December 20, 2023

America’s need for a robust higher education system, where students learn to think deeply, engage respectfully, and disagree constructively, is greater than ever.

Author’s Note: This essay recently appeared in slightly different form in the Jewish Journal. As a board member of CIE, I share it here, proud that CIE is also part of the solution… if our students enter university with the kind of Israel-literacy Professor Ken Stein and his team seek to develop, students would have a built-in resistance to the distortions and outright lies too many ideologues impose on campus today…  gt 12.24.2023 This article was first published in Jewish Journal, December 20, 2023

Gil Troy

They are now the smirks seen ‘round the world. Three leading university presidents arrogantly, dismissively, explained that Harvard, MIT and U Penn students could freely call “for the genocide of Jews” and it wouldn’t even be a microaggression, “depending on the context.” 

Outsiders think these leaders let their institutions down. Even if you agree that freedom of speech allows people to say awful things, and even if you understand that context matters, their academic callousness and hypocrisy were unforgivable. It was bad enough that the presidents showed no empathy for the many Jewish students who feel threatened by calls for Jewish genocide. But all three institutions have cancelled professors and students for far milder transgressions. In short, this precious presidential “context” actually persecutes speakers when a favored “oppressed” group endures even microaggressions, while suddenly protecting wild speech when targeting those deemed “oppressors,” especially the “privileged” Jews, absorbing their deserved daily quotas of nano-aggressions.

In fact, these ambitious academic pols knew their haughtiness would play well on campus.  The “smirks” revealed that they were appealing to their key constituents, to the anti-colonial professors and Poisoned Ivy bureaucrats who risk turning these centers of learning into moral cesspools of totalitarian indoctrination, especially in the humanities and social sciences.

The smirks were the condescending smirks that divide the world into the “enlightened” and the others, sure that Representative Elise Stefanik, a mere “deplorable,” could never outsmart them. They were the smirks of those who, as soon as conservatives attacked “wokeness,” defined being woke far-too-benignly, as just wanting to treat everyone equally, while simultaneously denying it existed. 

And they were the smirks of the academic racketeers, these gatekeepers guarding access to America’s most cherished credentials, who have executed the greatest bait-and-switch in educational history. Decades ago, it was corrupt enough: parents paid thousands, thinking they were buying the best teachers for their kids, while we professors were hired based on research skills not classroom effectiveness. Today, parents pay hundreds of thousands, while donors fork over tens of millions, thinking they are buying the best liberal education for their kids, fostering critical thought. However, many professors now are hired based on fealty to one particular ideology, which they impose in the classroom. How odd. Millions of parents collectively pay billions so their children can be bullied into buying an anti-American, Marxist-infused ideology demeaning those who can afford the insane tuition bills these very institutions charge. No wonder this scam’s beneficiaries keep smirking.

And no wonder over 700 Harvard faculty members supported President Claudine Gay and she kept her job, despite doing more reputational damage to Harvard in her short presidency than any of her predecessors in Harvard’s four-hundred year history, as the donor-activist Bill Ackman bristled. No wonder “The Chronicle of Higher Education” cheered, saying “the presidents couldn’t answer yes or no,” because “they behaved liked academics” and “that’s a good thing.” Apparently, “their visions… conjure colleges as oases of enlightened society…. places where expression does not lead to oppression.”  

The Harvard Corporation didn’t fire Claudine Gay because she is doing what she was hired to do. Her thin scholarly resume is balanced by a thick commitment to the “Anti-Racism” ideology that, like the more popularly-targeted anti-colonial mindset, also rotates on the simplistic, Marxist, oppressed versus oppressor axis. 

