Harvard alumni group threatens to withdraw donations over anti-Semitism concerns

By | November 11, 2023

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A view of the Harvard University campus on July 8, 2020 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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More than 1,600 Harvard University alumni say they will withhold donations to the school until Harvard takes urgent action to combat anti-Semitism on campus, part of a wave of challenges to universities across the country to combat speech of hatred triggered by the Israel-Hamas war.

Famous former billionaires as Pershing Square founder Bill Ackman and former Victoria’s Secret CEO Leslie Wexner have previously stated that if Harvard doesn’t take steps to address the issue, they could face a problem. exodus of donorsbut now the biggest group yet alumni – most of whom do not have billionaire status – are threatening to withdraw their donations.

“We never thought that at Harvard College we would have to argue that terrorism against civilians demands immediate and unequivocal condemnation,” members of the Harvard College Jewish Alumni Association (HCJAA) wrote in a statement . open letter to President Claudine Gay and Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana. “We never thought we had to advocate for the recognition of our own humanity. »

The HCJAA was created last month following the school’s response to the October 7 attacks on Israel. Organizers say it is the first Jewish alumni association in the university’s history.

The group calls on Harvard to recognize its alumni association as a special interest group, share concrete plans to ensure the protections of Jewish students on campus, and formally adopt the International Alliance for American Memory. ‘Holocaust. definition of anti-Semitism.

“We now have a movement of more than 1,600 alumni demanding meaningful reforms on campus to ensure the safety of every student. » Rebecca Claire Brooks, co-founder of the HCJAA, told CNN.

“This is a large and growing intergenerational movement of alumni from many different sectors and industries. Yes, some of them are very influential donors and others are more normal sized donors. But we speak with one voice in response to this moment,” she said.

Harvard President Gay wrote a letter to members of the broader Harvard community to address the tensions on Thursday. “Harvard rejects all forms of hate and we are committed to addressing it,” she wrote. “Let me reiterate what I and other Harvard leaders have said previously: anti-Semitism has no place at Harvard. »

The school, she said, has “begun the process of examining how anti-Semitism manifests within our community” and “will implement a robust education and training program for students, faculty, and staff on anti-Semitism in general and at Harvard in particular.” The school is also “looking to identify external partnerships that will allow Harvard to learn from and work with others on our strategy,” she said.

Harvard officials referred CNN to Gay’s letter when asked for comment.

Philanthropy is biggest contributor to Harvard’s revenue, accounting for 45 percent of the university’s $5.8 billion in revenue last year. Philanthropic donations recorded for 9 percent of the university’s operating budget last year and 36 percent of its $51 billion endowment amassed over decades.

While much of college giving comes from large gifts, small alumni gifts are becoming an increasingly important source of funding for higher education, according to the Council for the Advancement and Support of College. education (CASE). About 95% of donations received by universities in 2022 were lower more than $5,000.

Universities like boasts the high number donations they receive to show they have an engaged alumni base, CASE said. And while large gifts are often limited to specific purposes, such as constructing a new building or facility, universities have more leeway in how they use smaller gifts.

“I wanted to allow people, regardless of income, to express their disappointment, dissatisfaction or grief with college,” Brooks said. “This is an egalitarian popular movement where any donor, regardless of religion or age, regardless of the amount of their normal contribution, can participate in the commitment by sending a clear signal that this type of Toxic culture on campus is harmful to everyone. »

Brooks told CNN that a number of similar groups from other universities contacted her to launch similar campaigns on their own campuses.

More than 300 Cooper Union alumni also recently threatened to end their donations following the New York school’s response to anti-Israel protests. In a letter sent to the school earlier this month, they accused the administration of being “more concerned with avoiding scandal than protecting its Jewish students.”

Cooper Union did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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