Donors are withdrawing millions of dollars in planned funding to punish US universities for their responses to Hamas’s attack on Israel, in a stand-off over free speech, higher education funding and academic leaders’ public responsibilities.
Billionaire benefactors including Apollo Global Management’s Marc Rowan and Limited Brands founder Leslie Wexner have called for stronger condemnation of Hamas and antisemitism by universities, and tougher action against students protesting against Israel. Law and investment firms have threatened to rescind job offers they had made to students, or not hire protesters when they graduate.
The pressure has left universities including Harvard, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania struggling to contain a growing crisis, with some revising earlier statements to be more outspoken.
Others — including free speech advocates and the University of North Carolina Wilmington — have defended principles developed in the 1967 Kalven report for the University of Chicago and since used more widely that colleges should commit to academic freedom and insist on “institutional neutrality on political and social issues”.
On Tuesday, Liz Magill, president of the University of Pennsylvania, said: “Penn stands emphatically against the terrorist attacks by Hamas in Israel and against antisemitism”, but acknowledged “we should have communicated faster and more broadly about where we stand”.
Her declaration came too late for donors, including Ronald Lauder, the cosmetics heir, who criticised a recent Palestinian literature festival held on campus and said he would pull funding. Others withdrawing support included venture capitalists David Magerman and Jonathon Jacobson, and Jon Huntsman, the former US ambassador to China and ex-governor of Utah, who said he was “closing his checkbook”.
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