Neil Gronowetter

Tax the antisemitism out of US universities

Closing private checkbooks alone isn’t motivation enough to do the right thing and protect Jewish students
Students participate in a protest in support of Palestine and for free speech outside of the Columbia University campus on November 15, 2023, in New York City. (SPENCER PLATT / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)
Students participate in a protest in support of Palestine and for free speech outside of the Columbia University campus on November 15, 2023, in New York City. (SPENCER PLATT / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

“The power to tax is the power to destroy.” The US Supreme Court astutely observed that back in 1819. Two hundred years later, I would add this not-so-obvious corollary: “The power to tax is also the power to fight antisemitism.” Specifically, taxing US universities.

College campuses today are hotbeds of execrable antisemitic behavior. If we want to be more effective in fighting antisemitism, we need to create more powerful disincentives for universities that condone antisemitic conduct on their campuses. Students and professors who intimidate and harass Jewish students, with the willful blind eye of university administrations, have been creating toxic and unsafe spaces for Jews.

Jewish donors, and those offended by antisemitism, are rightly withholding future donations to elite schools. Closing those private checkbooks alone will not provide sufficient pressure to motivate elite universities to do the right thing.

Multi-billion-dollar endowments insulate elite universities from public outrage and alumni pressure.

As of 2023, Harvard’s endowment was $50.7 billion! Yale: $40.7 billion. Princeton: $34.1 billion. MIT: $23.5 billion. University of Pennsylvania: $21 billion. Columbia University: $13.6 billion. Cornell: $10 billion.

Arizona Congressman Eli Crane has proposed a bill that would halt federal funding in the form of contracts and grants for any university in the country with an endowment greater than $5 billion.

According to Crane’s office:

“Currently, 21 educational institutions in the United States have endowments that fall into this category, including every Ivy League university. Most of these schools saw alarming increases in antisemitic activity on their campuses following the October 7th Hamas terror attack against Israel, with blatant calls for genocide and Jewish students fearing for their lives.

These institutions did little to protect their students, instead helping to cultivate antisemitic environments sympathetic to genocidal terrorists.”

Crane’s bill is a great start, but even his bill, and closed alumni checkbooks, will still fall short of compelling universities to do the right thing.

What will cause them to do the right thing? Drawing down upon their sacred endowments.

Back in July 2020, former President Donald Trump tweeted that the Department of Treasury should re-examine universities’ tax exemptions because many institutions “are about Radical Left Indoctrination, not Education.” Private and public colleges and universities are typically exempt from taxes because they qualify as nonprofit groups with a dedicated mission, or 501(c)(3) organizations. The IRS, under the Department of Treasury, never received any formal directives to undertake such an examination. President Trump’s tweet did not lead to any substantive action by the Trump administration.

The ideological tilt left among administrators and faculty is unmistakable. In a 2022 survey of Harvard faculty, more than 80 percent of respondents characterized their own political leanings as “liberal” or “very liberal.” Only 1.46% self-identified as “conservative”; none self-identified as “very conservative.” (Perhaps the survey’s biggest surprise? That Harvard employs any self-identifying conservative professors at all.)

That ideological tilt is indoctrinating America’s youth, instead of educating them, encouraging them to read diverse viewpoints, and teaching them to think critically.

That failure, however gross, will not in itself be sufficient to challenge the tax-exempt status of universities.

One of the toxic Hydra heads that directly emanates from this left-wing indoctrination – systemic antisemitic actions by students and faculty – may be the catalyst for change.

High-profile lawsuits are rolling out on behalf of Jewish students against multiple universities for violating, among other things, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Universities’ systemic failure to protect Jewish students should jeopardize their status as a “public charity.” This charity designation funnels almost $7 billion a year (!) to the top ten US universities in the form of US taxpayer subsidies, tax breaks, and federal payments. If that charity designation goes away, those universities will need to make up for that shortfall with their precious endowment money.

Even when universities are under the microscope with testimony before Congress, they still repeatedly give the wrong answers under oath. Change on campus will not come from within.

Unfortunately, it will only come from litigation in the US courts and the top-down financial pressure that only Congress can exert. When given the choice, elite universities are not choosing good over evil. They are not protecting their Jewish students from the systemic intimidation and harassment from which they would shield other protected classes.

If given the choice between protecting Jews on campus and eroding their endowments, elite universities would likely see the light soon enough.

Congress may not yet be able to tax the hell out of universities, but they may be able to tax the antisemitism out of them.

About the Author
Neil Gronowetter is CEO of Emerald Tide Financial and a former trial attorney. He also was founder and president of a pro-Israel political action group while he attended Yale University.
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