Harvard, other higher ed institutions rapidly losing confidence of American public, scholar says

The Manhattan Institute’s Ilya Shapiro says the spate of scandals that have hit Ivy League schools and elite colleges in recent weeks is only doing more damage to higher ed’s already ailing reputation.

“Higher ed in general has become embattled and is losing more and more confidence of the American public,” Shapiro told Fox News Digital.

A Gallup survey published last summer – months before the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack and the subsequent antisemitism controversies that embroiled college campuses – showed a dramatic decrease in public confidence in higher education over the past decade. While 57 percent of respondents expressed some confidence in higher ed in 2015, eight years later, it’s collapsed to just 36 percent, including only 17 percent who said they had a “great deal” of confidence.

Only 9 percent said they had “very little” confidence in higher ed in 2015; that number was up to 22 percent in 2023.


Harvard became one of the poster colleges for accusations of far-left, campus antisemitism when dozens of student organizations declared Israel “entirely responsible” for the horrific violence of the attack in its immediate aftermath. Then came the infamous congressional testimony of Harvard president Claudine Gay and other elite college leaders, where they struggled to say that calls for genocide against Jews would violate campus conduct rules. Gay resigned last week after accusations of plagiarism surfaced amid the uproar about her hedging remarks before Congress, although she remains a professor at the university.

At Cornell University, students told Fox News Digital they felt unsafe when a professor, Russell Rickford, said he was “exhilarated” after the Hamas terrorist attack. Students at Cornell, and around the country, also faced hostile rhetoric and chants from their peers such as calls for the elimination of Israel “From the river to the sea” and for “Intifada” – the Arabic word for “uprising” that also refers to violent Palestinian resistance efforts. 

Students for Justice in Palestine, a far-left North American campus organization, called the Hamas attack a “historic victory” for the Palestinian resistance. Other elite schools like Columbia had incidents like professors supporting students who referred to the Hamas massacre of Israelis on Oct. 7 as a “military action.”


“So-called elite higher ed institutions, I think, are definitely taking it on the chin,” Shapiro said. “That congressional hearing really distilled and put on display and made national news, but the primary topics of national discussion, the intellectual moral, political crisis of higher ed… Those that are not constantly online, are not political junkies, are not following the cultural debates over DEI and CRT, but after October 7th the scales fell from their eyes, and they couldn’t ignore what was going on on campuses, and that this is not just, oh, you know, faculties skew left. That’s not much of a story, but the whole rot on so many levels in academia, led by the so-called best and the brightest at the elite institutions, I think that’s a really big deal right now.”

Shapiro’s Manhattan Institute colleague Christopher Rufo has been out front in exposing Gay’s plagiarism charges as part of a wider effort on his part to reform higher education.

Shapiro pointed favorably to an essay by Bill Ackman, the Harvard alumnus and billionaire investor who’s made headlines with his outspoken stance against the school, on what he said schools could do to turn the tide.


Ackman argued, “Under DEI, one’s degree of oppression is determined based upon where one resides on a so-called intersectional pyramid of oppression where whites, Jews, and Asians are deemed oppressors, and a subset of people of color, LGBTQ people, and/or women are deemed to be oppressed. Under this ideology which is the philosophical underpinning of DEI as advanced by Ibram X. Kendi and others, one is either an anti-racist or a racist. There is no such thing as being ‘not racist.'”

“The E for ‘equity’ in DEI is about equality of outcome, not equality of opportunity,” he added.

Ackman called for Harvard to return to being a institution built on meritocracy, and one where diversity is understood in its “broadest form,” not simply skin color and other physical characteristics.

Shapiro is no stranger to higher ed controversy himself; he left Georgetown Law Center in 2022 after a lengthy investigation into a tweet he sent criticizing President Biden’s pledge to choose a Black woman for the Supreme Court, which he meant as a critique of leftist identity politics.

The conservative constitutional scholar left on his own terms after the probe and said he’s “glad” he’s not there now. 

“I probably would have left under other circumstances within a year and a half. Even before October 7th, there would have been something that came up. Would it be better if faculties were more balanced, if there wasn’t discrimination in hiring based on viewpoint? Absolutely. But, you know, you can’t snap a finger and make that happen,” he said.

Fox News’ Hannah Grossman contributed to this report.



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