Sunday, March 06, 2016

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Home of the Michigan Jewish Institute (Forward)
You would think that by now a religious institution would have learned not to scam the government. Even if they thought they were serving the greater good by doing so, the mere fact that they will likely be caught should have stopped them from doing it. First, it is that it is inherently wrong to do so. Stealing is a biblical level sin. Second, it is a massive Chilul HaShem being caught cheating the government.

If the only way you can support a Torah institution is by stealing from the government, you undermine one of the fundamental tenets of the Torah you should be teaching. Making your entire enterprise illegitimate.

No matter how you slice it - this should not have happened. And yet it did. Yet again!

The Forward reports the following: 
The federal Department of Education has revoked grant eligibility for a Jewish college that has prospered from millions of dollars in government aid over the years even though almost all its students live in Israel. 
It seems that this ‘college’ The Michigan Jewish Institute relied exclusively on Pell Grant money. Which is designed to help poor students fund their education. While taking Pell Grant money is not in of itself wrong - that is the case only if it is taken under legitimate circumstances.

More from the Forward
During a five-year period, MJI’s revenues were sustained by students who claimed $25 million under the Federal Pell Grant Program, which is designed for the neediest American scholars. But in October 2012, the Forward showed how MJI’s assets soared as the college enrolled thousands of students in distance and online learning courses in Israel. 
Federal agents raided the institution last July. The Department of Education (DOE) interviewed 40 students and found that a number of them were not bona fide students. After which their eligibility for Pell Grants was revoked.

As a result: 
The Michigan Jewish Institute suspended most operations Wednesday, citing the federal government’s refusal to re-certify it as a school whose thousands of students can receive Pell grants—a federal aid program designed to help poor students fund their educations that has been MJI’s lifeblood. 
I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to see what’s going on here. Now, I could be wrong. It is possible that everything was done according to the law. But then why will their accreditation be revoked? Why the precipitous close instead of responding to a letter by the accreditation agency explaining why they should retain their accreditation?  Why is there no public comment in defense of what they did?

I hope we don’t start seeing more perp walks here. Because if there was fraud to the tune of $25 million dollars, I can’t see the government letting them get away with it.

What a shame that a movement like Chabad which has done so much successful outreach has to be tainted by this kind of thing. I don’t know whether this was condoned by the movement’s leadership. But the fallout is the same. It casts a dark could on everything they do. And it makes us all look bad when so large a segment of observant Judaism is involved.

When are we going to learn that there is no such thing as a free lunch? And that the government is not just a bunch of dopes doling out funds blindly to anyone who asks for them without checking whether it was taken under legitimate circumstances? Is there no end to this? When are we going to educate our people to understand how wrong it is to cheat the government? And when is our leadership going to stand up and condemn it when it happens instead of trying to explain it away - as they have in the past?