Student at UPenn
Over the past several weeks, universities have witnessed major donor backlash over various university administrations’ responses to the October 7th massacre and subsequent war between Israel and Hamas. However, by focusing on the monetary losses of universities, administrations overlook a much greater issue, student and young alumni’s opinion. Universities are forgetting that the students of today are the donors of tomorrow, and by neglecting their voices, they will face longer-term issues.
While the majority of students, parents, and young alumni are not yet capable of writing a check that will get administrations to hear them, administrations need to listen to them or else they will lose the trust of those who they are meant to serve and protect.
I cannot blame universities solely, the media has been covering donor backlash extensively. From CNBC to the New York Times, the rhetoric has been hyperfocused on donors. Yet, this narrative only continues to overlook those who are affected most, students.
What is occurring at universities is not normal. Harvard Student accosted, Tulane Student assaulted, Columbia student assaulted, Cornell student threatened to stab and rape his peers, and Cooper Union Jewish students sheltered in the library, to name just a few.
Donors are proud of their alma mater, they wouldn’t donate if this were untrue. These headlines are hurting the brand of their beloved institutions.
A record number of Jewish students are being assaulted by their peers on college campuses.
What is most profound is that many are saying not to heed to donor backlash, while I agree, please do listen to your students, as their voice is not being heard and their physical safety is in question.
Scott Bok, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, wrote an article in the Daily Pennsylvania, Penn’s student newspaper titled “Setting the Record Straight.” His first line of the article is, “I write in response to Marc Rowan’s letter.”
Why isn’t Scott Bok writing in response to the thousands of student and alumni letters to the administration? Why doesn’t Bok or someone from the administration respond to a petition with thousands of signatures within the Penn community to get rid of anti-Semitic professors?
In a Bloomberg article, Bok states that “Change, particularly if perceived as being forced by the withholding of contributions, would serve to only increase division within the broad university community.” Yet, again he is not addressing those who are directly affected by the growing anti-Semitism, the students.
There is no battle here, it is merely individuals trying to root out anti-Semitism and anti-American rhetoric from college campuses; this is a goal that I hope everyone can stand behind. Doubling down on “fighting” donors in a PR campaign overlooks that future donors of the university will not be “withholding contribution,” but rather never giving any in the first place, as they are not being heard.
At Harvard, similarly, student voices are being neglected. The New York Times reported, that Harvard spokesman Jonathan Swain said the school had been “in conversation with alumni and supporters,” describing them as “a vital part of our community.” Why is Swain and his team not in conversation with students? One of which was accosted by one of his peers recently.
Bill Ackman, Harvard alumnus and billionaire, spoke out against Harvard for not removing the student who accosted an Israeli MBA student. I can’t blame these donors, as the administrations seem to state they will not capitulate to donor pressure, and yet only seem to respond and listen to donor pressure, a true dichotomy.
At Columbia University, the university decided to postpone a major fundraising initiative due to rising tensions on campus. In a statement released on October 12th, university officials stated, “Right now, we know that the atmosphere on campus is extremely charged and many are concerned for their personal safety.”
Columbia can make a statement praising the “persistence” of students accused of antisemitism amid the Israel-Hamas war and that they are “grateful for the persistence and perseverance of the students, and their families, in the face of this harassment.” Creating resources for students who have outwardly supported Hamas’s actions on October 7th, they have yet to even address that one of their Israeli students was assaulted.
Even a professor at Columbia’s business school Shai Davidai stated, “If my amazing two-year-old daughter was now 18 years old, I would never, never, never send her to Columbia, not because it’s not a great institution. It’s an amazing institution. But because I know that she will not be protected there because the president of the university allows pro-terrorists to march on campus.”
Columbia’s president should truly reflect on what has transpired at his campus over the past three weeks and ask whether donors such as Leon Cooperman, who has halted donations, are merely trying to strong-arm the university or protect students from assault. If the president is so concerned about harassment, then he should start by addressing the swastika found in the International Affairs Building.
Donating to a school is similar to investing in a stock, you are putting your money somewhere where you believe in the product it is creating. As Warren Buffett stated, “Never invest in a business you cannot understand.” It is no wonder then why Jon Hunstman halted donations from UPenn, as he describes the school as “unrecognizable.”
By not respecting or listening to young alumni and donors, universities are effectively questioning the education they received. Harvard University’s mission statement is, “to advance new ideas and promote enduring knowledge.” Well, your alumni’s “enduring knowledge” is now being used, and by not listening or trusting what they say, the University in turn is calling into question such knowledge.
I would hope that administrations recognize that if they listened to their students’ concerns, donors would not be halting donations.
While I hope that universities would listen to their students, before their donors, that does not seem to be the reality. I thank the donors, not only for donating to the school and enhancing my experience as a student but for still caring about their alma mater and current students.
For people who tell universities not to succumb to donor pressure, they should just as loudly be demanding that universities listen to their students. It is an interesting paradox where administrations are telling donors to not divide or polarize the school while doing exactly that by not taking notice of students’ real concerns.