• Q: Prioritize Major Donors or Free Speech?

    You can’t have a university without having free speech.”  

    – Donna Shalala, President University of Miami, 2001-2015

    Recent events in Israel have put America’s elite universities – and the price of free speech on campus – under a spotlight. 

    High-profile donors have recently announced that they are no longer donating to universities like Harvard and UPenn, citing inadequate support for Israel, inadequate public condemnation of Hamas, and/or tacit support of pro-Palestinian student groups after the October 7th attacks by Hamas on Israel.

    Many schools have defended the right to free speech at the expense of losing major donor support. Many of the same universities also have endowments worth billions of dollars (on which the universities do not pay taxes). 

    Are America’s elite universities being asked to prioritize donor relations over free speech on campus — or have their large reserves (and pool of other donors) long provided them with a measure of protection against “activist” or issue-driven donors of all kinds? Will more donations flow to private colleges and universities with explicitly stated sets of values, such as religious colleges and universities?

    Prioritize Major Donors or Free Speech?
    Photo by Vitaly Taranov
    1. Filial Kid

      Universities have for too long been influenced by their donors. The fact that major donors could publicly shame universities and their presidents for “not” saying something speaks more about the donors and how they seem themselves in relation to the university. Of course, upholding free speech at schools is much more important than appeasing major donors by parroting their views on major issues.

    2. Mary

      We need journalists to have free speech to maintain our democracy (or republic). We need universities to protect free speech to instill critical thinking skills in the next generation of journalists – and business leaders, politicians, and so on. That said, I found some of the wording from several student group statements (regarding the attack on Oct. 7) abhorrent. Honestly, I would be a little uneasy around classmates who signed-on to or showed support for the more extreme statements online.

    3. Jennifer

      Donors are free to donate to institutions or to stop donating to institutions as they see fit – it’s their money. I can’t help but wonder, though, if publicly announcing that they are stopping all donations to a prestigious university is a good look.
      Wouldn’t it be better to express concerns to the administration about the guidelines that student organizations are expected to follow and lobby for adjustments if warranted?
      I guess none of these successful businessmen (I haven’t seen any businesswomen named in articles yet) learned to bring solutions, not just demands, to the table when they attended the top MBA programs in the country.

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