Billionaire Bill Ackman says it’s ‘pathetic’ that colleges rely on corporations and law firms to address antisemitism on campus

Billionaire Bill Ackman says it’s 'pathetic' that colleges rely on corporations and law firms to address antisemitism on campus

Outspoken billionaire and founder of Pershing Square Capital Bill Ackman continued his crusade against universities for what he describes as their inability to address antisemitism. This time, Ackman was reacting to an open letter from several top law firms that criticized what they considered elite universities’ tepid response to antisemitism.  

“It’s pathetic that we need to rely on law firms and corporations to police antisemitism on campus,” Ackman wrote on X, formerly Twitter. 

Ackman has been a vocal critic of college campuses since the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks in Israel. He’s been especially upset with his alma mater, Harvard, after student groups published a letter blaming Israel for Hamas’ terrorist attacks, which he claims the university failed to promptly denounce. Amid the controversy, Ackman called for the names of the student groups and their members to be released so companies could avoid hiring them.

More than two dozen law firms, including some of the biggest names in Big Law like Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, sent the letter to nearly 15 law schools. In the letter, the firms expressed concern about Jewish students being harassed and “rallies calling for the death of Jews and the elimination of the State of Israel.” 

“Anti-Semitic activities would not be tolerated at any of our firms,” the letter stated. “We also would not tolerate outside groups engaging in acts of harassment and threats of violence, as has also been occurring on many of your campuses.”

The law firms that signed the letter said they wanted to ensure the law school students they hired wouldn’t have discriminatory views. 

“We look to you to ensure your students who hope to join our firms after graduation are prepared to be an active part of workplace communities that have zero tolerance policies for any form of discrimination or harassment, much less the kind that has been taking place on some law school campuses,” the letter read. 

Responses from law schools have been mostly muted. Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of University of California, Berkeley law school, said he welcomed the letter but was unclear what concrete steps the firms were advocating for. 

“I am unsure what the law firms are asking law schools to do, but it is certainly our role to protect the freedom of speech of all of our students, while also ensuring that there is a conducive learning environment and preparing students for the practice of law at the highest levels of the profession,” Chemerinsky told Reuters.

Ackman questioned whether the universities were taking these concerns seriously enough. “Every one of these universities, law schools and business schools have made massive recent investments in DEI initiatives, staff and faculty,” Ackman said on Twitter. “Where are they? What are they doing?”  

In his post, Ackman said he had heard from students at Harvard that “DEI staff do not respond to or otherwise take serious complaints from Asian, White (non-LGBTQ) or Jewish students.” 

The idea for the letter originated with Joseph Shenker, a senior chair at Sullivan & Cromwell, according to Bloomberg. Shenker then sent the letter to other law firms to sign on. 

This isn’t the first time law schools have found themselves embroiled in criticism amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. For example, the president of NYU Law School’s Student Bar Association sent a mass email bearing the group’s name that blamed Israel for the Oct. 7 attacks. “Israel bears full responsibility for this tremendous loss of life,” they wrote. 

As a result of the backlash, the student bar association president had a job offer from law firm Winston & Strawn rescinded. The law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell also pulled job offers from at least three law students at Harvard and Columbia for making similar statements.

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