The Morning Briefing: Congress Should Be Fired for Giving CARES Money to Wealthy Universities

Harvard University (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Discredit Where Discredit Is Due

Happy Friday — I think we’re still doing days of the week during lockdown — dear Morning Briefing readers. Let us wrap up this week by turning a critical gaze toward one of the more egregious and awful misappropriations of funds from the first round of taxpayer-funded aid that was intended to help struggling Americans during this difficult time: the hemorrhaging of billions to wealthy universities.

I briefly alluded to it in my Tuesday column this week and haven’t yet been able to shake my annoyance over this so I figured I would lend a few more paragraphs to the subject here.

Harvard University has been receiving the bulk of the negative focus, largely because the school has a $40 billion endowment. My friend and financial commentator Carol Roth referred to Harvard as “basically a hedge fund masquerading as a university.”

Harvard spent several days in the news as the Big Evil in this story, then revelations about the amounts of money other universities — many with huge endowments too — were receiving, and the public’s ire was rightfully aroused.

Once that happened, President Trump did his President Trump thing and leaned on Harvard to reject the money, which the school originally balked at. Trump prevailed, however, and Harvard agreed to return the funds.

The University of Southern California — an incredibly expensive private school — is crying poor and saying that it will keep the $20 million it received.

President Trump is keeping up the pressure, bringing it up once again during his Thursday night coronavirus briefing.

It is perfectly acceptable to be upset with the universities. Most of them would have been more than happy to take the money and many probably still will. The real culprit here is Congress, which allocated the money in the first place.

Education is an industry, and it’s an industry that spends a lot of money currying political favor. Harvard was the third-largest donor to Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign, and the University of California was number two on Bernie Sanders’s top-twenty donors list.

The flimsy rationale behind allocating so much money to the universities was that the schools would be using it to help students who needed it right now. A fine sentiment indeed, but surely there is a more expedient way of getting funds to those in need.

What was unconscionable about so much of the money in the CARES act going to wealthy universities is that it came at the expense of small businesses whose very existences are hanging in the balance right now. Harvard will be here when this is all over. So will USC. That little restaurant that you love to go to may not.

Congress was doing what it does best when divvying up the CARES funds — taking care of the people who take care of them. The optics of the university handouts are, put mildly, beyond awful. They became even worse when the money appropriated to help small businesses dried up while the universities were still deciding what to do with their shares of the $14 billion haul they received.

We can’t vote them all out at once.

But we can dream.

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The Kruiser Kabana

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PJ Media Senior Columnist and Associate Editor Stephen Kruiser is the author ofDon’t Let the Hippies ShowerandStraight Outta Feelings: Political Zen in the Age of Outrage,” both of which address serious subjects in a humorous way. Monday through Friday he edits PJ Media’s “Morning Briefing.” His columns appear every Tuesday and Friday.