Note, Anti-Racism is not the same as opposing racism or all bigotry. “Anti-Racism” is the vision Ibram X. Kendi popularized in his blockbuster “How to be an Anti-Racist.” The strategy, propagated now in many leading high schools, let alone universities, stresses outcomes not attitudes, while demanding total submission. Kendi explains: “there is no neutrality in the racist struggle. The opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘antiracist.’…. One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist…. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’”

Such absolutism pervades Claudine Gay’s post-George Floyd August 20, 2020 memo, recently posted on X by the author C. Bradley Thomson. Serving as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), Dr. Gay proclaimed:  “Our engagement in anti-racist action and the infusion of inclusive practices into all aspects of our teaching and research mission reflect a new sense of institutional responsibility and will require sustained effort over time… The work of racial justice is not a one-time project. We must be relentless, constructively critical, and action-oriented in our pursuit to build the thriving, more equitable FAS we all deserve.” This memo apparently helped propel Gay into Harvard’s presidency

In the traditional university, her memo’s call for “Inclusive Excellence,” would express a subtle blending of two values which most Americans now accept: keeping standards high while broadening the faculty to incorporate more diverse perspectives and welcome still-highly-qualified but traditionally under-represented minorities. 

Alas, in today’s antiracist university, “inclusive excellence,” works about as well as “meritocratic nepotism.” Especially at the insistence of the multi-billion dollar DEI, Diversity Equity and Inclusivity Complex, inclusivity keeps trumping excellence. Hiring committees define professors by the group they belong to not the accomplishments they achieved. It’s the same Manichaen oppressed versus oppressor mentality that decides that threatening members of certain groups is never acceptable, while menacing others is somehow ok, depending on the context, of course. 

In this struggle, beware cheap victories. Liz Magill of the University of Pennsylvania may have resigned, but the ideological and moral rot runs deeper. A generation of professors now views scholarship as advocacy, treating the lecture podium as a political platform.  This goes far beyond who gets hired or promoted. Most scholarly associations have turned antiracist, anti-colonial, and thus activist. That means that anyone seeking letters of recommendations, searching for jobs, hoping for prizes, must embrace the reigning ideology.

The American Sociological Association proclaims: “As a national association, we place value on dismantling power inequalities.” Declaring racism “systemic,” it explains that “Anti-racism education lays bare these systemic inequities, which is a critical step in understanding how to move toward a more just society.” The American Studies Association (ASA), whose bylaws claim that “The association is organized exclusively for education and academic study purposes,” nevertheless had its Executive Committee issue a biased Statement on Gaza. It emphasized that “ASA continues to stand with the Palestinian people and their ongoing struggle for liberation” and “calls on the US to end support of Israeli apartheid and work toward negotiations.” Racializing this national conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the statement declares:  “Our struggles as Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples are real, and they connect us…. The Palestinian struggle is also the struggle for global Black solidarity in our collective liberation.”

Naturally, the National Women’s Studies Association, which has traditionally seen its professors as “feminist educators” working “to transform… the society at large,” and declared in May, 2021, that “Palestinian solidarity is a feminist issue,” has silently consented to Hamas’s mass rape. It had no comment about Hamas’s perverse breakthrough in mounting the largest, most-self-publicized, campaign of gendered violence in history on October 7. 

Amid their two recent calls for Israel to end its “genocidal war on Gaza,” these pick-and-choose feminists acknowledged that “violence and war often inflict gendered and sexualized harms on women and queer, trans and non-binary people.” But by October 11, they insisted that “The current escalation must be viewed in the context of decades of illegal Israeli military occupation and systemic violent campaigns in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. To end the violence, its root causes must be addressed.”

In this environment, those fighting Jew-hatred should not lobby for Jews, or even Israelis, to become one of the favored groups, swept up in DEI bureaucrats’ ever-growing maw. These Victimization Olympics help no one, this addiction to grievance must end. The DEI regime should be dismantled not enhanced. Jews don’t need special status – we all need to return to an academic liberalism that seeks to treat everyone equally as individuals.

The Poisoned Ivy Leagues will not be fixed easily or quickly. It took decades since the 1960s of identity politics, assaults on Western Civ and the canon, of political correctness, postmodernism, decolonization theory, intersectionality, Wokeness, and antiracism, for this revolution to succeed. A full-fledged assault will fail. 

