America’s wealthiest college announced Tuesday the creation of a new $100 million endowment fund. It will not be used to create more housing for students or build a new academic building but rather to address its history with slavery. These funds, according to Harvard President Lawrence Bacow, will “close the educational, social and economic gaps that are legacies of slavery and racism.” A portion of these funds are set for immediate use within the university, while some will also be held in an endowment for the future.
In an email to faculty, students, and staff Tuesday, Bacow said, “Harvard’s history includes extensive entanglements with slavery … It was embedded in the fabric and the institutions of the North, and it remained legal in Massachusetts until the Supreme Judicial Court ruled it unconstitutional in 1783.” A report published by the Committee on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery cited evidence of Harvard’s use of slaves on campus, the university financially benefiting from the slave trade, and the exclusion of Black students from admittance to the university.
The report recommended that Harvard offer the descendants of those enslaved at the university support so they “can recover their histories, tell their stories, and pursue empowering knowledge.”
Harvard is not the first university to pursue reparations. In 2019, Georgetown University announced its plans to raise $400,000 annually for the descendants of slaves sold by the school. Similarly, Princeton Theological Seminary created a $27.6 million reparative endowment due to its past ties with slavery. As elite universities across the country continue to focus on reparations and diversity initiatives, these institutions have drifted from their founding purpose of educating students.
The idea of colleges paying reparations for slavery has been met by steady public opposition. In 2014, 68 percent of those polled opposed reparations while only 15 percent supported them, according to YouGov. Polling in 2020 and 2021 found comparable results, with 63 percent opposed in 2020, and 62 percent in 2021. The pollsters found that difficulties in assigning monetary values to the impact of slavery may limit public support.
This most recent development at Harvard is indicative of the growing presence of leftist ideology in higher education, especially at the United States’ most elite universities. Conservative voices on college campuses have grown increasingly few as liberal professors and administrators continue to dominate in academic settings. Earlier this month, Harvard brought Huang Ping, the consul general of China’s New York consulate, to campus where he gave a speech celebrating the efforts of the Chinese to “build a great modern socialist country.” In an August interview, Huang defended Chinese human rights violations and proclaimed his fervent support of the Chinese Communist Party.
While Harvard makes attempts to promote diversity on campus and appoint commissions on race and equity, it continues to ignore its own prevalent ideological disparities. Polling at the university in 2021 found that 47.9 percent of faculty identified as liberal, with an additional 29.7 percent identifying as very liberal. Meanwhile, conservative faculty members made up a total of less than three percent. One of the few outspoken conservatives on campus, professor of government Harvey Mansfield, warned, “Every class you enter, you have to work out your position vis-à-vis what the professor is saying. Because a professor is going to be a liberal, and he’s not going to be bashful about it.”
Despite attempts by Harvard to atone for past injustices it committed through slavery and discrimination of African American students, there are accusations that it continues to discriminate today. In an upcoming Supreme Court case, a group of Asian Americans is calling out the university’s affirmative action practices, saying that Asian American applicants are held to a higher standard than any other race and are consistently judged harshly on their personal characteristics. While Harvard attempts to market itself as an advocate of racial justice through reparations for slavery, the case reflects hypocrisies within higher education.
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