Higher Ed Has Become a Threat to America

Our corrupt, radical universities feed every scourge sfrom censorship and crime to antisemitism.

By John Ellis

America faces a formidable range of calamities: crime out of control, borders in chaos by design, children poorly educated while sexualized and politicized against parental opposition, unconstitutional censorship, a press that does government PR rather than oversight, our institutions and corporations debased in the name of “diversity, equity and inclusion”—and more. To these has been added an outbreak of virulent antisemitism.

Every one of these degradations can be traced wholly or in large part to a single source: the corruption of higher education by radical political activists.

Children’s test scores have plummeted because college education departments train teachers to prioritize “social justice” over education. Censorship started with one-party campuses shutting down conservative voices. The coddling of criminals originated with academia’s devotion to Michel Foucault’s idea that criminals are victims, not victimizers. The drive to separate children from their parents begins in longstanding campus contempt for the suburban home and nuclear family. Radicalized college journalism departments promote far-left advocacy. Open borders reflect pro-globalism and anti-nation state sentiment among radical professors. DEI started as a campus ruse to justify racial quotas. Campus antisemitism grew out of ideologies like “anticolonialism,” “anticapitalism” and “intersectionality.”

Never have college campuses exerted so great or so destructive an influence. Once an indispensable support of our advanced society, academia has become a cancer metastasizing through its vital organs. The radical left is the cause, most obviously through the one-party campuses having graduated an entire generation of young Americans indoctrinated with their ideas.

And there are other ways. Academia has a monopoly on training for the most influential professions. The destructive influence of campus schools of education and journalism already noted is matched in the law, medicine, social work, etc. Academia’s suppression of the Constitution causes still more damage. Hostility to the Constitution leads to banana-republic shenanigans: suppression of antigovernment speech, the press’s acting as mouthpiece for government, law enforcement used to harass opponents of the government.


Harvard Is Big Business at Its Worst

With large, tax-insulated endowments, Ivy League schools act like companies without market pressure

Allysia Finley

Most Americans probably heard of the Harvard Corp. for the first time last week, when it issued a supercilious statement affirming its support for Harvard President Claudine Gay. The corporation, Harvard’s governing body, wrote that Ms. Gay “is the right leader to help our community heal and to address the very serious societal issues we are facing.”

The statement was effectively a middle finger to alumni such as hedge-fund titan Bill Ackman, who had demanded Ms. Gay be canned after she equivocated before Congress over whether calling for the genocide of Jews violated Harvard’s rules against bullying. The corporation wished to convey it wouldn’t bow to outside pressure.

Corporation is an apt appellation for Harvard and other Ivy League schools, considering they operate more like for-profit businesses than educational institutions. Unlike businesses, however, they lack shareholders to hold them accountable. This makes them models of the left’s “stakeholder capitalism” paradigm.

The Harvard Corp. consists of 13 members, including the president. It is self-selecting—members elect new members—and boasts that it is “the oldest corporation in the Western Hemisphere.” Governing bodies of other Ivy League schools, including Yale and Columbia, are also referred to as corporations, which are structured to limit alumni influence in their affairs.

The Internal Revenue Service recognizes Harvard and most private colleges as nonprofits, meaning they don’t have to pay taxes. This exemption saves Ivy League schools hundreds of millions of dollars each year and has enabled them to grow their fiefs and endowments.

Columbia is New York City’s largest private landowner, with more than 320 properties, valued at nearly $4 billion. The school saves more than $182 million annually by not paying property tax. Harvard avoids some $50 million annually. Property tax exemptions allow colleges to offer low-cost housing to faculty and reduce the cost of building facilities to house new bureaucracies.

At the same time, Ivy League endowments—Harvard ($50.7 billion), Yale ($40.7 billion), Princeton ($34.1 billion) and the University of Pennsylvania ($21 billion)—exceed the market values of most publicly traded corporations. These endowments wouldn’t be anywhere near as large if the schools had to pay a 23.8% tax on capital gains, as their wealthy alumni must on their investment earnings.

