On November 8th, Haverford students received an email from Kim Benston in which the subject line read: Message from Kim Benston: Urgent Request to Lobby the Tax Bill. The email called on students to lobby against the Republican-led effort to pass a tax reform bill which would make major changes to the tax code. As of this moment, it has passed in the House of Representatives and was also passed in the Senate Finance Committee. A similar email was sent to faculty in the days prior to the email to the student body.
This is a fairly unusual message, as the president of the college does not often wade into political issues as explicitly as this. In the email Benston also makes note that Kim Cassidy and Valerie Smith, the presidents of Bryn Mawr College and Swarthmore College respectively, are also lobbying against the bill. The last line of the first part of the email is most striking: “The bill, known as The Tax Cut and Jobs Act, represents the most significant threat to higher education, and specifically to endowment-dependent institutions like Haverford, that we’ve likely ever seen.” The email provides a script to help students who want to call their legislators on Capitol Hill.
Benston made clear to outline the components of the tax plan that he, the other presidents in the consortium, and the administration believe would negatively impact Haverford College. Provisions such as the proposed increase of the “excise tax” on endowment earnings, the phasing out of various tuition credits for students, the ending of non-taxation for tuition benefits for employees, and the ending of access to the market for tax-free bonds which helps to finance many college and universities.
“I completely understand why President Benston sent out the email because it is a bad policy that carries a lot of ramifications for Haverford Students,” said Josh Fried ‘19, who serves as co-president of the Haverford Democrats. “This is the first time I have actively witnessed a President directly encourage students to take political action.”
The Haverford Republicans provided a statement on the email and the Republican tax reform bill. “While we respect the autonomy of any faculty member and the administration of our institution, we would like to voice a different perspective. We believe political emails should be displayed in a neutral light. The wording in the email represented the bill in a negative light and took away an opportunity for students to think critically. We hope that our faculty members will respect our ability to come to our own political conclusions. Critical thinking is an essential part of our community and we would like to encourage all interested students to research the tax bill and come to their own conclusions.”
The Tax Cut and Jobs Act, which the Republicans want to vote on as early as this week, will be sent to conference where both the House and the Senate will create a final version to pass through both chambers and give to the president to sign. This piece of legislation will undoubtedly have a massive impact across the country should it pass, and this email is only one small manifestation of the rancor of Washington is producing.