Rich Students Disproportionally Protest Israel: Should We Fund Elite Universities?

My friend, John Fund, a distinguished journalist and political commentator, has brought to my attention a fine study done by the Washington Monthly, showing that virulent anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian protests have occurred disproportionately at elite colleges where most students come from relatively rich families.

You heard a lot about pro-Palestinian demonstrations, building occupation, and tent encampments at schools like Columbia or Northwestern, but little or no mention of protests at schools where those attending are primarily from working-class families with a high proportion of first-generation students or at historically black colleges and universities.

The Washington Monthly examined this exhaustively and confirmed that the less selective public universities had far less protest activity than the elite and richly endowed private schools. This is in marked contrast to the widespread Vietnam War era protests, which were prominent at state schools, most tragically, at Kent State University, where four people died.

As one who has studied, taught, or guest lectured at schools of all stripes—I estimate on between 300 and 400 American campuses—I sense the zeitgeist of America’s collegiate villages varies enormously, consistent with the Washington Monthly study.

Many members of the campus community at the most elite schools think they are what Glenn Loury, in his spectacular new memoir Late Admissions: Confessions of a Black Conservative, calls masters of the universe—among the chosen persons classified as the best, brightest, smartest. They think they are today’s philosopher kings, destined to lead the nation in the future just as their professors and alumni did and do today.

The crisis in higher education today is that the academy’s perceptions have likely never been more divergent from those of American society as a whole.

When progressive icons like the New York Times and the Washington Post start critically editorializing about some of the practices of the self-appointed collegiate establishment, you know higher education is in trouble.

The noble wunderkind idealists inhabiting the Harvards and Columbias of the world believe they have almost a divine right to behave as they wish, ignoring not only the rule of law but also accepted boundaries of protest in the democratic polity in which they live. Worse, they lately have displayed a despicable hatred or contempt towards a group of people based on their religion and traditions, also known as racism—evaluating people on group characteristics instead of their own worth as individuals.

But, the excessive disconnect between the real world and college is beginning to have seriously negative consequences.

Universities are utterly dependent on public support. This dependence is somewhat less pronounced for richly endowed schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Northwestern, Duke, and Stanford. However, even these institutions face significant challenges, particularly with the potential imposition of larger endowment taxes. The indication that rich alums will be withholding millions, maybe billions, in support hurts the elite schools, as does a decline in applications, making them less selective, less elitist, and less the home of the chosen ones and instead the home of what that great American philosopher Leona Helmsley once memorably called, “the little people.”

I suspect we are in the early, not late, stages of the impact of the abrupt decline in public support for universities. Waning student interest and the very real birth dearth already provide a bleak future for enrollments and governmental subsidies. When progressive icons like the New York Times and the Washington Post start critically editorializing about some of the practices of the self-appointed collegiate establishment, you know higher education is in trouble.

Both market forces—subdued as they are given massive public and private subsidies—and even governmental actions should bring corrective actions that may lead to improvements: lesser control of campus activities by leftist faculty, administrative, and student leaders. Colleges may be saved by crackdowns initiated by alumni and governing boards of private elite institutions as well as politicians and trustees of state universities.

Already, encouraging signs are appearing. MIT says faculty will no longer be asked to sign loyalty oaths to the woke supremacy commitments to support “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Decidedly, non-elitist Yeshiva University reports booming enrollments as abled—and often rich—Jewish students flee what they see as anti-Semitic hotbeds—Harvard and Columbia.

Spineless, unprincipled, and often academically dubious presidents of schools selected in a self-congratulatory affirmation of racial and ethnic inclusiveness are being defrocked from positions of dominance. And, as the public increasingly says no to campus wokeness, once religious and academically traditional schools are flourishing.

Maybe sanity will prevail, and higher education will come through wiser, rededicated to principles of free expression, civil debate, and respect for the rule of both formal and collegiate forms of the rule of law.

Photo of Gaza Solidarity Encampment at Columbia University — Wikimedia Commons


  • Richard Vedder

    Richard Vedder is Distinguished Professor of Economics Emeritus at Ohio University, a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, and a board member of the National Association of Scholars.

