Making occupation-friendly colleges pay dearly

After enabling an anti-Israel campus occupation, Northwestern University surrendered to its pro-Hamas students this month. A handful of scholarships and professorships for Palestinian activists likely seemed a small price to pay to clean up the mess the administrators allowed students to make. But the leadership at Northwestern and other occupation-friendly universities haven’t the dimmest idea the price they could end up paying for all this. An easy estimate: hundreds of millions of dollars. 

Here’s how.

The little-known Clery Act requires universities with private police departments to post criminal reports within 48 hours on a blotter and maintain accurate annual crime statistics. Colleges must record significant criminal incidents, as well as lesser crimes, such as intimidation and vandalism, when ethnic or religious identity was a motivating factor. Every violation of this law can cost a university about $70,000.

Even before the encampment, evidence of Northwestern’s noncompliance with the Clery Act was evident.

Here’s an easy case study. In November 2023, a group of anti-Israel protesters at its law school paraded around with “From the river to the sea” signs. After a Jewish student began filming, a protester pushed her in the back. The Jewish student filed a report of the assault to Northwestern’s police department. They recorded it as harassment, not assault. There’s $70,000.

Here’s another, more interesting example. The Clery Act also requires universities to publish annual statistics of religiously motivated hate crimes on campus and maintain three years of records for inspection. In November 2022, a Jewish student wrote an op-ed titled “I am more proud of my Jewish identity than anyone can ever hate me for it.” Anonymous vandals printed and glued together 42 copies of the op-ed and posted it on a fence overlaid with “From the river to the sea” in big red letters. Northwestern reported no incidents of antisemitic vandalism from that year.

There’s another $70,000. Or … more? 

The answer would depend on how aggressive Department of Education bureaucrats decide to get. Under a Trump administration, they could, perhaps, count each printed page as an incident and then hit the university not only for failing to log it in the blotter but failing to report it in the annual statistics twice over. Liability from this solitary incident could theoretically run to nearly $9 million.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Rigorous enforcement of the Clery Act in this case could count every single reported antisemitic poster, every single reported antisemitic chant, and every single reported physical blockade or intimidating posture as a lesser criminal offense motivated by ethnic or religious identity. 

And, of course, the Department of Education need not confine their Clery inquiry to recent student encampments. At least 50 former Northwestern football players have sued the school, alleging racial and sexual abuse; the school recently settled a lawsuit with a former cheerleader after a court accepted her allegations of sex trafficking. Who knows what else has been happening in its athletic programs … or dorm rooms?

The higher-ed industrial complex and the media would likely decry the “weaponization” of the Clery Act. But the next Republican administration would only be extending the precedent and practice established by President Joe Biden.

Last month, for example, the Biden administration forced Liberty University to settle for an unprecedented $14 million after a Clery investigation into improperly reported instances of sexual assault. If you believe Liberty is truly the only college in America with a severely sanctionable problem on this front, I have a bridge to sell you. If you’re not in the market for a new bridge, you’ll easily infer that team Biden went after Liberty because they associate the school with their political enemies.

Would a Trump administration let Liberty’s record stand when it could get twice that from Northwestern alone? 

In Trump’s last term, he ran and operated on a mandate to stop federal overreach in education. Judging by his recent campaign statements and policy proposals, Trump is running and will govern on a mandate to overreach from the right. These investigations and sanctions would be pure political gold for a President Trump.

Northwestern President Michael Schill and his team likely do not expect anything of the sort. They may have seen the growing calls to defund colleges for Title VI violations and concluded that they’re just hot air. They might think that even Trump wouldn’t push that nuclear button. Well, maybe he would! But he wouldn’t even have to.

Clery gives the next Republican administration a massive cruise missile arsenal to throw colleges into precisely as much financial disarray as the next secretary of education dictates.

Right now, Schill and his spineless counterparts at 50-some other colleges are apparently more scared of spoiled, privileged, sniveling children who call them racist. Come November, they may have far more costly problems on their hands.


Max Eden is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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