Make Harvard Great Again — Jared Kushner for President

Who else can top him at making peace and raising money, two skills desperately needed at America’s oldest university?

AP/Alex Brandon
Jared Kushner on October 26, 2020, at Washington. AP/Alex Brandon

Who could turn Harvard around now that its president, Claudine Gay, has resigned? The campus’s biggest problem is the stifling left-wing ideological conformity. The antisemitism and mediocrity are consequences. Fixing it will take someone from outside the left-wing bubble. 

The obvious center-right choices are all flawed. The former governor of Indiana who had a great run as president of Purdue, Mitch Daniels, has no connection to Harvard. A libertarian-leaning former Harvard Medical School dean, Jeffrey Flier, is too old, as is the former mayor of Indianapolis, Stephen Goldsmith, who is now a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

The former governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, just took a new job running the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The president of the University of Florida, Ben Sasse, would be excellent but has been at Florida for less than a year. The writer and Columbia professor, John McWhorter, lacks management experience. Congresswoman Elise Stefanik has been mooted by the Sun, but has bigger opportunities.

There’s another candidate who has less experience in higher education but who nonetheless deserves consideration. That is a former senior advisor to President Trump, Jared Kushner. Part of what torpedoed Ms. Gay was the lack of Washington experience, evident in her disastrous performance before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Another failure was her lack of understanding of Arab-Israeli politics, a misunderstanding on display in her botched response to the October 7 terrorist attack. Mr. Kushner is savvy about both Washington and the Middle East. A key negotiator of the Abraham Accords among Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, he understands the Jews and the Arabs. He is a peacemaker. 

A college president is a fundraiser. Mr. Kushner’s experience raising money for business and for political campaigns goes beyond that of almost any other potential candidate for the Harvard job. He’s comfortable around rich people. He is a rich person himself, which changes the dynamic in a way that makes him harder to push around.

Mr. Kushner has experience working with arrogant, moody, entitled, brilliant, successful, ambitious people with huge egos. That could come in handy at Harvard. He’s got extensive experience managing, financing, and developing residential rental and commercial real estate. That’s a university president’s job too, more than is widely recognized.

This is especially so at Harvard, which is in the midst of a slow and complicated but promising project to move its center of gravity from Harvard Square in Cambridge across the Charles River into Boston’s Allston neighborhood, already home to the Harvard Business School, the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the university’s athletic complex.

Unlike a lot of lifetime academics, Mr. Kushner has actual, concrete, demonstrated achievements — not only his role in Mr. Trump’s winning 2016 campaign, but also the Abraham Accords and the criminal justice reform known as the First Step Act. Those required compromises and consensus building.

It might be objected that Mr. Kushner lacks the scholarly gravitas required of a great college president. Yet, unlike Ms. Gay, he’s actually written a book. Mr. Kushner doesn’t have a Ph.D., but neither did the last truly great president of Harvard, Derek Bok. 

Others might say that Mr. Kushner’s service in the Trump administration is a disqualifier. That response typifies the sort of narrowmindedness that is ruining the institution in the first place. The senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation is Penny Pritzker, who was President Obama’s commerce secretary.

With her leading the governing board and with Mr. Kushner as president, Harvard could be a model of bipartisan pragmatism. If Harvard genuinely can’t tolerate a Kushner presidency, perhaps the institution is beyond saving. If Mr. Kushner were to pull it off and rescue Harvard, it might position him well, eventually, for another presidency.

The New York Sun

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