Wealthy Donors Threaten to Defund Top U.S. Colleges in Response to Growing Antisemitism on Campuses

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel have exposed the ideology of students and professors at many top colleges in the United States. As students sign anti-Israel letters and chant for the end of the Jewish state at pro-Palestinian and pro-Hamas rallies and educators call the attacks “exhilarating,” the wealthy donors that line the coffers of these elite universities are taking notice.

On Wednesday’s show, Megyn was joined by Dennis Prager, co-founder of PragerU, to discuss the backlash many colleges are facing from donors in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict and why it may be signaling a cultural shift.

Donors Demand Change

With each passing day, it appears as though more and more benefactors of America’s higher education system are reconsidering their donations. The University of Pennsylvania has come under intense scrutiny for its response – or lack thereof – to antisemitism on campus. 

Last week, Apollo Management CEO Marc Rowan – a graduate of Wharton who donated $50 million to the business school in 2018 – wrote a letter demanding UPenn President Liz Magill and Scott Bok, chair of the board of trustees, step down. He originally intended for it to be run in the school’s newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, but was rebuffed. He ultimately published it with The Free Press instead.

“It took less than two weeks to go from the Palestine Writes Literary Festival on UPenn’s campus to the barbaric slaughter and kidnapping of Israelis,” Rowan wrote. “President Magill’s allowing of UPenn’s imprimatur to be associated with this conference, and her failure to condemn this hate-filled call for ethnic cleansing, normalized and legitimized violence that ranged from the targeting of Jewish students and spaces here at UPenn to the  horrific attacks in Israel.”

He said school “leaders have for too long allowed this kind of anti-Jewish hate, which sanitizes Hamas’s atrocities, to infect their campuses” and “there must be consequences.” Those “consequences” include a call for “all UPenn alumni and supporters… to close their checkbooks” until Magill and Bok resign.

Magill attempted to put out the fire on Sunday by issuing a statement. “The University did not, and emphatically does not, endorse these speakers or their views,” she said. “I want to leave no doubt about where I stand. I, and this University, are horrified by and condemn Hamas’s terrorist assault on Israel and their violent atrocities against civilians.”

Former U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman, a 1987 graduate and former UPenn trustee, was unmoved. The Huntsman name adorns the main Wharton School building thanks to the family’s donations over the years, but he reportedly sent a letter to Magill stating the Huntsman Foundation “will close its checkbook on all future giving to Penn.”

And it doesn’t end there. Despite Magill releasing another statement on Tuesday saying she hears the “anger, pain, and frustration” of the alumni, billionaire Ronald Lauder – one of the heirs to the Estee Lauder cosmetics company fortune – is threatening to pull funding. “Let me be as clear as I can: I do not want any of the students at The Lauder Institute, the best and brightest at your university, to be taught by any of the instructors who were involved or supported [the Palestine Writes Literary Festival] event,” he wrote.

Jonathon Jacobson, founder of investment firm HighSage Ventures and a Wharton alumnus, sent the university a $1 donation — a step Rowan had suggested as a way to protest. “The university that I attended and that shaped me is virtually unrecognizable today, and the values it stands for are not American ones,” he wrote in a letter to the school. “There has been a litany of issues over the last several years where the administration has shown no leadership, moral courage or an ability to distinguish between what is clearly right and clearly wrong.”

The Masks Come Off

Given the scrutiny, Megyn believes that Magill’s days at UPenn are numbered, but it stretches far beyond the Ivy League institution. “All these people… have been simmering for the past few years as these universities explode into ideological centers, as opposed to places that teach you how to think critically,” she explained. “And this seems to have pushed a lot of them over to the point where they are ready to fight and ready to speak out.”

While it’s troubling that it took such a tragic event to wake donors up, Megyn and Prager said it is “encouraging” that some are finally seeing the U.S. higher education system for what it has become. “There is a voice in me that is worried that it may not last, but I welcome any awakening that will take place among the liberal masses,” Prager concluded. “[Liberals] don’t realize that the left is out to destroy liberalism as much as it is to destroy conservatism.”

You can check out Megyn’s full interview with Prager by tuning in to episode 650 on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen. And don’t forget that you can catch The Megyn Kelly Show live on SiriusXM’s Triumph (channel 111) weekdays from 12pm to 2pm ET.