In the wake of the Hamas terrorist attacks, megadonors are ditching universities in droves—and showing it’s high time for a reckoning with progressive political capture of higher education.
Penn has become deeply adrift in ways that make it almost unrecognizable. Moral relativism has fueled the university’s race to the bottom and sadly now has reached a point where remaining impartial is no longer an option.
—Jon Huntsman, University of Pennsylvania alumnus and donor
After the terrorist invasion of Israel earlier this month, major universities equivocated, kept silent, or even defended the perpetrators. Now, alumni megadonors are demanding accountability from their alma maters—and taking university leadership to task if they don’t get it.
That’s the case with Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia, China, and Singapore during three separate presidencies. Last week, he sent an email to the president of the University of Pennsylvania announcing that the Huntsman family would “close its checkbook” to the university after three generations—and tens of millions of dollars—of support due to the university’s response (or lack thereof) to the attacks on Israel. It’s a reckoning that’s long overdue, and could reshape the philanthropic landscape in American higher education.
Huntsman is joined by Marc Rowan, another Penn alumnus, who penned an op-ed in The Free Press calling for university donors to wake up and stop writing checks. He emphasized that “trustees, myself included, have sat in silence as our schools were taken over by idealogues.” Rowan, the billionaire founder and CEO of Apollo Global Management, sits on the Wharton School’s Board of Overseers and donated $50 million to the university in 2018.
And Penn isn’t the only member of the Ivy League facing a backlash.
Earlier this week, Bed Bath & Beyond founder and Harvard alumnus Leslie Wexner wrote that the Wexner Foundation was “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.” His letter went on to state that the foundation would dissolve its financial and programmatic partnership with the university.
But it’s not just universities that are facing backlash; students are coming under fire as well. After signing a letter that began, “We, the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence,” some Harvard students may now find a tough time getting a job.
That’s because of people like billionaire Ken Griffin, a longtime major supporter of Harvard University, who publicly vowed that his hedge fund, Citadel, would never hire any student who signed the letter. Bill Ackman, too, has demanded that a list of the names of students who signed the open letter be released.
Some are calling this demand an attempt at “doxing”, though I find it difficult to understand how revealing the signatories of a public letter could be considered doxing. Ackman himself said he only requested the list of names because he felt that students “should not be able to hide behind a corporate shield when issuing statements supporting the actions of terrorists.” It’s hard to argue with that.
The mask of liberal ideology seems to be slipping. Not so long ago, Americans of all stripes were being told that silence was violence—and that certain kinds of speech (most notably, politically conservative speech) were also violence. We were all of us asked to believe that America’s civil discourse couldn’t possibly accommodate even moderately right-of-center positions on issues like affirmative action and crime. Now, of course, the “silence is violence” crowd has suddenly gained a “respect for all opinions.”
It appears that the message here is that while conservative speech and silence are violence, some terrorist massacres aren’t violence at all.
Perhaps this is what Jon Huntsman was referring to when he wrote, “Moral relativism has fueled the university’s race to the bottom and sadly now has reached a point where remaining impartial is no longer an option.”
It appears that donors like Huntsman, Wexner, and Rowan may have long been watching the ideological drift of America’s universities with concern. Now, those universities’ total lack of moral integrity in the face of blatant terrorism has proven a bridge too far. Others will undoubtedly follow in their footsteps—with enormous consequences for America higher education.