AMAC Exclusive – By David P. Deavel
It’s a very bad sign when the editors of Playboy have better moral judgment than Harvard. But that’s precisely what we’ve seen in the last week. American higher education, particularly its most elite precincts, has shown the nation that it is not only tolerating but promoting toxic hatred that will excuse the most brutal terrorism. It isn’t news to those paying attention. But it should be a wake-up call to all that parents, alumni, and our government need to stop supporting these institutions.
Playboy ended their business relationship with performer Mia Khalifa for her full-throated support not just of “the Palestinian people,” but of Hamas itself. She described one photo of terrorists as a “Renaissance painting” and requested that they film their brutality better: “Can someone please tell the freedom fighters in Palestine to flip their phones and film horizontal.”
Meanwhile, even though a letter signed by members of 34 Harvard student groups blamed Israel entirely for Hamas’s attacks, Harvard initially had no official response to last weekend’s terroristic acts by Hamas. Given Harvard’s quick response declaring what “justice” is with regard to public issues, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, the two-day silence led former Harvard president Larry Summers to lament that “Harvard is being defined by the morally unconscionable statement apparently coming from two dozen student groups blaming all the violence on Israel.” He added, “I am sickened. I cannot fathom the Administration’s failure to disassociate the University and condemn this statement.”
Harvard president Claudine Gay finally responded on Tuesday, October 10, with a brief letter that at least had some clarity: “I condemn the terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas. Such inhumanity is abhorrent, whatever one’s individual views of the origins of longstanding conflicts in the region.” But despite declaring that student groups can’t speak for Harvard, it was odd that her statement was simply a first-person one—“I condemn.” Three days after that brief letter, Gay released a video message in which she finally clearly declared that “our university” condemns terrorism, while adding that those approving of the Hamas actions wouldn’t face any action. “Our university embraces a commitment to free expression,” she intoned. “That commitment extends even to views that many of us find objectionable, even outrageous. We do not punish or sanction people for expressing such views.”
This commitment to “free expression” is pretty selective. As Zachary Marschall observed at Campus Reform, in 2018 Harvard investigated one professor for “microaggressions,” whether “verbal or non-verbal.” And in 2022 Harvard students were instructed in one university training session that “failing to use a person’s preferred pronouns could be a violation of the university’s sexual misconduct and harassment policies.” That these are not simply isolated deviations can be shown by the fact that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) rated Harvard as the worst school in the country for free expression, with a score of zero out of a possible 100 points.
That Harvard suddenly discovered this commitment to free expression only when their students were caught supporting terrorists is a pretty good sign that they didn’t discover it at all. As Steve McGuire of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni posted on X (Twitter): “I don’t buy it at all. She’s just trying to save face.”
When the smoke clears, and probably before, Harvard will be doing exactly what it’s been doing all along. They are tolerating the support of terrorism and antisemitism while teaching students to call Republicans “Nazis.” As always, the Babylon Bee summed up the situation perfectly with its headline, “Harvard Student Leaves Lecture On Microaggressions To Attend ‘Kill The Jews’ Rally.”
Of course, Harvard isn’t alone in selective commitments to free speech and defense of basic human rights. Yale “American Studies” professor (there is some joke in there) Zareena Grewal, who describes herself as a “radical Muslim,” was posting in support of the Hamas attacks. She defended the murder of Israeli civilians by saying, “Settlers are not civilians.” Grewal was herself one of the instigators trying to get professors Nicholas and Erika Christakis fired for defending free speech a couple years ago. At Stanford, an “instructor had Jewish students raise their hands, made them move away from their belongings before saying his point was to show what Jewish people were doing to Palestinians.” According to some students, the instructor also belittled the Holocaust by suggesting that Israel had killed more Palestinians. At least Stanford officials had the good sense to stop the instructor from teaching and investigate.
It seems impossible that such cautious and quiet responses would have been given to professors who dissented on the guilt of Derek Chauvin or the goodness of George Floyd.
The reality is that these elite institutions have too much power and too much influence. They set the tone for the country and for other academic institutions. It has been said that intellectual serenity means not giving a damn what they’re doing at Harvard. We might say that national serenity is only possible if the influence and prestige of these institutions are downgraded: more people need to stop giving a damn.
The first group who can help change things is parents. First of all, they can simply stop sending their children to such institutions. But for those who have done so, they can keep their eyes on the places their children are attending. If their students are sane, they can pass on to their parents what is happening on campus so that more light can be shined on the dysfunction.
Alumni have an important role to play in fighting back against their institutions. Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer and his wife, Batia, quit an alumni executive board in protest of Harvard’s behavior. They made clear that the problem was Harvard’s response rather than the foolish student groups.
Billionaire hedge fund manager and Harvard alumnus Bill Ackman was even more direct. He demanded a list of all the students who had signed the letter blaming Israel so that he could refuse ever to hire them. Given the campus cancel culture discussed above, this seems a poetic form of justice.
Both the Ofers and Ackman are on to something. The key, however, is to make sure all alumni bothered by these places stop donating. Unfortunately, the haze of sentimental memory often overrides the knowledge that one’s soul mother (“alma mater”) is now a heartless woke harpie. Money is the only thing that finally counts in the world of university administrators.
There is a great deal to be done by those in power, however, to counteract the exaggerated cache of top-tier universities. Justice Clarence Thomas has long done his part by hiring Supreme Court clerks from a variety of schools and not just the Ivies and other elite universities. He refuses to allow the term “TTT” (“Third-Tier Toilet”) to be used about them. More justices could follow his lead.
But perhaps the biggest thing those in power can do is to consider taxing the endowments at these universities. As Richard Vedder and Justin Strehle argued in 2017, when Republicans were proposing to tax these endowments, the argument against taxing these enormous sums of money was based on a supposed beneficial social influence: “We usually subsidize universities because they have what economists call ‘positive externalities’ –good spillover effects that benefit all of society. But campus riots and other campus pathologies can lead to negative externalities –bad societal spillover effects.”
What we are seeing today are very bad spillover effects. Elite universities provide soft landing pads for those useful to the Democratic party and laboratories for leftist ideas and advocacy. And they need to be stopped. Elite American education has been sliding for at least 75 years—William F. Buckley’s indictment of his alma mater, God and Man at Yale, was published in 1951. Today his complaints would seem quaint.
Alumni and parents should not be mesmerized by loving memories, beautiful pictures, and the prospect of worldly success. Until they show signs of real change, these institutions shouldn’t get either money or the souls of students. And if the GOP can get its act together, it ought to go back to the topic of taxing endowments. Democrats always profess love of taxing wealthy institutions. On this one, let’s give them what they want.
David P. Deavel teaches at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, and serves as a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative. Follow him on X (Twitter) @davidpdeavel.