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How to Combat Antisemitism and Anti-Americanism in American Colleges and Universities

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Jew-hatred is on the rise in America. Worse yet, it is being funded by American tax dollars. The latest onslaught of radical college protests at places like Columbia University and Yale University has intensified the cry to “Defund the colleges!” But is that even possible? What, exactly, is the best way to do that?

The images flooding news stations and social media have been nothing short of horrifying: Keffiyeh-clad students replacing the stars  and stripes with the Palestinian flag, defacing statues of George Washington, and barring Jewish students from accessing certain parts of campus. The situation at Columbia became so turbulent that a Rabbi advised Jewish students to leave campus because it was no longer safe for them.

While students should be safe to exercise their freedom of speech on campus, they cannot be host to explicit calls for violence or genocide of an entire people group. America’s Ivy League colleges are supposed to cultivate critical thinkers, the next generation of lawyers, diplomats, politicians, the brightest representatives of American meritocracy. Instead, they are filled with students chanting, “From the river to sea, Palestine will be free!”; students who do not know to which river or sea they are referring.

But while the antisemitic protests have put a recent spotlight on these universities, they have been infected with anti-West and anti-American values for decades. They have been complicit in signing young adults up for hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of debt, only to encourage their pursuit of degrees that provide no marketable skills. Perhaps these protests will be the final necessary straw that motivates lawmakers to hit these colleges where it truly hurts – their wallets.

In 2023 alone, the Ivy League universities received more than $5 billion in taxpayer funds. Other schools that have garnered headlines for their anti-Israel protests also receive large sums of government money. Last fiscal year, University of California Berkeley received more than $451.4 million, New York University more than $805.5 million, University of Texas Austin received roughly $645.6 million, and George Washington University got more than $200 million.

The recent protests have spurred legislators on to propose ways to restrict these federal funds. Just a few weeks after the October 7 attack, Sen. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) introduced the Stop Antisemitism on College Campuses Act. The bill would prohibit any college that authorizes, facilitates, provides funding for, or otherwise supports any event promoting antisemitism on campus from participating in any federal student aid programs.

This strategy would certainly disincentivize antisemitic activities. In 2018, the most recent data available, 65% of federal funds for universities was used for student aid. Schools rely on that money for scholarships, work-study programs, and student loans.

But this bill would not address any of the other issues that plague public universities. For that, a broader approach is needed, such as attacking the universities’ tax status.

All public universities operate as 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, a status granted to entities that operate exclusively “for educational purposes.” Yet when schools such as Yale are paying more money on private equity fund managers than on their own students, the claim that they are educational non-profits is tenuous at best. While the House Ways and Means Committee sent a letter to Harvard University, as well as University of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Cornell University, suggesting that their tax-exempt status was in question, there have been no serious legislative proposals to revoke that status or regulate what qualifications a school must meet in order to be eligible as a 501(c)(3).

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) has a proposal related to this problem. Rather than outright revoke their tax-exempt status totally, he proposes increasing the tax on the massive endowments that these elite universities receive. His College Endowment Accountability Act would raise the excise tax on endowment net investment income from 1.4 percent to 35 percent for secular, private colleges and universities with at least $10 billion in assets under management. The impact would be significant. Vance, who grew up in an impoverished Appalachian household but went on to graduate from Yale, is particularly aware of how unjust it is that, as he calls them, “these massive hedge funds pretending to be universities” enjoy lower tax rates than most Americans.

Another possible approach is to go after foreign donors because American universities don’t just receive American funding. Believe it or not, in 2023, American schools received $21 billion from foreign entities and, according to the Department of Education, more than 50% of this came from Middle Eastern governments with anti-Western values. Qatar alone has spent $4.7 million over the past 20 years on American college programs. Other countries have made similarly large investments. More than 100 colleges have received money from China since 2013, with Harvard raking in a whopping $1 billion from Beijing. This is concerning. Schools should have to report what these funds are being spent on or be prohibited from receiving them at all.

But it’s not up to the federal government alone to keep public universities in line. The states have a large amount of power over these schools as well, if only they would choose to exert that power.

In January of this year, Florida’s Department of Education announced a rule that bars public colleges from using any state or federal funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs. The Department also announced that the course “Principles of Sociology,” a class that taught students about various “woke” ideologies, would be replaced with a general American history course. Texas also passed a bill restricting DEI-related funds. These are great first steps and proof that state governments can force universities to change direction.

Until governments take greater action, every American, especially alumni of these universities, has the power to influence the schools. These colleges are havily funded by endowments, so any donor should immediatey stop their giving. Alum can also reach out to their alma maters and tell them that enabling and encouraging anti-American activities is unacceptable.

The most effective and persuasive governmental action is done through funding, and public universities are no exception. To fix the rot within higher education, legislators should use the power they have over these schools’ purse strings to make them focus less on radical and destructive ideologies, and more on raising up the next generation of American leaders.