Pro Palestinian protest at Harvard

Poison ivy: Gaza war rocks reputation of Ivy League schools

Harvard President Claudine Gay's attempts to apologize on behalf of students who accused Israel of being responsible for the massacre did not calm matters, and the world-renowned university could suffer serious damage to its reputation.

Claudine Gay, the new president of Harvard University, did not expect the storm she would have to face only a few months after entering one of the most prestigious and coveted positions in the world of academia. The letter from 34 student organizations at the university accusing Israel of responsibility for the October 7 massacre and the university's weak response three long days later made Gay and Harvard the focus of slander. Also her unexpected arrival at a Chabad Shabbat dinner at Harvard, where she tried to repair the damage with clichés like "I feel your pain and your loss" and "Harvard has your back. We know the difference between good and bad", did not really calm anyone’s spirits.
At Harvard, the pinnacle of the academic aspirations of young people all over the world, including in Israel, they are not used to being on this side of events. This is a historical, cash-rich institution with a fund of more than $50 billion and a flawless image that is fed by a formidable public relations machine based on graduates who make up the American elite. Now Harvard, along with other Ivy League universities, including Pennsylvania (Penn), Columbia and Cornell, find themselves in unfamiliar territory. They are attacked by none other than the hand that feeds them, and which for a long time has subtly hinted that the winds that blow mainly from the humanities faculties, are not to its liking.
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הפגנה פרו פלסטינית ב הרווארד
הפגנה פרו פלסטינית ב הרווארד
Pro Palestinian protest at Harvard
(Photo: AFP)
Hamas ignited the fire, but it had been burning for a long time, and only the trickle of political correctness kept the flame low. The events of October 7th caused everything to break out, including the delicate balance between the universities and the donors, who mostly come from the heart of the capitalist establishment, most of them from Wall Street, and yes, quite a few of them are Jews. On the one hand, the universities live on donations, but on the other hand, in recent years, they have been dedicated to a way of thinking that is light years away from Wall Street people.
Gay (53), who comes from Haiti, is herself one of the symbols of the complex processes that go through academia in the United States. Gay is the first black president and the second woman in the position in the 368-year history of the world-renowned university. Her appointment meets the requirements of the updated progressive American dream, what is known in the United States as Double Diversity. She is both a woman and black. Even in the American labor market today, you will look for such candidates who allow you to mark a check on some criteria of affirmative action. Before entering the president's office last July, Gay served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Her past research dealt with issues of inequality.
Now Gay has to find the delicate balance between the progressive agendas that have become very popular on campuses, and the need for cash. American universities are in second place in receiving donations after religious institutions, and the volume of donations is only increasing. Many Americans identify a donation to an academic institution as belonging to the elite, and thus, donations of a million dollars or more have reached a peak in the last two decades. Although tuition fees are very high, donations are still one of the main sources of income. At Harvard, for example, they accounted for 45% of revenue last year, and at Penn, gifts accounted for 1.5% of revenue of $14.4 billion in 2022.
The volume of donations is so huge that the popular assessment in the United States is that, despite a series of announcements to stop donations to Harvard and Penn, they will not really be affected. Meanwhile, the donor community managed to produce a certain domino effect with the cessation of donations to Harvard by Idan and Batia Ofer, Leslie Wexner, founders of Victoria's Secret, and Ken Griffin, who heads a Wall Street hedge fund. The well-known and respected American Huntsman family and Marc Rowan, who heads Apollo Global Management, one of the largest investment funds on Wall Street, announced the cessation of donations to Penn. Ron Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress and heir to the Estée Lauder cosmetics empire, meanwhile threatened to stop donations. "You are forcing me to re-examine my financial support, this in the absence of adequate steps to address anti-Semitism within the walls of the university," Lauder wrote to Penn leaders. Nikki Haley, who aspires to run for president on behalf of the Republican Party in the upcoming elections, tweeted on Saturday that on her watch there will be no more federal money for universities that allow anti-Semitic movements to flourish on their campuses.
Unfortunately for the heads of the universities, the events have spilled over from the campuses and are already permeating popular culture and a deeper discussion in American society about the importance of higher education. In an extensive study conducted by the Wall Street Journal together with the University of Chicago and which was published six months ago, it became clear that 40% of Americans believe that higher education has a negative effect on the country and 56% think that an academic degree is not a guarantee of success. Skepticism towards academia is particularly high among the target population - 18-34 year olds, and as evidence, there has been a 15% decrease in the number of university enrollment in the last decade. The main factors for this are considered to be the financial crisis of 2008 and the huge student debt that reaches $1.7 trillion.
Comedian and talk show host Bill Maher also added fuel to this fire, when he summed it up in one catchy sentence that alludes to the Corona epidemic. "If ignorance is a disease, then Harvard's courtyard is the fish market of Wuhan," he said. "As a graduate of an Ivy League university (he studied English and history at Cornell) who knows the value of a liberal education, I have one piece of advice for you: don't go to university. If you absolutely must go, don't go to a prestigious university, as recent events show that it only makes you idiots."