WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Harvard University said on Wednesday it had decided not to seek $8.6 million (7 million pounds) from the coronavirus stimulus law that it was qualified for, after an outcry led by U.S. President Donald Trump who questioned whether the elite school needed the money.
In a statement, the university said it would face significant financial challenges due to the pandemic and resulting economic crisis.
“We are also concerned, however, 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 the coming months may be most severe,” it said.
“As a result of this, and the evolving guidance being issued around use of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, Harvard has decided not to seek or accept the funds allocated to it by statute,” the statement said.
The controversy unfolded on Tuesday, when Trump cited Harvard’s ample endowment – worth nearly $41 billion – as the reason why it should not have the money. Following the remarks, Harvard, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said it intended to use the money for direct assistance to needy students.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos piled on pressure in a statement on Wednesday.
“Schools with large endowments should not apply for funds so more can be given to students who need support the most. It’s also important for Congress to change the law to make sure no more taxpayer funds go to elite, wealthy institutions,” she said.
At a press briefing on Wednesday, Trump hailed the decision by Harvard and Stanford University, which rescinded its application for relief funds on Monday, according to a university statement. Princeton University has also said it would not take the funding.
“They’re not accepting the money and that is great, so I want to thank Harvard, I want to thank Stanford,” Trump said.
Not all universities are following suit. The University of Notre Dame put out a statement on Wednesday pledging that all federal funding for the school tied to coronavirus relief would be used exclusively for financial aid to students whose families have been hurt by the pandemic.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Alexandra Alper; Editing by Tom Brown, Richard Pullin and Richard Chang)