Philanthropists and graduates are reconsidering their financial backing of Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania following their perceived passive stance on categorizing Hamas as a terrorist group. Numerous corporations have taken a stance that they will not offer employment opportunities to student representatives who are part of letters attributing fault to Israel for the hostile acts of Hamas.
Several tycoons, industry heavyweights, and higher education alumni have chosen to rescind their financial backing of Ivy League universities. Their decision comes in response to perceived inadequate condemnation of Hamas’ violent actions against Israel by school administrations and students. Particularly, Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania faced a large swath of criticism over their handling of the Oct. 7 Hamas incident that resulted in over 1,300 Israeli fatalities.
In the aftermath, both students and faculty members held Israel liable for the discord, stirring discontent among many. This response led to a number of influential donors throughout the country terminating their financial support for these institutions. In protest, these donors have initiated a job blackout towards students from these universities, based on their perceived failure to manage the fallout from the conflict effectively.
In response to the backlash, a statement condemning ‘Hamas’s terrorist assault on Israel’ was released by Magill on Oct. 15. Yet, other University of Pennsylvania donors such as Daniel Lowy, an alum and founder of EMU Health, Clifford Asness of AQR Capital, and Marc Rowan, Apollo Global Management’s CEO and chairman of the Wharton Board of Advisors, decided to withhold their donations.
In the wake of more than 30 Harvard student groups choosing not to condemn Hamas’ acts as terrorist actions and holding Israel responsible for the attacks, The Wexner Foundation responded. Founded by billionaire Leslie Wexner, the foundation publicly stated in an Oct. 16 letter that they would cease their financial backing of Harvard and would not participate in any of the institution’s programmes.
Adding fuel to the fire was Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer. Together with his wife, he stepped down from the Kennedy School of Government’s executive board on Oct. 12. They made a public statement in which they explained that, in light of current events, they no longer felt that they could earnestly support ‘Harvard and its committees’.
Significant donors to Harvard, Ken Griffin—the university alumnus and founder of Billionaire Citadel, and Bill Ackerman, the billionaire CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management acted decisively. Earlier this month, they stated their companies would steer clear of hiring student leaders at Harvard who had signed letters accusing Israel of being at fault for the actions of Hamas.
Echoing this sentiment, Jonathan Neman, CEO of Sweetgreen, expressed his curiosity about those who signed the letter, claiming it would be valuable for him to know their identities to ensure he ‘never hires such individuals.’ Larry Hogan, former Maryland governor, cut ties with Harvard on Monday, stating that he would no longer participate in fellowships with the Kennedy School and the Chan School of Public Health.
Hogan put forward the argument that the university should have been more pro-active in criticizing the students’ statements concerning Israel. Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, however, remained silent, offering no immediate response to interview requests by the Daily Caller News Foundation.
It remains to be seen how the universities will manage their strained donor relationships moving forward. However, it’s clear that the controversial responses to Hamas’ actions against Israel have created a ripple effect that extends well beyond university campuses, reaching even corporate employment decisions.
Some might argue that such ripple effects indicate a growing politicization of our academic institutions. Meanwhile, others see it as an example of a broader societal trend where monetary support is increasingly tied to closely-held beliefs and values.
Both Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania find themselves in the center of this maelstrom, setting the stage for firestorms of similar debates in other academic institutions. The universities’ neutrality on the issue has sparked a wave of re-evaluation among corporate giants and wealthy alumni on how they distribute their financial support and resources.
Indeed, the line between support, neutrality, and condemnation can sometimes blur, particularly with emotive topics such as international conflict. These events underscore the potentially far-reaching implications of perceived stance, particularly when those perceptions clash with the values of influential backers.
That economic power can wield influence over academic institutions is internationally acknowledged, but seeing it in action underscores the sheer impact it can have on a university’s scholarship, research, and employment opportunities for students.
While vilifying student leaders may limit their employment opportunities given the divisive and controversial nature of this conflict, it’s worth noting that these are uncertain times permeated by complex international relations. Implicit biases, widespread in such contexts, can arguably cloud the full comprehension of these events.
The lessons learned from this situation can serve as a roadmap for both universities and benefactors when considering how to respond to divisive situations in the future. Amidst the storm, it acts as an ill-timed reminder of the fragile interplay between politics, higher education, and financial resources.