Harvard agrees to return $8.6M Covid-19 relief fund day after Trump shames university

Two other prestigious schools — Princeton and Stanford — also said they would not take the relief funds


                            Harvard agrees to return $8.6M Covid-19 relief fund day after Trump shames university
(Getty Images)

The prestigious Harvard University decided to backtrack in the face of President Donald Trump’s criticism over it taking money from the coronavirus pandemic relief package. On Wednesday, April 22, a spokesperson of the school confirmed that it will not take the money that has been allocated to universities in the coronavirus bailout package. Trump thanked Harvard for its decision at his afternoon press briefing. "They're not accepting the money so that's great, so I want to thank Harvard," he said.

Just a day ago, Trump expressed his disappointment over Harvard and other big companies taking money from the taxpayers' funds that are meant to help small businesses during the pandemic. At least 22M people have lost jobs because of the widespread shutdown caused by the deadly virus. The president said he wanted Harvard to pay the money back, citing its massive endowment reserve of nearly $41B. 

Endowment system should be looked into, Trump tweets

Trump tweeted on the matter later again, even warning that the entire endowment system should be looked into.

Harvard faced backlash over receiving $8.6M although the institute said it had not applied to receive money from the paycheck protection funds aimed at protecting small businesses and even called reports claiming this as baseless. 

"Like most colleges and universities, Harvard has been allocated funds as part of the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. Harvard has committed that 100% of these emergency higher education funds will be used to provide direct assistance to students facing urgent financial needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic," the spokesperson added and even backed the president saying he is right that it was not right for the institution to receive funds that were to help small businesses. 

A student walks through Harvard Yard on the campus of Harvard University on March 12, 2020, in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Getty Images)

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a Harvard alumnus who contested against Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, also slammed the institution. He also called the institution's move of taking taxpayers' funds "ridiculous" and showed his support for the president with a tweet. Later, he called Harvard's refusal to take the money "terrific news". 

Harvard doesn't clarify the reason for its decision

According to a report in Forbes, Harvard authorities did not clarify the reason behind its decision. Harvard President Lawrence Bacow was not available for an interview either. 

An emailed statement from Harvard said the school was concerned that "the intense focus by politicians and others on Harvard in connection with this program may undermine participation in a relief effort that Congress created and the President signed into law for the purpose of helping students and institutions whose financial challenges in coming months may be most severe".

An earlier report in the BBC said Harvard was not okay with returning the funds, citing they would help the needy students who are facing hardships due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, two other prestigious schools — Princeton and Stanford — also said they would not take the relief funds.

Senior advisor in the education policy program at New America, a non-partisan think tank based in DC, Iris Palmer, said other reputed schools like Yale, MIT and Columbia could also give in under what he called "political pressure", the Forbes report added. 

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