Organization Trends

Paying for Hate on College Campuses

If anything could shake a Western champagne socialist to the bone, surely it would be the image of a young hippie woman, fresh from a music festival, with her legs broken behind her back and a bleeding head wound, paraded by armed Hamas militants through the streets of Gaza in the back of a truck.

Or perhaps news of massacres on Israel’s kibbutzim, where reporters on the ground choke back throat lumps while relaying IDF soldiers’ discoveries of babies beheaded and whole families slaughtered.

Or maybe pictures of elderly women lying dead at a bus stop. Or a video of a courageous dog shot in front of its home before Iran-backed terrorists upload themselves to social media raiding the refrigerator.

These things should arrest the senses enough to at least give activists in the land of the free pause before shouting their support for the people who could commit such atrocities.

But the modern American academic institution exists outside the laws of civilized mankind, apparently, because schools such as Harvard, Columbia, the University of Virginia, and UC Berkley, among others, could only look on weakly as campus student groups very nearly celebrated the tragedy of this weekend’s slaughter in Israel. The rest of the civilized world is left wondering – again – what kind of environment exists in the hallowed halls of American higher learning if cruel glee in the face of unspeakable horror is so near the surface. And, more to the point, why are we paying for it?

What of the other students attending these schools, who pay good money for a good education, who find themselves rubbing elbows with hate? How does a Jewish student at Harvard, who may have extended family in Israel, proudly wear the alma mater’s sweatshirt when 30+ other student groups with whom they share a campus sign a letter saying Israel was, essentially, asking for it.

“The apartheid regime is the only one to blame,” the Harvard letter read.

While it’s no secret academia has lurched hard to the far left, it might have been a bit of a secret to some former students. (The jury’s out on whether it should have been.)

“The silence from Harvard’s leadership, so far, coupled with a vocal and widely reported student groups’ statement blaming Israel solely, has allowed Harvard to appear at best neutral towards acts of terror against the Jewish state of Israel,” Lawrence Summers, a former Harvard president and longtime Washington economic policy hand, wrote on X.

Was Harvard, which took in $625 million in federal funding in FY21, and a little over $500 million in donations and $500 million in cash gifts to their endowment in FY22, initially neutral? More pointedly, should they have been? They released an official statement condemning the attacks on Tuesday – several days later and on the same day other Harvard students made their own voices heard with a letter of their own.

Free speech on college campuses is sacrosanct. But should students – who pay a mandatory student activity fee of $200/year at Harvard that helps fund the existence of student groups – be asked to support speech they disagree with? What about donors?

The first amendment organization FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression) has an exceptional guidebook on the legality of using these fees to fund student groups, and what students can do to exercise their personal speech rights when they feel morally compelled to disassociate themselves.

And there’s a similar – although not exactly the same – problem in the nonprofit world, when a charity doesn’t protect the original donor’s intent. Capital Research Center president Scott Walter explains it succinctly:

“When (John D.) Rockefeller, a religious conservative, relinquished control of his trust in 1916, he left power in the hands of unscrupulous advisers—nearly all of whom were left of center. They quickly removed any limits to what the money could be spent on, while his son, John D. Rockefeller Jr., made little effort to ensure the family stayed in control of its fortune. By the time the oil tycoon died in 1937, the foundation he built to help promote education, upward mobility, and public health was in the hands of the very radicals he deplored.”

Academic institutions have a responsibility to their donors and their students. Balancing a protection of donor intent with free speech is a tricky situation and no one should envy the position in which these institutions find themselves.

But we can as a society check them when they miss the mark using our money. Many of these campuses seem to have spent years fostering a kind of hard-core, hard-edged radicalism over open-minded, intellectual rigor that many Americans wholeheartedly reject.

There’s early evidence that the tragedy in Israel could have created a paradigm shift on American college campuses, causing some leadership to acknowledge things may have gone too far in one direction. If it has, it will move at a glacial pace.

Until we know for sure, Americans are going to have to come to terms with the fact that some of our most valued institutions – the charitable and academic sectors, specifically – may not be using our money to protect our values. And we’re going to have to get a lot smarter about how we spend.

This article originally appeared in Townhall on October 11, 2023. This article has been updated from the version published in Townhall.

Sarah Lee

Sarah Lee was born and raised in Atlanta, Ga., but found herself drawn to Washington, DC, the birthplace of her mother, after completing a master’s degree in public administration from…
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