Students from across the U.S. and Europe have taken to the streets to defend the indefensible or “contextualize” that which no context can justify: i.e., mass murder and gang rape in the Holy Land on Oct. 7. Many of their elders now wonder how kids they raised to be civilized seem to be stumped by how to react to such barbarism.
Society will need to answer that question, but even before that, some people with the power of the purse and the power of the law are doing something to correct the moral confusion that has gripped universities in the aftermath of Hamas’s horrendous massacre of Jews. In the U.S., billionaire alumni are withholding donations from elite schools. Some politicians such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have also tried to establish some order in state universities.
The donors have attracted the most attention because cutting off money will hurt the universities. Elite Ivy League Colleges—such as Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown, etc.—have endowment in the billions, so the departure of a few donors will hurt them less than state colleges.
But most of the attention during these crises is often shed on the Ivies, and they have been among the worst equivocators in a time that calls for moral clarity. It is also unknown whether there will be a cascade effect, with smaller donors now reconsidering their contributions. It’s fun to wear the sweat pants with your school’s logo and put its decal on the back of your car, but many will draw a line at antisemitism and mass rape.
Plus, the donors have published their letters, embarrassing university leadership. Among the best has to be the one that billionaire David Magerman sent to the University of Pennsylvania because of the tepid response to the crisis by the University’s president, Liz Magill.
“Over the past month, I have been deeply embarrassed by my association with and support for the University of Pennsylvania,” Magerman wrote in the letter on October 15. “The leadership of the university has failed to demonstrate the values I expect from an institution that purports to educate young adults and prepare them for a lifetime of leadership and to be emissaries for good in the world.”
Magerman noted that Marc Rowan, another billionaire donor to Penn, “has called for your firing as a response to your failures in leadership, but I feel your firing is unnecessary, because it is wholly inadequate. If in fact the University of Pennsylvania as an institution has such a misguided moral compass that it can fail to recognize evil when it is staring us all in the face, I don't think replacing you will accomplish anything. Frankly, I don't think there is anything anyone can do to redeem the school, short of rebuilding its moral foundations from the ground up.”
That last line captured how many Americans, not just those in the donor class, are reacting to the moral confusion coming from campuses following the Hamas massacre. Something must be done to the universities to rebuild them as moral centers that will engage in truth-discovery and instruct future generations on what’s best in our societies. Right now, to many, it is clear that universities have become the opposite—places where a Marxist professoriate indoctrinates young minds.
One politician who has tried to do something is Gov. DeSantis, who has instructed the Chancellor of the Florida university system, Ray Rodrigues, to deactivate the pro-Palestinian group National Students for Justice in Palestine, which has organized the most antisemitic demonstrations in U.S. campuses following the massacre.
Aiding Gov. DeSantis in this effort is an SJP toolkit which defends the Hamas atrocity, billing it as “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood.” It also says that “We as Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement, not in solidarity with this movement.” Seizing on the appearance of that statement as a declaration that SJP does not only support the terrorist, but are in fact part of them, Gov. DeSantis nudged Rodrigues to disband SJP chapters at Florida universities.
In Europe, whose universities rely less on individual donors and where there is less federalism within countries (the EU’s growth has been such that government by nation states is now called federalism, but this is problem to be tackled another day), it has been the national governments and cities that have taken the lead.
Thus, in France, President Emmanuel Macron on Oct. 12 had his interior minister ban all pro-Palestinian demonstrations, in order to contain the growth of antisemitic acts. Just as French police started using tear gas to dispel pro-Hamas demonstrations, Macron went on television and said, “’Let us not bring ideological adventures here [to France] by imitation or by projection. Let us not add national fractures ... to international fractures. Let us stay united.”
And the government of the German capital Berlin is strictly enforcing a ban on pro-Hamas demonstrations, in a bid to avoid the scenes of tens of thousands of protestors defending terrorists in British cities.
These actions by donors, governors, presidents and city mayors are welcome, but as necessary as they are, they’re treating symptoms, not curing the disease. After calm returns, society will have to ask itself, what have we allowed to happen among the young and the immigrant populations? Great care was taken in decades gone by to instill in them national values. Now we see what happens when we cease doing that.
This piece originally appeared in Disenso Fundación