newsSchools & Higher Education

House committee probing Cornell, Harvard, MIT, Penn tax-exempt status over Jew-hatred

The "Washington Examiner" reported exclusively on the investigation from Republicans at the House Committee on Ways and Means.

Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo,), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, at the 2023 CPAC. Credit: Ron Sachs, Consolidated News Photos/Shutterstock.
Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo,), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, at the 2023 CPAC. Credit: Ron Sachs, Consolidated News Photos/Shutterstock.

In a Wednesday letter to Harvard University, MIT, the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University leader, Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means, expressed concern about the “lack of an appropriate response and support for Jewish people and students” following Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attacks.

“As you know, your institutions are aided by the beneficial treatment provided to nonprofit, tax-exempt entities. Your universities also receive funding from federal grants and appropriations, support for student loan assistance, lucrative financial benefits from your tax-exempt status and the advantageous tax treatment of your institutions’ endowments,” wrote Smith in the letter, which the committee shared with JNS.

To receive that aid, institutions must act “primarily for educational purposes—meaning that both individual instruction for the purpose of improving or developing students’ capabilities is provided and that
such instruction on subjects is useful to the individual and beneficial to the community” and must “comply with relevant anti-discrimination laws,” Smith wrote.

“Given the disappointing and lackluster responses by your respective universities to Hamas’s attacks and your subsequent failure to adequately protect Jewish students from discrimination and harassment, we question whether your institutions are satisfying the
requirements to receive these benefits,” he added.

The letter, upon which the Washington Examiner reported exclusively, was directed to the presidents of Cornell and MIT, and to the interim presidents of Harvard and Penn, after the presidents at the latter two resigned weeks after testifying before a different House committee that calling for genocide of Jews doesn’t necessarily violate their policies on bullying and abuse.

Smith cited that testimony as an example of potential violations at the schools, as well as a Dec. 15 Ways and Means hearing, during which a Cornell student, Talia Dror, testified that “students, professors and administrators at Cornell celebrated the massacre of innocent civilians.”

“While Cornell made firm statements on a variety of topics and incidents in the past, the university was silent when it came to condemning explicit antisemitism and endorsements of terrorism under the guise of free speech,” per Smith’s letter.

He also cited antisemitic death threats at Cornell, Jew-hatred and intimidation at Harvard, students at Penn saying they don’t feel comfortable walking on campus when visibly Jewish and MIT “seeming to prioritize anti-Israel protestors calling for violence over its Jewish students when it failed to expel protesters over ‘visa issues’ despite the school previously threatening that such conduct would result in

“The proliferation of this type of antisemitic activity on your campuses and college campuses across the country as well as the continued lack of support for Jewish students and condemnation of calls for violence against the Jewish community is extremely concerning,” Smith wrote. “It is also perplexing given how your institutions have had no problem condemning other behavior in the past.”

Harvard and Penn told students it violated school policies, and could result in punishment, to not use a classmate’s preferred pronouns, and Harvard canceled an invitation for a speaker, who was critical of transgender ideology, and fired an instructor who invited another speaker, per Smith’s letter. MIT forced a chaplain out for views on George Floyd, and Penn stripped a professor’s tenure for controversial views, he added.

House committee education
From left: Claudine Gay (Harvard University president), Elizabeth Magill (University of Pennsylvania president), American University professor Pamela Nadell and Sally Kornbluth (Massachusetts Institute of Technology president) testify during a House committee hearing about antisemitism on campus on Dec. 5, 2023. Credit: House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

“Free speech should be protected—even speech we disdain. But your universities have long practiced the protection of preferred speech rather than truly protecting all speech,” he. wrote. “In so doing, you appear to have lost the ability to recognize when speech crosses the line into conduct, especially on topics that do not fit into your preferred categories.”

“As leaders on your campuses, you set the tone. You have found your voices before on numerous other topics, but not on this one. If antisemitic speech crosses the line into unprotected conduct, it must be punished severely,” he added.

“This alarming approach to protecting free speech while not simultaneously protecting students on campuses comes at a time when diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) activity is surging across the country,” he wrote. “Despite the burgeoning growth of this sector and purported support for all people regardless of background across the country, Jewish students are facing antisemitism more than ever, and reports suggest that campus DEI staff ‘are unwelcoming’ toward Jewish students.”

By Jan. 24, Smith asked the four schools to respond to 13 questions, including “What is your university doing, if anything, to examine how it evaluates the difference between free speech and harassment, threats and incitement”; “As a tax-exempt entity, how are you fulfilling your educational purpose for your Jewish students on campus”; and “Do your diversity, equity and inclusion departments serve Jewish students on campus?” He also asked how the schools’ endowments “contribute or further” their tax-exempt purpose.

Ways and Means
U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means, Longworth House Office building. Credit: DC Stock Photography/Shutterstock.

Sarah McDonnell, an MIT spokeswoman, told the Examiner that the school and its president, Sally Kornbluth—who has not resigned following her testimony—“reject antisemitism and all forms of hate.”

Nikki Haley, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and former South Carolina governor who is running for president, has said that she would also probe the tax-exempt status of universities that discriminate. “The second you go after their wallet—that’s when they change every bit of their personality,” she said.

Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida who is running for president, signed legislation last year barring schools in the state from using public funding for DEI programs.

DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy, a tech entrepreneur and currently a 2024 Republican presidential candidate, have called for abolishing the U.S. Department of Education.

“Let’s shut down the head of the snake, the Department of Education,” Ramaswamy said. “Take that $80 billion, put it in the hands of parents across this country.”

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