Higher education by and for political radicals was foreseen and banned by the American Association of University Professors, which in a celebrated 1915 policy statement warned teachers “against taking unfair advantage of the student’s immaturity by indoctrinating him with the teacher’s own opinions.” The AAUP already understood that political indoctrination would stamp out opposing views, which means the end of rational analysis and debate, the essential core of higher education. The 1915 statement is still a recognized professional standard—except that almost everywhere it is ignored, at least until the public is looking.

Optimists see signs of hope in growing public hostility to campus foolishness, but radical control of the campuses becomes more complete every day as older professors retire and are replaced by more radicals. A bellwether: The membership of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education—which represents the enforcers of radical orthodoxy—has tripled in the past three years.

An advanced society can’t tolerate the capture of its educational system by a fringe political sect that despises its Constitution and way of life. We have no choice: We must take back control of higher education from cultural vandals who have learned nothing from the disastrous history of societies that have implemented their ideas.

How can this be done? Not by the colleges themselves, which like things as they are. Not by governing boards, which ought to safeguard academia but have never had the backbone to do it. Not by superficial reforms: Even if we defund DEI, protect visiting speakers from shout-downs and outlaw political litmus tests for professorial appointments, hordes of radical activists will still be in the classrooms, doing as much damage as ever.

Personnel is policy. Effective reform means only one thing: getting those political activists out of the classrooms and replacing them with academic thinkers and teachers. (No, that isn’t the same as replacing left with right.) Nothing less will do. Political activists have been converting money intended for higher education to an unauthorized use—advancing their goal of transforming America. That is tantamount to embezzlement. While we let it continue we are financing our own destruction as a society.

But how can we stop them? State lawmakers can condition continued funding on the legitimate use of that money and install new campus leadership mandated to replace professors who are violating the terms of their employment. Though only possible in red states, this would bring about competition between corrupt institutions and sound ones. Employers would soon notice the difference between educated and indoctrinated young people. Legislatures in Florida, Texas and North Carolina have begun to take steps to reform their universities, but only at Florida’s New College in Sarasota, is a crucial restructuring of the faculty under way.

Harvard Pres. Gay

But the only real solution is for more Americans to grasp the depth of the problem and change their behavior accordingly. Most parents and students seem to be on autopilot: Young Jack is 18, so it’s time for college. His family still assumes that students will be taught by professors who are smart, well-informed and with broad sympathies. No longer. Professors are now predominantly closed-minded, ignorant and stupid enough to believe that Marxism works despite overwhelming historical evidence that it doesn’t. If enough parents and students gave serious thought to the question whether this ridiculous version of a college education is still worth four years of a young person’s life and tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, corrupt institutions of higher education would collapse, creating the space for better ones to arise.

The biggest threat to our future isn’t climate change, China or the national debt. It is the tyrannical grip that a hopelessly corrupt higher education now has on our national life. If we don’t stop it now, it will eventually destroy the most successful society in world history.

Mr. Ellis is a professor emeritus of German literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz and author of “The Breakdown of Higher Education: How It Happened, the Damage It Does, and What Can Be Done.”


Yet despite their nonprofit status, Ivy League schools operate like the business corporations that leftists assail. Not only do the colleges avoid most taxes, they gouge customers by charging exorbitant prices for a product—a prestigious degree—with inelastic demand. If campus antisemitism or high tuition turn off some prospective students, plenty of others are eager to enroll.

Ivy League schools also practice price discrimination by awarding financial aid to lower-income kids so the schools can market themselves as diverse and accessible even though most of their matriculants are affluent and ideologically homogenous. It’s essential to their branding that customers—i.e., undergraduate students—believe they are open to all.

The schools exploit low-cost labor by employing graduate students to teach classes for higher-paid faculty. At most Ivy League schools, grad students outnumber undergrads. At Harvard the ratio is about 2 to 1. Like Big Tech companies, universities have created a progressive corporate culture in their selective hiring and admissions of like-minded leftists.

