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House Committee Suggests Harvard Could Lose Tax-Exempt Status in Letter to Garber

Rep. Jason T. Smith (R-Mo.) said Harvard's handling of antisemitism on campus could threaten its tax-exempt status in a Wednesday letter.
Rep. Jason T. Smith (R-Mo.) said Harvard's handling of antisemitism on campus could threaten its tax-exempt status in a Wednesday letter. By Julian J. Giordano
By Emma H. Haidar and Cam E. Kettles, Crimson Staff Writers

The House Ways and Means Committee suggested Harvard’s tax-exempt status could be at risk over its response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack against Israel and concerns of antisemitism on campus in a letter to interim President Alan M. Garber ’76 on Wednesday.

The letter — also addressed to the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University, and MIT — marks the latest effort by House Republicans to put pressure on elite colleges and universities over their handling of antisemitism. Harvard is also currently under investigation by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

“Given the disappointing and lackluster responses by your respective universities to Hamas’ attacks and your subsequent failure to adequately protect Jewish students from discrimination and harassment, we question whether your institutions are satisfying the requirements to receive these benefits,” committee Chairman Rep. Jason T. Smith (R-Mo.) wrote.

Most universities, including Harvard, are exempt from federal income taxes because they are classified as providing a public good. Efforts to tax university endowments, including a law passed under President Donald Trump’s administration which applied to Harvard’s multi-billion dollar endowment, have met fierce criticism from higher education leaders at Harvard and beyond.

Elite private universities like Harvard also receive federal funding, often in the form of student loans and research grants, which make them subject to federal laws and regulations.

Smith suggested in the letter that Harvard’s handling of antisemitism might not comply with antidiscrimination laws and could jeopardize its tax-exempt status.

Smith cited former Harvard President Claudine Gay’s now-infamous testimony at a Dec. 5 congressional hearing on antisemitism on college campuses as an example of the universities’ lack of support for Jewish students.

The committee gave Harvard two weeks to provide information regarding speech policies, its tax records, funding for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs, and the University’s process for determining when to release a statement on current events.

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in a statement on Wednesday that “the University is reviewing Chairman Smith’s letter and will be in touch with the Committee regarding its request.”

Smith singled out the universities’ DEI initiatives, alleging that they exclude Jewish students and accusing them of working to “stifle dissent, shun different or opposing perspectives, and raise questions about moral clarity.”

“Ultimately, as the U.S. House Committee with primary jurisdiction over tax-exempt institutions and the treatment of their endowments, we are left to wonder whether reexamining the current benefits and tax treatment afforded to your institutions is necessary,” Smith wrote.

The letter comes a day after the House Committee on Education and the Workforce demanded extensive internal documents for its investigation into concerns of antisemitism on Harvard’s campus and plagiarism allegations against Gay, giving the University until Jan. 23 to respond.

The Education and the Workforce Committee first opened its investigation into Harvard on Dec. 7 following Gay's testimony before the committee. Although Rep. Virigina Foxx (R-N.C.), chairwoman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, has hinted at Harvard’s federal funding in multiple letters, the Ways and Means Committee determines tax policies.

Smith’s letter on Wednesday demonstrates that even after Gay’s resignation, federal lawmakers remain intent on turning up the pressure on Harvard as the University navigates its worst leadership crisis in decades.

Smith requested a response from Harvard to his questions by Jan. 24, two days after students return to campus for the spring semester.

—Staff writer Emma H. Haidar can be reached at Follow her on X @HaidarEmma.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at Follow her on X @cam_kettles or on Threads @camkettles.

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