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Hamas War Shows Us What American Universities Stand For

Riley slays it again.

Hamas War Shows Us What American Universities Stand For

Some students celebrate and many presidents equivocate. No wonder trust in higher ed is down.

By Jason L. Riley ,WSJ

Oct. 17, 2023 6:15 pm ET

According to a Gallup survey published in July, public confidence in the usefulness of a college education has been in something of a free fall for most of the past decade. In 2015, 57% of Americans expressed a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in higher ed. Today, that’s down to 36%.

Moreover, trust in college has fallen broadly. It’s down among men and women, among Democrats and Republicans, and among people with and without a college degree. The cost of attending college, which rose by 169% between 1980 and 2020, according to a Georgetown study, surely is a major factor in this trend. But so are radical campus politics, such as those displayed at some of our most prestigious institutions of learning since Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel earlier this month.

The Israeli civilians who were abducted, tortured and killed—including women, children and senior citizens—weren’t bystanders caught in the crossfire. They were the intended targets. Entire families were executed in their homes. NBC News reported that documents recovered from the bodies of terrorists mapped the locations of elementary schools and youth centers and instructed the gunmen to “kill as many as possible” and “capture hostages.” Denouncing the perpetrators of these wicked acts shouldn’t be difficult, yet the response on too many campuses has been to fault Israel for the atrocities or to equivocate.

A coalition of more than 30 left-wing student groups at Harvard issued an open letter stating that the Israeli “regime” was “entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” It has taken Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay, three tries (and counting) to issue a statement distancing the administration from the letter and making it clear that the university condemns the terrorist attacks. Worse, Ms. Gay acted only after being pressured to do so by former Harvard president Larry Summers and some of the school’s biggest donors.

University of Pennsylvania president M. Elizabeth Magill likewise needed multiple attempts to issue a forceful statement on the terror attacks. She, too, found her moral compass only after megadonors to Penn said they were closing their checkbooks and urging other philanthropists to do the same. “In an updated statement following the backlash, Magill condemned Hamas, and emphasized the University’s position on anti-Semitism,” the Daily Mail reported. “She referred to the violence from Hamas as a ‘terrorist assault,’ a change from her initial statement.”

If your school is so ethically adrift that it needs to emphasize its position on anti-Semitism, something is very wrong. And if Americans increasingly are hesitant to leave impressionable youths in the care of institutions run by people who have trouble rebuking openly genocidal terror campaigns, who can blame them?

Hamas has never hidden its intentions. It is an Islamist organization dedicated to eradicating Israel by killing the Jewish people who live there. Hamas isn’t interested in a “two-state solution” or any other compromise. Its objective, stated explicitly in its founding documents, is the annihilation of the Jewish state. Period.

Ben Sasse, president of the University of Florida, takes Hamas at its word and was one of the few college leaders who was unequivocal in his response to the attacks: “I will not tiptoe around this simple fact: What Hamas did is evil and there is no defense for terrorism. This shouldn’t be hard,” he wrote. Apparently, however, calling out evil is harder than you might think, not only for administrators and students but also for faculty members.

A Cornell history professor appearing at a pro-Palestinian rally this week referred to Hamas’s butchery as “exhilarating” and “energizing.” Columbia political scientist Joseph Massad described the attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,400 people, including at least 30 U.S. citizens, as “awesome” and a “major achievement of the resistance.” And CNN reports that a Stanford instructor was suspended after students reported that he singled out Jews in his class by asking them to raise their hands, accused them of being “colonizers,” and played down the significance of the Holocaust’s body count.

Academia has been an incubator of leftist causes going back at least as far as the 1960s. Since that time, however, double standards have proliferated in admissions and faculty hiring. Ideology has become more important than scholarship, and political correctness dominates decision-making to the point that calling an act of terror an act of terror is to risk upsetting significant numbers of students and faculty. Many administrators are captive to those on campus who believe that higher education is about indoctrination and thought control rather than open inquiry, civil engagement and the rational examination of competing viewpoints.

The old joke among college presidents is that A students become their professors, while C students become their donors. We’re starting to see some donors throw their weight around. Let’s hope it continues.

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