While Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are under investigation by the Biden administration following a rise in antisemitic incidents at the universities, it’s unlikely they’ll face any serious consequences, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Following several high-profile instances of antisemitism on campuses, the Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) opened investigations into Harvard, UPenn and MIT; the investigations followed a hearing in which the presidents of each university refused to say if calling for the genocide of Jews violated their universities’ codes of conduct. Though the Biden administration is looking into these private colleges, as well as many public universities, it’s doubtful the schools will face consequences such as a loss of federal funding, experts told the DCNF.
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said the department would withhold funds if schools do not ensure students are protected in a November interview with CNN. Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said on Dec. 12 that the House may consider withholding funds from universities that fail to combat antisemitism on campus.
Mark Perry, a senior fellow at medical watchdog group Do No Harm, who has filed hundreds of complaints with ED’s OCR, said universities usually try to get investigations closed quickly and alters its behavior to resolve the relevant complaint.
“What normally happens when an investigation is opened by OCR (usually with a letter directly to the president of the university) is that the school has a pretty strong incentive to work with OCR to resolve the complaint/violation and get the federal government ‘off its back.’ Schools don’t usually strongly contest the allegations. They typically try to work with the OCR and move quickly to resolve the violation and get the investigation closed,” Perry told the DCNF.
Not complying with the federal government can get risky, and most universities aren’t willing to take that risk.
“The threat of a finding of noncompliance may be enough to help protect students in the short run since an ongoing pattern of failure to act would get increasingly risky for a university,” Adam Kissel, visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Harvard received at least $640 million in federal funding for research in 2022, according to a Harvard financial overview. UPenn received at least $700 million in federal funding for research in 2021 and MIT received at least $500 million in 2022.
“All educational institutions ultimately comply with civil rights laws as interpreted by the federal agencies, even when the agencies overreach. That’s because the threat of losing federal funds is existential. This enables the Education Department to abuse its power like it is doing with Title IX today,” Kissel told the DCNF.
Brigid Harrington, a higher education attorney at Bowditch & Dewey, who focuses on civil rights law and higher education, said that colleges usually comply with the federal government’s demands, according to Inside Higher Ed. “When OCR investigates the college, they typically don’t end in revoking their funding. They end with a resolution. And in the resolution, the college agrees to do what OCR recommends.”
Republican South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, alongside several other Republican Sens., introduced a bill in October to strip funding from universities that allow “violent antisemitism” on campus. Republican New York Rep. Elise Stefanik has been adamant about withdrawing funds from the universities unless they facilitate a safer environment for Jewish students on campus, according to Fox Business.
“We must DEFUND the rot in America’s higher education. It is unacceptable and unAmerican that any taxpayer dollars are going to universities propping up their promulgation of antisemitism by supporting professors, students, and staff, many who have openly called for the genocide of Jews,” Stefanik told the DCNF in a statement.
More than 30 student organizations at Harvard University signed a letter blaming Israel for the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks, resulting in major backlash. Other student organizations at elite universities released similar statements blaming Israel for the terrorist attacks including Columbia and Yale University.
Several antisemitic threats to university staff resulted in UPenn contacting the FBI to investigate the matters.
Following antisemitic incidents that occurred on Harvard and UPenn’s campuses, the colleges created antisemitism task forces to attempt to address the issue.
Harvard President Claudine Gay said in November the university was exploring “how we can build on the initial steps taken by the Office for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging to more fully integrate antisemitism into the work of that office.”
However, Kissel said this approach was unlikely to ameliorate the problem.
“It would be a mistake to give diversity bureaucrats even more resources when they have been a major source of division and oppression that helped lead to the current problems on campus. Jewish students should not ask for a place in the hierarchy of allegedly oppressed groups. Instead universities should clarify their principles and policies and cut out the double standards,” Kissel told the DCNF.
Armand Alacbay, chief of staff at American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a nonpartisan advocate of academic freedom and free speech, said that universities should focus on not selectively enforcing policies on free expression to ensure the best outcomes for students.
“To regain the public trust, colleges and universities must prove that they will protect all students from harassment and discrimination. And to regain their credibility, they must no longer be selective in their commitment to free expression,” Alacbay continued.
Harvard, UPenn and MIT did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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