The resignation of University of Pennsylvania president Elizabeth Magill has raised alarms among certain university faculty members. They suddenly claim to be worried about “outside interference” from donors and trustees. They assert that such interference has a chilling effect on their “academic freedom” and imperils “the university’s integrity.”
The faculty’s contempt for these supposedly malevolent outside influences predates Magill’s resignation. On Oct. 28, the Executive Committee of the University of Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP-Penn) issued a “Statement on Threats to Academic Freedom, University Governance and Safety at the University of Pennsylvania.”
The statement cited specific examples of allegedly malign interference, including opposition by some alumni to Penn’s “Palestine Writes Literature Festival,” held in September. The “festival” was essentially a celebration of antisemitism masquerading as an academic event, but this did not appear to bother the executive committee.
At Harvard, it appears that president Claudine Gay will survive, despite her statement to a congressional inquiry that calling for the genocide of Jews does not violate Harvard’s code of conduct in certain “contexts.” It is not a coincidence that Gay is a political scientist whose work focuses on the “intersections” of politics and race. It is precisely this ideology of intersectionality and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) that has buttressed the spike in antisemitism we now see on college campuses. Some were shocked by her statement, but they shouldn’t have been. It was a symptom of the disease she has helped spread throughout academia.
Another symptom is Harvard’s systemic failure to protect free speech—except for antisemites. This past year, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) ranked Harvard dead last (248 out of 248) in its College Free Speech rankings. Not surprisingly, Penn ranked 247. In fact, all such institutions have a long record of cancelling faculty, students and speakers who dare to express views inconsistent with prevailing progressive orthodoxy. Their absurd excuse is that such views constitute “violence” or “create an unsafe environment.” These concerns disappear when Jewish students are the targets.
In her congressional testimony, Gay was asked to explain how, in 2020, Harvard faculty voted for Joe Biden over Donald Trump 99%-1% in a country whose voters were more or less evenly divided. The best she could muster was the self-congratulatory cliché that Harvard hires only “the best and the brightest.” She appears to believe that only progressive Democrats can be “the best and the brightest.”
It isn’t surprising that Harvard lacked the courage to remove Gay. If they had, the DEI crowd would have accused Harvard of the twin crimes of racism and misogyny. At the same time, the crowd will continue to ignore Gay’s own twin crimes: Inability to condemn antisemitism and nurturing a toxic groupthink environment at Harvard. To the contrary, these crimes will be cited as virtues.
The DEI minions and campus antisemites are, of course, correct when they say that Harvard, Penn and similar institutions are private and must be allowed to operate freely. To ensure this is the case, however, America should give them what they want: Freedom from outside meddling. In other words, cut off the cash from taxpayers. Americans, after all, should not be asked to subsidize speech and policies many of them abhor.
In addition, Harvard and Penn have tax exempt endowments of $45 billion and $21 billion, respectively. If they are private institutions with the right to operate free of interference, they should pay taxes like any other private business.
Furthermore, Harvard and Penn are two of the biggest beneficiaries of government student loan programs. This is a remarkable indulgence, since as a result of this government guarantee, Harvard and Penn assume no risk. Only the American taxpayer is forced to do so. Certainly, private universities should be free to invest their money as they choose, but should not expect the American taxpayer to bail them out if their investments fail. It is only fair for Harvard and Penn to use their billions of dollars to pay their students’ tuitions.
If federal funds are to be provided directly or indirectly, clear standards need to be adopted. Before they can receive such funds, these institutions must demonstrate a serious commitment to free speech. They must define diversity in terms of thought, not race or gender. Their faculties must be roughly representative of the American political spectrum.
If these institutions decide to accept foreign money, they should not receive government benefits. Countries like China and Qatar should not be allowed to influence what is taught on our college campuses, but if a private institution desires such influence, that is up to them. In this case, however, American taxpayer dollars should not be forthcoming.
Regarding private donors, anyone has a right to expect to have some say in how their money is spent. If they wish to be free of such influence, Harvard and Penn should simply refuse to accept any private donations. To help them in that effort, Congress ought to limit or even prohibit Americans from claiming donations to educational institutions as charitable deductions.
Our universities were once places where competing ideas were rigorously debated. They helped make America the greatest country in the world. Sadly, many campuses today are closed-minded bastions of self-loathing and Jew-hatred.
Congress must respond to this new reality. It should act according to the self-evident principle that Americans should not be asked to subsidize the poisoning of the American mind and those who seek to undermine the U.S. and Western civilization itself.