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Big Donors Punishing Elite Schools

Pro palestinian hamas protesters at Harvard Univ
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By: Zach Kessel – nationalreview.com

As university administrators equivocate and radical student-groups issue statements blaming Israel for the heinous Hamas terrorist attack of October 7, major donors are pulling their money from elite schools.

But those with inside knowledge of the workings of university leadership are split on whether the donors’ moves have the potential to usher in long-lasting changes to campus culture.

A former university administrator who’s dealt with campus tensions in the past told National Review that he thinks administrators are “way more afraid of their left flank than their right flank.”

“For your typical college president, the pressure is much more on the student side,” the former administrator said. “The progressive push is what they’re always more worried about. [Donors withholding money] is probably more of an annoyance that they’re trying to figure out how to manage.”

Zeke Emanuel, a current vice provost at the University of Pennsylvania and chairman of the school’s department of medical ethics and health policy, recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times decrying the state of higher education. He told NR he thinks the donor uprising will wither without making a lasting impact because the donors haven’t used their considerable leverage to push for tangible changes.

“Most donors are not in the education space,” Emanuel said, adding that the statements blaming Israel for the Hamas attack — which he told NR he believes are reprehensible — must be fought with more speech. He also said that overspecialization and the empowerment of university department heads has created an environment in which professors and administrators lack holistic knowledge. Even so, they speak out on fraught issues.

“Everything today is about being interdisciplinary, and yet we still have tenure in departments that are the antithesis of interdisciplinarity, and we need people to think,” he said.

Emanuel also believes there is a large body of faculty members who would like their universities to get back to the basics — shaping students into educated, moral, and well-informed leaders — but they are not organized.

“They are drowned out by the faculty who are either hostile to that idea or just don’t want to do it,” he said.

The former university administrator said the rising tide of illiberalism on college campuses prompted donors to begin funding centers for civic life, such as Princeton University’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, but that those centers have a limited reach.

“It didn’t actually affect the presidents of the universities that much except they probably didn’t push back too much against these new centers being created,” the former administrator said, adding that those efforts are “almost sidestepping the main problem, to some extent.”

Sympathy for Hamas and the resulting donor backlash have been concentrated in America’s most elite schools.

Some of Harvard’s more significant donors decided to end their support for the university after more than 30 student organizations signed one of the first statements arguing that Israel is to blame for the suffering that Hamas inflicted on its people.

Former Harvard president Lawrence Summers posted in a thread on X that he had “never been as disillusioned and alienated” as he was that day, and multiple financial contributors to the university seem to agree.

Les Wexner, former CEO of L Brands — which includes Abercrombie & Fitch, Bath & Body Works, Express, and Victoria’s Secret — and founder of the Wexner Foundation, wrote a letter to the Harvard Board of Overseers saying his foundation is “formally ending its financial and programmatic relationship with Harvard and the Harvard Kennedy School,” to which the foundation had given generously over the years, saying the leaders of his philanthropic organization “are stunned and sickened at the dismal failure of Harvard’s leadership to take a clear and unequivocal stand against the barbaric murders of innocent Israeli civilians by terrorists.”

Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer announced his resignation from the Dean’s Executive Board at the Kennedy School on October 12, saying he and his wife “are disappointed by the lax statements and lack of taking a clear position by the university officials against the murderous terrorism of Hamas.”

Ken Griffin, founder of hedge fund Citadel LLC, who has given Harvard over $300 million, said his firm will not hire students who signed the statement blaming Israel for the Hamas attack and reportedly contacted Harvard Corporation senior fellow Penny Pritzker to air his grievances.

Bill Ackman, the CEO of hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management and another large Harvard donor, said he will not hire anyone associated with the groups that signed the statement and urged the university to publish the names of student members.

The University of Pennsylvania has faced an even greater backlash. Not only do donors take issue with the school’s response to the Hamas attack, they remember the “Palestine Writes Literature Festival” that took place only a few weeks ago. That conference, as previously described in National Review, was packed to the gills with people who have time and again openly and unrepentantly called for the deaths of Jews.

Marc Rowan, chairman of the Wharton School of Business’s board of trustees, called on university president Liz Magill and university board of trustees president Scott Bok to resign. Rowan claimed in a letter that the Daily Pennsylvanian declined to publish that Magill and Bok pressured board members who spoke out against the festival to resign, a claim Bok has denied. Rowan also urged all donors to the University of Pennsylvania to stop giving, saying the university allows a culture “that does not deserve our financial support.”

Rowan is far from the only former supporter to say he will no longer give to the university. Philanthropists such as David MagermanJonathan JacobsonRonald LauderClifford AsnessDaniel Lowy, and John Huntsman Jr. have each written to the university announcing their intention to cut ties, each citing their embarrassment with the culture of antisemitism the University of Pennsylvania’s leadership has allowed to flourish, with some placing the blame squarely on President Magill’s shoulders.

Magill eventually condemned Hamas in an October 15 statement, which followed an October 10 letter to the university community that many donors believed insufficient.

Despite the doubts many in the world of education may have, a source close to Jewish and conservative philanthropists told NR he thinks the recent donor revolt represents the beginning of a mass movement.

“I think we’ll probably look back on this time and say Marc Rowan was one of the watershed moments,” he said, adding that it is important that Rowan called on other donors to do the same. “It’s not just about pulling your gift and going home. It’s actually about building a campaign of pressure to hold the administrators accountable and to seek wholesale change in leadership at the universities.”

The source told NR that Emanuel’s stance toward restructuring academia from the ground up and flooding universities with more speech has been tried before and simply does not work.

“No one’s suggesting that’s not important stuff, but that’s not changing the institutions,” he said. “It’s not creating a cultural shift in academia. It’s simply sort of establishing an Iron Dome to ongoing political terrorism against the students on the campus, rather than going on offense against the leadership of the university that allows that to keep happening.”

The source close to Jewish and conservative philanthropists told NR that, after what he described as a watershed moment, there will be continued calls for dramatic changes at American universities.

“You just protest once, you get one news story. Your billboard goes around campus for a week and everybody forgets there was an incident,” he said. “Those days are over. We’re talking about an enduring, sustained campaign to make a university’s life hell for the duration.”

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Source: Hamas Attack & Higher Ed: Big Donors Are Punishing Elite Universities for Campus Antisemitism | National Review