With no warning and no provocation, Hamas terrorists struck Israel on Oct. 7 by attacking families, gunning down kids at a concert, beheading babies, setting grandmothers on fire, kidnapping children, raping and butchering young women, and discarding their bodies for public view.

The world gasped. There was understandable shock, outrage, and anger throughout the civilized world.

But not at America’s “elite” universities.

READ MORE — Guy Ciarrocchi: The reactions are (almost) as impactful as the bullets and bombs

At a moment in our culture where university presidents never miss a moment to pontificate and virtue-signal on whatever “crisis” or culture war is happening, sometimes tripping over each other to be the first to speak out for “justice,” support the cause du jour, or block conservative speakers so as to not expose their students to “hate,” there was silence.

Finally, on Oct. 10 — after the silence was so notable that it spoke louder than any statement — the President of the University of Pennsylvania issued a statement expressing opposition to the attack, sympathy for the victims and empathy for Penn’s Jewish community.

Of particular note for Penn, the university had recently hosted a “Palestine writes” symposium on Sept. 22, which drew criticism because of several antisemitic speakers.

Antisemitic writers hosted on campus. Silence over beheadings. Major donors had enough.

At last count, seven different business executives (and counting) who are wealthy, prominent alumni of the University of Pennsylvania, and whose donations are valued at eight figures, have very publicly denounced the leadership and Penn itself. Many have called for the president and the board chair to resign. Countless more have reposted those letters on social media, with no one knowing for sure how many more called, emailed, or sent snail mail privately to voice their shock and anger and to stop their donations.

This tragic episode has been higher education’s “Covid moment,” when the veil was pulled back for everyone to see what’s really going on at our universities. Beyond allowing grown men to compete in women’s scholarship athletics. Beyond creating “safe spaces” for students if Ben Shapiro or Riley Gaines are set to speak on campus. Beyond lectures on “microaggressions.” Beyond actual lists of words that are banned from campus dialogue.

Antisemitic writers hosted on campus. Silence over beheadings. Major donors had enough.

In 2020 and 2021, many public school parents had similar eye-opening moments. They watched or listened to their children’s Zoom classes. They heard firsthand their children’s teachers talk about “victims,” “oppressors,” and “privilege,” or discussions inviting students to explore their sexual identity, or teachers talking about their personal relationships at home. Parents were shocked to see and hear what was being taught and shared with their children — in reality, not part of the rumor mill.

Their responses ranged from outrage at school board meetings, forming parent committees, and running for office to withdrawing their children in favor of homeschooling, charter schools, or private schools.

This look behind the curtain was a mixed blessing. Many parents were shocked and even angry, yet they could speak out or transfer their children.

In a similar way at Harvard, Penn, and among “the elites,” donors were able to have a fully transparent look at the ambivalence, moral equivalency, silence, and “navel-examining” in the face of true, actual, demonstrable evil. This episode broke the camel’s back. Alumni and donors could sit idly by no more. Many six-, seven-, and eight-figure checks will not be forthcoming any time soon.

Alumni and business leaders donate to colleges for many reasons, including a belief in the university’s mission and that it’s preparing students for careers, citizenship, and leadership. Well, maybe not so much.

To state the obvious, people who have the ability to make large donations have the luxury of choosing the institutions that they wish to impact — positively or negatively. Lots of other schools, nonprofits, and organizations would welcome their support, many with actual missions to educate and uplift their clients or students, to encourage debate, to uphold American values, and to prepare people for active, engaged leadership and citizenship.

These donors really learned about the leadership, values, and priorities of our nation’s elite universities. Penn, Harvard, and their ilk had shown that their misguided values extended beyond refusing to allow conservative speakers on campus, reinventing biology, micromanaging student newspapers, and virtue-signaling by teaching classes digitally for months and years, in 2020, 2021, and even into 2022.

READ MORE — Guy Ciarrocchi: Parents make the common sense case for Lifeline Scholarships

Donors and alumni were shocked to learn that “tolerance” did not include allowing Republican Senators to speak on campus — because their views are “hate speech.” Yet, “tolerance” does include calls “to understand” why Hamas felt it necessary to “promote their cause” by cutting the heads off of babies in their own homes. “Tolerance” means allowing antisemitic speakers on campus. “Tolerance” includes allowing protests and rallies on campus to celebrate Hamas’ butchery or calling for an end to Israel.

In a stunning act of arrogance and detachment, Penn’s board of trustees issued a vote of confidence in the president and board chair.

For better or worse, Penn will survive. A $21 billion endowment buys a lot of insulation from alumni and donor anger, no matter how appropriate and justified.

The same is true at Harvard, which — for once — is running second to Penn in its moment of shame under the bright lights. Harvard has a $51 billion endowment.

