the now-titled Gladstein Family Human Rights Institute. Housed within the Dodd Center for Human Rights, the institute is home to the Human Rights major, minor, master’s degree and graduate certificate, research positions and fellowship programs.
The event featured numerous guest speakers including UConn President Radenka Maric, Vice President of Global Affairs Dan Weiner and Gladstein Chair of Human Rights Richard Wilson. Attendees were met with wine, hor d’oeuvres and a three-course meal served by restaurant-trained staff; the event transformed the Student Union Ballroom into a space fit to host royalty.
The Daily Campus Editorial Board commends the Gladsteins and their contributions to the HRI, which level out to $9.5 million. As public universities continue to fight for federal funding and turn to students to bail-out their debts, donations like these permit students — both undergraduate and graduate — access to greater resources and academic opportunities.
This event, however, remains largely overshadowed by UConn’s continued commitment to organizations, businesses, policies and countries antithetical to international human rights, and thus serves as no more than a publicity scheme to market the university as a wholly altruistic institution whose donors have nothing but good intentions. We must not allow the university to take credit for the altruism of its donors and the work done by its students and faculty, nor can we fall victim to the strategic exposure of upstanding donors while the university quiets talks of its relationships with morally corrupt institutions.
The donations made by the Gladsteins are dwarfed by the funding the university receives from military manufacturing giants Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky and Raytheon, whose weapons of war prolong and deepen human rights crises around the world from Ukraine to Palestine. At their most recent meeting on Feb. 22, the board of trustees approved a $75,000,000 contract with the Connecticut Natural Gas Corporation, despite the administration’s supposed commitment to carbon neutrality. The university has upheld its granite connection to Israel, Tel Aviv University — an institution which remains unsafe for Palestinian students — and even visited the country alongside Gov. Ned Lamont in 2022 amidst one of the deadliest years of the ongoing apartheid against West Bank Palestinians.
These actions and policies actively create and promote the international human rights atrocities that members of the HRI strive to abolish. There exists a deep, systemic irony in a university which claims to be furthering international human rights as it grossly pledges money and comradery to organizations and countries who actively suppress said rights.
To say the university has made active and meaningful strides in human rights would be an understatement; the HRI remains one of the largest academic human rights programs in the country, and continues to graduate students committed to promoting global change. However, such advancements must be met with universal collaboration across the university, and the university’s ongoing efforts to suppress the efforts of the HRI diminish the progress of its students and faculty.