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3 thoughts on “Rich Students Disproportionally Protest Israel: Should We Fund Elite Universities?

  1. We need to nationalize the so-called elite universities. Additionally, no graduate of the law schools of these make-believe institutions should be appointed to any federal judgeships, most importantly, the USSC.

  2. “Universities are utterly dependent on public support. This dependence is somewhat less pronounced for richly endowed schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Northwestern, Duke, and Stanford.”

    They are more dependent on public support than you might think they are.

    First, very little of the endowment is actual free cash which can be spent for anything. Much of it is designated to fund specific things, such as a professorship in a specific field of study. Second, it’s not uncommon for the donor to stipulate that only the income from endowment may be spent, that the principal may not be touched so as to maintain the endowment in perpetuity. And with a living donor, it has to be spent in a way that the donor wants to see it spent. Et cetera.

    So while Harvard may have a $49.4 Billion endowment, absent bankruptcy, there is no way that Harvard could actually spend anywhere near that amount of money, no matter how badly it wanted to.

    Second, there is Bill Bennett’s rule that higher education spending will inevitably rise to the amount of money they have available to spend. Forty years ago he predicted that extending student loans to the middle class would not make college more affordable — that instead college costs would increase to consume all of the available money. Bennett was right — even when adjusted for inflation, college costs increased by 180% between 1980 and 2020.

    Places like Harvard are spending all the Federal money they are getting, and they are getting a lot,/b> of it, more than many people realize. In addition to the Federal financial aid dollars flowing through their students, and the Federal research grants flowing through their faculty, there are the Federal Indirect Costs. Also known as Research Overhead, this is a surcharge on all Federal research grants to pay for the electricity, heat, and other incidentals that researchers are using in the process of conducting their research. At Harvard, it ranges as high as 89%, with much of it being 69% — see

    And then it’s not just the exemption on taxes on the endowment — private universities enjoy an exemption from local real estate taxes and state sales taxes — and this amounts to a major subsidy when you realize how valuable their real estate often is, and how much stuff they buy.

    I would argue that — on a per-student basis — the private well-endowed institutions are more dependent on public support. When you add it all up, the higher per-student financial aid because of the higher tuition, the higher research overhead rates, and the more valuable buildings and grounds, the elite privates are actually being subsidized more (per student) than the state universities.

    It was established way back in 1965 that institutions which receive Federal funding shall be subject to Federal regulations (which is why Hillsdale and Grove City Colleges refuse to accept Federal funds). Congress in the 1980s stepped in and forced colleges to crack down on alcohol consumption — the day-long keg parties* and wild “Animal House” fraternity parties of the 1970s are no more.

    I think it is again time for Congress to step in and say “No Mas!”

    Speech codes didn’t work 30 years ago and they won’t now — it’s not just that they would be unconstitutional but that they simply won’t work. The absolute best way I know to get an 18-year-old to say something is to tell him/her/it not to, and you’re never going to prove exactly who said it, even when it isn’t being screamed out of a dormitory window at 2AM.

    But blockades and encampments are things that institutions can do something about and in addition to clearly stated policies prohibiting such, institutions should be required to arrest and expel/fire those participating in them. (Yes, faculty & staff that are involved in this stuff should be fired, moral turpitude, and Congress can require that as a condition of receipt of Federal funds.) Those with Federal financial aid lose it (as they currently do for drug convictions) and those on Student Visas get sent home.

    Make it a Federal Hate Crime for two or more persons to exclude any student from any portion of the campus that the student has a right to be. This would address the “Jew Free Zones” without getting into who is or isn’t a Jew — the offense being the barricade. 110 lb girls think they are exempt from arrest, and maybe they must be, but a Federal indictment or two would put an end to this real fast.

    * Looking back, it is hard to realize the vast volumes of beer that was consumed — I remember one fraternity party where kegs were tapped four at a time from a supply inside a 40′ refrigerated trailer, and the popular “mudslide” traditions on many campi were initially beer slides — the kegs were tapped at the top of the “bowl” and so much beer was spilled that by afternoon, the ground was soaked all the way down the hill.

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