(It’s worth exploring how these “elite” universities accumulated billions and how much money they may have raised from foreign governments or their emissaries, or — as in the case of Chinese students — raised by welcoming countless well-connected foreign students gladly willing to pay the full ticket price. And why, even with a $21 billion endowment, Penn charges tuition and fees that cost a student about $91,000 to live on campus — maybe so students can take out student loans and then stick taxpayers with the bill, courtesy of Biden. But I digress…)

The issue isn’t whether they’ll miss the money; it’s whether they’ll miss students through transfers now or fewer applicants in the future. Whether they’ll lose their all-so-important social status.

Longer term, like public school boards, will it impact how they conduct themselves? Or, like Penn, will they dig in their heels?

Will universities reassess what a true liberal education is? In the future, will university presidents speak out less and focus on statements showing true thought leadership rather than virtue signaling?

More noteworthy, is this current fight between donors and universities a preview of a bigger split between academia and its allies on the Left versus true liberals? Will this be the rebirth of liberals in America?

Guy Ciarrocchi is a Senior Fellow with the Commonwealth Foundation. He writes for Broad+Liberty and RealClear Pennsylvania. Follow him @PaSuburbsGuy.

13 thoughts on “Guy Ciarrocchi: We believed colleges were harming America. Now, everyone knows it.”

  1. I do not believe that this discomfiture on the part of large donors will have much impact on Penn or any other Ivy League schools. Like Guy points out, they have substantial insulation in the form of huge endowments. Now if the Congress could gets it head out of its collective butt, it could do something that would make a difference on several fronts. It could enact legislation that would impose a one-time 5% tax on the most-recent endowment balance of any university with a balance of over $1 Billion. These tax receipts would be dedicated solely to student loan debt forgiveness, with any balance left over being distributed to any public school district already receiving title 1 federal funds on a per capita basis. That would send a message and make a difference

    1. So you don’t want private donors to cancel people because of their political opinions – you actually want the federal government to play a role in silencing Americans based on what political views they have… hm…..

      What ever happened to free speech and colleges being an open marketplace of ideas and not a place to hide kids from different viewpoints that make them uncomfortable? As a Jew with friends and family taking cover from rockets and fighting in the IDF, at least we can agree the speech itself is repugnant. What’s your connection to Israel? Just wondering.

      1. I think you’re missing the point, Cicero. It’s not free speech or a marketplace of ideas when there’s only one side or viewpoint that’s allowed!

    2. Thomas Sowell explains in Knowledge and Decisions that agencies make more laws than Congress does, but the agencies are insulated from any sort of consequences of their decisions because the officials are not elected. That has the effect of creating a larger divide between people who make decisions and those who experience the consequences. He says: “There are no solutions, only trade-offs.”
      If Universities were not protected by the fact people can’t default on their student debt, Universities would be very different places and would have a very different cost.
      Published by Statista Research Department, Jun 2, 2023: In 2021, students who graduated from Cornell University had an average student debt of 26,865 U.S. dollars, making them the most indebted class in the Ivy League. This is compared to Princeton University, where the average student debt was 10,299 U.S. dollars. In 2021 Cornell University had a total of about 4,500 graduates according to Joe Wilensky on May 30, 2021 who wrote “Grads feted in person: ‘Where you were meant to be all along” in the Cornell Chronicle. Let’s say: 4,500 x $26,865 totaling $120,892,500.00; and, according to James Dean on October 14, 2021 who wrote “Markets, restructuring lift endowment to new high in FY 2021” Cornell’s endowment in 2021 was $10B. Let’s say 5% of $10B is $500,000,000 then all of the graduating class of Cornell would be debt free with a remainder of $379,107,500 ($500m-2021 Cornell undergraduate debt) left to disburse. Does the remainder next get spent on Cornell graduate school debt? And with a 5% drag on returns for these endowments how quickly will they be exhausted? What happens then? And can’t these Ivy league graduates pay their own debt? Other questions will quickly arise: why not instead have this new tax money be directed to other people altogether, like feeding poor children, and let these Ivy League graduates pay for themselves?
      Thomas Sowell rejects the tendency to put economic and political decisions and their results in moral terms. Doing so, he argues, ignores the tradeoffs and limitations inherent in every economic system and society. Sowell also condemns price controls (such as rent control, minimum wage, price fixing, and subsidies) because they interfere in the communication between consumers and producers, necessary to optimize the choices of each. The fact that some industries or government agencies seem particularly incompetent or corrupt, he argues, is not bad people performing the duties, but of rational people acting in their own interests responding to whatever incentives have been established in the system.

  2. I say this as a Jew (Is Guy Ciarrocchi Jewish?) who has friends and family in the line of fire and others fighting bravely in the IDF (Which friends and family of Guy are being threatened?). I’m one degree separated from people who were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas (Has Guy ever even been to Israel?) and I find these college students’ views repugnant (we agree there):

    What happened to all that right-wing virtue signaling about “free speech”? Radical far-right extremists like the author couldn’t be any more clear that what they’ve always really meant is “free speech for me but not for thee”. When it comes down to it, they’re all too happy to cancel people with different political views. Modern Republicans are just like EVERY other ultra-nationalist, populist movement dedicated to a single, semi-deified “dear leader” that has attacked academics and universities: from Stalin to Pol Pot to Franco to Mussolini. When does this ever end well?

