Top Universities Protest Foundation Grant Requirements

The provosts of nine prominent universities, in co-signed letters of protest, have challenged antiterrorism language that the Ford and Rockefeller foundations recently added to their standard grant agreements, the Associated Press reports.

The universities — Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Columbia, Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, MIT, and the University of Chicago — said the changes could threaten academic freedom by inhibiting campus presentations of partisan lectures or films. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Ford Foundation agreement notes that the foundation would withdraw its funding if any of a university's expenditures promoted "violence, terrorism, bigotry, or the destruction of any state," no matter what the source of the funds. Rockefeller's language states that a grantee shall not "directly or indirectly engage in, promote, or support other organizations or individuals who engage in or promote terrorist activity." The universities have long received support from the two New York-based foundations, which together donated $50 million to higher education last year.

The new grant agreements stem in part from events of last fall, when the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a news service, reported that grants from the Ford Foundation had supported the activities of several groups that engaged in anti-Israel activities at a 2001 UN conference. After meeting with Jewish leaders in November, foundation executives announced that Ford would no longer fund a group called the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and would also modify its basic grant agreement.

Executives of both Rockefeller and Ford defended the new requirements and said they expect to resolve their differences with the universities. Susan Berresford, president of the Ford Foundation, told the Journal that the grant agreement isn't intended to intrude on academic freedom and that most universities are signing it. "In our view, our grant letter is a statement of our institutional values. We think that's a very important aspect of the relationship with Ford."

Justin Pope. "Foundations' Limits on Grants Draw Fire from Universities." Associated Press 05/06/2004.