Paul L. Caron

Saturday, October 28, 2023

NY Times: Who Decides Penn’s Future — Donors Or The University?

New York Times, Who Decides Penn’s Future: Donors or the University?:

Penn LogoSome alumni want the president to resign. They are angry about a Palestinian conference and Penn’s response to the Hamas attacks — as well as D.E.I. and transgender rights.

In the two days after Hamas killed hundreds of men, women and children in a surprise attack on Israel, the University of Pennsylvania had not reached out to its students or alumni with an official statement.

But it did post a message on Instagram, honoring Native and Indigenous people and “their culture, history, and importance as members of the Penn community.”

That post set off one of the university’s largest donors, Marc Rowan, the chief of the private equity giant Apollo Global Management.

“So this weekend, while 1,200 Israelis were being butchered and murdered and raped, we tweeted as a university about Indigenous Peoples’ Day” he said in a CNBC interview.

Mr. Rowan, who with his wife gave at least $50 million to Penn, had been angry for a while.

Back in September, he and other alumni, including the philanthropist Ronald S. Lauder, had pleaded with the university’s president, Liz Magill, to cancel or strongly condemn a Palestinian literary conference. Citing free speech, she declined, while acknowledging that some of the speakers had a history of remarks considered to be antisemitic.

“As a university,” she wrote in a statement, “we also fiercely support the free exchange of ideas as central to our educational mission.”

To Mr. Rowan and others, the administration had lost its moral compass and overlooked the concerns of the university’s Jewish community. He called for donors to cut their gifts to $1 as an unmistakable symbolic protest — and demanded the resignation of Ms. Magill and Scott L. Bok, the chairman of the board of trustees.

“There has been a gathering storm around these issues,” Mr. Rowan said on CNBC. “You know, microaggressions are condemned with extreme moral outrage, and yet violence, particularly violence against Jews — antisemitism — seems to have found a place of tolerance on the campus, protected by free speech.”

Since then, some of Penn’s most influential alumni and benefactors — including Mr. Lauder, the former Utah governor Jon Huntsman and the “Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf — have joined Mr. Rowan in pulling funding.

Even before the conference, though, tensions had been simmering at Penn over what some donors viewed as the university’s leftward shift, including a transgender athlete on the women’s swim team and the push for diversity, equity, and inclusion programs by the dean of the business school. They were also concerned about the declining number of Jewish students. ...

It is not unusual for donors, unhappy with student activism, to pull back giving. A host of universities have struggled to bridge political and cultural divides among donors, faculty and students. At the University of Texas at Austin, alumni threatened to cut funds over efforts to eliminate the university’s fight song, and at the University of Denver, a plan to give an award to President George W. Bush drew donor ire.

But donors rarely try to topple the leadership so publicly. For many watching this battle, the campaign to wrest control over the university’s direction — its policies, principles and vision for the future — was unsettling.

Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink