Why Did I Stop Donating to My Alma Mater, Harvard?

I did not give to either of my alma maters, Harvard or Bowdoin College, for the first time since graduation. This is why.

This article is excerpted from LiberatED, a weekly email newsletter where FEE Senior Education Fellow Kerry McDonald brings you news and analysis on current education and parenting topics. Click here to sign up.

For the first time in over two decades, I did not give to either of my alma maters this year. I, like many of you, had grown disillusioned with the illiberalism on many college campuses and was unable to continue to support it with an annual contribution. While higher education has always leaned left, the divide has increased in recent decades. Data on faculty ideological leanings was analyzed, the American Enterprise Institute reported that “in less than 30 years the ratio of liberal identifying faculty to conservative faculty had more than doubled to 5.” 

At Harvard, where I attended graduate school, the faculty political imbalance is particularly striking. According to a 2021 survey by The Harvard Crimson, the college newspaper, out of 236 faculty replies only 7 people said they are “somewhat” or “very conservative,” while 183 respondents indicated that they are “somewhat” or “very liberal.” A similar problem plagues my undergraduate college, Bowdoin. 

My little gifts won't make a difference to the institutions I attended, which each have billions in endowment funds. Big alumni contributors at several of the nation's top colleges, on the other hand, are using their clout to promote free thinking and inquiry on college campuses.

A recent Wall Street Journal article reported on alumni from major universities who are holding back on giving large donations due to frustration over campus culture and policies. For example, after MIT disinvited a University of Chicago geophysicist who is critical of campus "diversity and inclusion" practices, Cornell alumnus Carl Neuss withheld his seven-figure donation and helped to found the Cornell Free Speech Alliance, while MIT alumnus Tom Hafer withheld his donation and helped to found the MIT Free Speech Alliance. FEE Hazlitt Fellow Brett Cooper wrote last summer about other alumni organizations that are pushing back against current campus policies.

 

According to the Journal: “Universities around the country have fired or demoted politically outspoken professors on the right and disinvited conservative speakers who criticize things like the push toward diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Other professors, such as Portland State’s Peter Boghossian, quit over their university’s policies and climate that they have found to be repressive of intellectual inquiry.  “​​But brick by brick, the university has made this kind of intellectual exploration impossible,” wrote Boghossian in September. “It has transformed a bastion of free inquiry into a Social Justice factory whose only inputs were race, gender, and victimhood and whose only outputs were grievance and division.”

He continued: “Students at Portland State are not being taught to think. Rather, they are being trained to mimic the moral certainty of ideologues. Faculty and administrators have abdicated the university’s truth-seeking mission and instead drive intolerance of divergent beliefs and opinions. This has created a culture of offense where students are now afraid to speak openly and honestly.” 

Alumni contributors, large and small, may speak out against increasing campus illiberalism and put their money where their mouth is during this end-of-year giving season. We may support organizations and institutions that appreciate and encourage individual rights and freedom of expression while avoiding organizations and institutions that do not.

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