University of Pennsylvania Confronts its Response to Anti-Semitism

The University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) faced turmoil this week as a prominent donor withdrew support and calls for President Elizabeth Magill’s dismissal grew louder. This growing discontent is not new, as high-profile contributors have been withdrawing support for months, citing a “broken moral compass” at the university.

Donor Ross Stevens announced on December 7 that he was withdrawing his $100 million gift of the Stone Ridge Units, which was meant to fund the Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance. Stevens, who leads Stone Ridge Asset Management, criticized the university’s approach to antisemitism on campus. He expressed concern about the permissive attitude towards hate speech and harassment targeting Jewish students, which he said violates anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies at his company.

The university’s approach to antisemitism and hate speech drew further attention in a congressional hearing on December 5, where President Magill testified alongside Harvard President Claudine Gay and MIT President Sally Kornbluth. Lawmakers questioned them on how their respective institutions were responding to anti-Semitic protests on campuses.

UPenn’s code of conduct regarding harassment was a topic of discussion during the hearing, with Representative Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) questioning whether a call for the genocide of Jews violated the university’s policies on harassment or bullying. Magill’s response during the hearing was critiqued, leading her to release a video addressing the issue the following day, stating that a call for genocide was considered harassment or intimidation.

However, Stevens and Stone Ridge viewed the response as “belated” and insufficient, calling for Magill’s immediate dismissal. Other prominent figures such as Jon Huntsman, Marc Rowan, and Jonathon Jacobson have also levied criticism at the university for similar reasons, withdrawing their financial support and calling for Magill to resign.

In October, Marc Rowan, CEO of Apollo Management, Inc., pulled his support, and Jonathon Jacobson of HighSage Ventures sent an annual donation check of $1, vowing that he would only increase his giving when Magill finds employment elsewhere. This was preceded by Mr. Huntsman, former Utah Governor and retired U.S. Ambassador to Russia, China, and Singapore, writing a letter criticizing the university’s alleged moral relativism and lack of condemnation of historic Hamas evil against Israel.

Another anti-Israel controversy arose from the university’s response to the September Palestinian Writes Literature Festival hosted on campus. This prompted board member Vahan Gureghian, who resigned in October, to urge Magill and board Chairman Scott Bok to step down.

Public officials have also weighed in on UPenn’s controversy, with Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro implying that a decision on Magill’s employment will be made soon. Shapiro said that the board would continue meeting over the weekend to determine her fate.

As UPenn faces an exodus of mega-donors and increasing calls for leadership changes, the university’s future hangs in the balance. The controversy has drawn attention to broader issues such as freedom of speech, discrimination, and the responsibility of educational institutions to foster inclusive and respectful environments for all students.

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