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Politicians and Harvard Miss the Mark on CARES Act

By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Immediately upon discovering that Harvard could receive almost $9 million under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, many politicians, including President Donald Trump, expressed outrage. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) took to Twitter: “Dear Harvard: Thank you for my law degree and an excellent legal education. You’re very rich; many people are hurting. Now give the money back.”

Before throwing punches, perhaps the senator should have used this “excellent legal education” to read the bill he voted for. The bill, since being enacted into law as the CARES Act, automatically allocated the University $8.6 million in financial relief. Harvard did not apply for, nor request, this aid.

Still, many seemed eager to perpetuate the false narrative that Harvard single-handedly stripped money from the hands of small businesses. Trump himself demanded Harvard return the money “meant for workers.”

To be clear, the money was not meant for workers. Harvard, an institution of higher education, was to receive money meant for institutions of higher education.

However, Harvard did subsequently reject its allocated money.

The aid in question was drawn from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund section of the CARES stimulus, which allocated nearly $14 billion exclusively for higher education institutions — not small businesses. Harvard’s allocated aid was calculated by a formula specified by the bill taking into account an institution’s number of Pell Grant recipients and its enrollment — not its endowment. Even U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy D. DeVos admitted that “Congress required taxpayer Emergency Relief funds be given to all colleges and universities, no matter their wealth.” Despite this, many members of Congress cited Harvard’s endowment in their demonization of the University.

We find their accusations of Harvard to be a gross mischaracterization and an ill-informed attack on higher education, likely made with hopes of political gain. But more puzzlingly, they are a bizarre demonization of their own legislative choices. After all, all but one of the politicians attacking Harvard seem to have conveniently forgotten that they were the ones who voted for the stimulus package. We appreciate the hastiness of legislation in crisis, but come on, own your vote!

Other institutions were allocated massive sums of money under the CARES Act as well; Columbia University and Cornell University netted $12.8 million each, a sum both currently intend to keep. The emphasis on Harvard seems to be more rhetorical — a farcical grab at anti-Harvard sentiment — than anything else.

Why not call out other schools? Liberty University, which is known for being openly hostile to members of the BGLTQ community and has endangered its community members by reopening the campus in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, was allocated $15 million. Brigham Young University, a school subsidized by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which boasts a $100 billion tax-exempt investment fund, could receive $32 million.

The question remains, however, where Harvard should have rejected the money. In the near future, many students will likely need a larger amount of financial aid than before the crisis. This money would have helped those students, and despite some suggestion that it might go to more needy institutions in Massachusetts, there is really no such guarantee.

Moreover, we wish the University did not seem to simply bow to political pressure in rejecting the $9 million. Their reasoning for doing so — that “the intense focus by politicians and others on Harvard” may discourage participation in the relief effort by institutions with the more severe need — feels flimsy at best.

There are certainly valid criticisms of the CARES Act, not least that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients have been barred from receiving aid. Harvard might take a hint from Princeton University, which cited DACA recipients in its announcement that it would reject aid.

But in its rejection of CARES aid, Harvard got and gave nothing — neither vital support for vulnerable students nor a strong political statement about what aid should look like or how an institution should act in times of crisis. CARES, however one looks at it, was a missed opportunity.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics

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