It’s no surprise, then, that grad students have spearheaded anti-Israel protests at many colleges. It was a Harvard grad student who was captured on video accosting an Israeli student. After Harvard removed him from his position as a residential proctor for undergrads, its graduate student union—an affiliate of the United Auto Workers—complained on Twitter that “Harvard is actively punishing and evicting” black, Palestinian and Muslim students.

The university presidents’ reluctance to condemn antisemitism on campus no doubt stems in part from the institutions’ dependence on cheap labor. Universities don’t want to risk a grad-student strike, which could compel faculty to teach sections and grade papers. Better to keep the labor peace.

Yet the Ivy League differs from corporations in an important respect: The schools don’t have shareholders who can force changes. In public capital markets, investors have the power to replace corporate management. Mr. Ackman, however, can’t wage a shareholder campaign to oust Ms. Gay or Harvard Corp. members.

Big donors doubtless have some influence. University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill resigned after Stone Ridge Asset Management CEO Ross Stevens threatened to withdraw a $100 million donation. Smaller donations, however, are a drop in their endowment buckets. Ivy League schools can also easily raise tuition to compensate for lost funds, covered in part by financial aid at taxpayer expense.

Investors can also pressure corporations to distribute profits to shareholders rather than dump them into unproductive ventures. Universities feel no such pressure. They can channel their endowment and tuition income into expanding administrative bureaucracies and other activities that serve parochial faculty interests rather than improve education.

The Ivy League exemplifies the problems with stakeholder capitalism, which invariably results in rudderless and unaccountable leadership. It’s time to stop calling them “colleges.” They’re corporations in the worst sense.


The Ivy League Mask Falls

Antisemitism is one example of a much deeper rot on campus.

The furor over antisemitism on campus is a rare and welcome example of accountability at American universities. But it won’t amount to much if the only result is the resignation of a couple of university presidents.

The great benefit of last week’s performance by three elite-school presidents before Congress is that it tore the mask off the intellectual and political corruption of much of the American academy. The world was appalled by the equivocation of the academic leaders when asked if advocating genocide against Jews violated their codes of conduct. But the episode merely revealed the value system that has become endemic at too many prestigious schools.

The presidents of MIT, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania hid behind concerns about free speech. But as everyone paying attention knows, these schools don’t protect speech they disagree with. They punish it.

Harvard President Claudine Gay has presided over the ouster of professors for speech that violated progressive orthodoxy. As Elise Stefanik wrote on these pages on Friday, Harvard’s Title IX training says using the wrong pronouns qualifies as abuse. Harvard was 248th out of 248, and Penn was 247th, in the annual college ranking by the free-speech Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

But because Jews in Israel are seen in the progressive canon as white oppressors and colonizers, it’s not a clear campus violation to call for murdering Jews because it depends on the context.

The three presidents have apologized for or moderated their comments before Congress, but that was only after the political consequences became clear. Believe what they said the first time. That is what their institutions now stand for.

The resignations of Penn president Elizabeth Magill and board of trustees chairman Scott Bok are best understood as attempts to placate angry donors. That’s fine as far as it goes. But if the accountability ends there, nothing much will change.

The schools may attempt to mollify the fury by adding Jews to the classes deemed oppressed. That may make antisemitism less tolerated on campus. But it won’t change the deeper rot of anti-American, anti-Western instruction that dominates so many campuses. And it won’t root out the “diversity, equity and inclusion” (DEI) policies that use race, gender and sexuality as political weapons to enforce intellectual conformity, dictate tenure decisions, and punish dissenters.

The answers must lie with boards of trustees willing to appoint presidents who will stand up to the DEI censors and require intellectual diversity among the faculty. Donors will also have to follow through on boycotting schools until they do. Too many trustees and donors are happy to settle for getting their names on buildings and their children admitted.

The reality is that many schools of higher learning these days are nurturing views that undermine classical liberal values and core American principles. Tolerance for antisemitism is one ugly example, but the problem is deeper and requires urgent attention.

Journal Editorial Report: Paul Gigot interviews legal scholar Ilya Shapiro. Images: Zuma Press Composite: Mark Kelly