    In the off chance that any B&L readers actually ARE concerned about free speech for EVERYONE, I suggest looking at FIRE:


  3. It is great to see some of the comments here supporting free speech! May I please suggest you take some time to read about the federal lawsuit, Missouri v. Biden, which has uncovered astonishing evidence of an entrenched censorship scheme between the federal government and Big Tech that would make Communist China proud. At least 67 officials and agencies — including the FBI — have been accused in the lawsuit of violating the First Amendment by pressuring Facebook, Twitter and Google to censor users for alleged misinformation or disinformation. What were the consequences you ask? Here are three:
    It has been subsequently revealed: 1) the evidence-backed view that school lockdowns were being driven by teacher unions, not data, was correct and those lockdowns have done long-term harm to children, 2) those Mrna gene therapy (called vaccines) do not stop infection, and were not stopping the transmission of COVID and thus most of the illogical mandates surrounding them were pointless and a risk authorities now admit is they may cause myocarditis in children themselves, 3) and not inconsequently, the former Presidental Administration that brought about historic Middle East Abraham Accords which opened up new avenues for cooperation among Israel and its Arab partners was impacted by top-ranking Biden administration officials when they colluded with those social media companies to suppress speech about the Hunter Biden laptop story.
    Imagine if Afghanistan had not collapsed the way it did. Imagine if the prior Presidental administration had another 4 years to build upon the Abraham Accords? Do you think Hamas terrorists would’ve launched that disgusting terrorist attack in Israel? Do you think Ukraine would be in the state it is? The Biden Crime Administration has been a total disaster, but the tweets have been distinguished and Presidential. For the record, I am not Ukrainian.

    1. Yes it is too bad that Biden followed Trump’s Afghanistan withdrawal plan. I can’t imagine the mess we’d be dealing with if we had withdrew from Afghanistan even faster (as Trump had wanted to do), if we “let Iran do what it wants in Syria” as he suggested, if Trump had continued to LEAK INTELLIGENCE SECRETS that put Israel at risk, or if we had let Trump add another record shattering 7 TRILLION to our national debt. There’s a good reason that the overwhelming majority of Jewish Americans vote against Republicans (hint: its not the incredibly antisemitic trope that we’re “disloyal” as trump has asserted)




      1. During Trump Administration the Afghanistan government was getting bribed with US tax money and “controlled” most of the country’s territory. Everyone except US citizens’ knew it was a ponzi scheme that would blow up once the money was cut off. But women could go outside and work. Children (both male and female) could go to school. And the U.S. was spending less in Afghanistan in a year than we used to spend in a week. Our US troops were not dying over there. Trump was negotiating with the Taliban, and there was nothing wrong with that. The negotiations were conditions-based, and Trump said the Taliban would be held accountable for its actions. Biden Administration decided to call it a day and called the troops home regardless of the consequences. Those are the facts. The above link to a Military Times’ article saying that US military generals disobeyed “illegal orders” from Trump to withdrawal from Afghanistan seems to put the actual decision and manner of withdrawal squarely on the Biden Administration.
        Your link to the Times of Israel quotes: “So Syria was lost long ago. It was lost long ago. And besides that, I don’t want — we’re talking about sand and death. That’s what we’re talking about,” Trump said during a cabinet meeting. “We’re not talking about vast wealth. We’re talking about sand and death.” On when US forces would leave Syria, Trump said: “I don’t want to be in Syria forever.”
        Good. Trump was correct on his assessment of Syria. Remember, Trump also ultimately agreed to revise his stance there. That’s how it is supposed to work – when the President is wrong and possibly making a grave decision, then responsible military leaders possibly resign. Yet, remember no one took any accountability for the fiasco in Afghanistan – they just bragged that they disobeyed supposed “orders” given by Trump.
        Lastly, regarding the other link from the Times of Israel, they report in part: “…some former heads of the Mossad decrying Trump and calling for the US to be “punished” for the gaffe.”
        Punish the US? Ok… are the same individuals who ignored warnings from Egypt before Hamas terrorist attack? May I suggest that is a major reason not everyone in the US loves the Zionist agenda – because it is not necessarily aligned with US interests. Punish the US?!?!
        Hey, thank you for sending me that link.

  4. A major error by elite colleges and universities in America in recent years, in my opinion, has been to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and to ignore decency, humanity, and morality.

  5. Cicero, please don’t start an argument with “As a jew…” It’s a conversation stopper that doesn’t add any more to your argument than saying, as a Black, as a woman, as a Christian, or as a lefthander.

    If I started every conversation with “As a White man…” there would be so much to talk about that no one else would have anything to say.

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