A partisan fight will also fail. The New York Times article shortly after Liz Magill resigned, framed the problem in ways that will doom the necessary counterattack. Headlines proclaiming “As Fury Erupts Over Campus Antisemitism, Conservatives Seize the Moment,” returns the conversation to America’s deeply polarized polity. The all-or-nothing political dynamics of the last few years neutralized any restraints as the universities veered Woke. Most Ivy League parents and alumni are Democrats. Especially with key Republicans critiquing universities, few of them wish to give any conservatives a victory. 

The battle to save America’s universities must be framed around non-partisan consumer-oriented issues. These include improving the quality of student life, fighting educational malpractice, preserving liberal democratic values, and protecting the particular school’s brand while justifying the liberal arts themselves.

Donors, parents, and students should try shrinking the problem, while creating centers of scholarly integrity. You shrink the problem by attacking educational malpractice, asking if students feel comfortable in the classroom disagreeing with others, and if professors offer a range of views, while also emphasizing the quality of the teaching more broadly. You shrink the problem by creating forums for students to complain if they feel bullied politically in class, let alone physically or emotionally, by faculty and fellow students. You shrink the problem by insisting that schools start reducing their DEI bureaucracies as part of a broader reduction of academic administrators, to cut costs while focusing on student-faculty ratios.  Forbes recently reported that between 1976 and 2018, full-time administrators and other professionals” soared “by 164% and 452%, respectively, as the number of students only grew by 78 percent and the number of instructors grew by 92 percent.

Because credential-obsessed American parents remain addicted to the college brands, it’s time to start sending students to institutions that may be less prestigious but are less doctrinaire too. Over time, universities’ reputations can be burnished by careful investment, broader recruitment, and ambitious leadership.

Meanwhile, in every major university, donors should offer to endow one center for liberal education, an honors college of sorts, with a binding contract serving as a charter guaranteeing a focus on nonpartisan liberal ideals – and a commitment to teaching critical thought. With donors’ help, academics working in these centers may need to establish their own ecosystem: fellowships, prizes, a scholarly association truly committed to scholarly pursuits. 

In the 1980s, conservative intellectuals fled the university and created a network of thinktanks. In doing so, they abandoned the campus – and the students – to the decolonizing fanatics.  Campuses must be saved, one new center at a time, dedicated to excellence, critical thought, clear writing, broad reading, and open discussion.

At the same time, Jewish parents should also start looking to gap year programs in Israel that at least help inoculate their children for a year before plunging into the academic indoctrination camps, or Israeli universities as four-year alternatives. More gap year programs should focus on academic excellence and teaching liberal arts, in addition to fostering Jewish identity and offering positive Israel experiences. 

Donors in the Diaspora and administrators in Israel must beef up Israel’s English-language offerings, especially in the humanities and social science. While actually improving the quality, they also should launch PR campaigns improving the brands of Israeli universities. The target should be ambitious American Jewish parents and the broader American community that hires graduates. 

I take no joy in watching the campuses explode and the Ivy League brand get singed. I am a case of arrested development: I got to university when I was 18 and never left. Many of us have watched the problems fester – and saw our warnings ignored. 

For others, the Congressional hearing – parts of which have been watched over one billion times – was a wake-up call. It’s time to get radical. The problems are, ahem, systemic. But America’s need for a robust higher education system, where students learn to think deeply, engage respectfully, and disagree constructively, is greater than ever. We owe it to our students to succeed – we owe it to ourselves, too. 

Professor Gil Troy, a Senior Fellow in Zionist Thought at the JPPI, the Jewish People Policy Institute, is an American presidential historian and the editor of the new three-volume set, “Theodor Herzl: Zionist Writings,” the inaugural publication of The Library of the Jewish People ( 

Jerusalem, Israel