The New York Times Replica Edition

State Leaders Support Jews As Rift Shakes Penn Campus

Alan Blinder contributed reporting. By ANNA BETTS and JON HURDLE

One day after the president of the University of Pennsylvania resigned over criticism that she did not condemn antisemitism forcefully enough, state leaders showed solidarity with Jews at a Philadelphia rally, while students and professors lamented the continuing rift on campus.

Speaking at Rodeph Shalom Synagogue on Sunday, Gov. Josh Shapiro denounced antisemitism and voiced support for the decision by the university president, Elizabeth Magill, to step down. Penn’s chairman of the board of trustees, Scott L. Bok, also resigned on Saturday.

“I have seen Pennsylvanians take actions big and small, and both matter, to combat antisemitism,” Mr. Shapiro said at the synagogue, where he was joined by Senator Bob Casey and other local leaders. “I’ve seen it here in Philadelphia, where students raised their voices, where students made sure they were heard in the halls of power at their university, and leadership was held accountable.”

Ms. Magill had come under heavy criticism from donors, politicians and alumni over her testimony in front of a House committee last week in which she and the presidents of two other universities — Claudine Gay of Harvard and Sally Kornbluth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — appeared to evade the question of whether students who called for the genocide of Jews would be punished under the school’s code of conduct.

Dr. Gay has given no indication that she is considering resigning, and the executive committee of M.I.T.’s governing board has declared its support for Dr. Kornbluth.

On Sunday, several students and professors at Penn spoke about the continued breakdown in understanding one another’s viewpoints over the war in the Middle East — if they spoke at all. Many were reluctant to be interviewed because of the tensions on campus; others said the university needed to find a leader who could help ease those tensions.

Emily Maroni, 30, a graduate student of environmental studies, said Ms. Magill made some “unfortunate word choices” in her congressional testimony, but she wondered whether another leader would have handled that situation any better. Still, she added that the recent turmoil came with a lesson for the school’s administration.

“I think they should take away from this that they need to be listening to everyone on campus,” she said. The Penn administration could consider starting campus programming that “brings everybody together” to try to heal the wounds, she added.

Several students said that they did not think that Ms. Magill’s resignation would make much difference, and added that it was now up to the university authorities to figure out what is protected free speech and what crosses the line into hate speech.

Harun Küçük, an associate professor in the history and sociology of science department at Penn and the former director of the Middle East Center, said he believed Ms. Magill acted in good faith but admitted that he was not sure there was any way in which Ms. Magill could have stayed on after her congressional testimony, given the intense backlash from powerful donors and alumni.

He also said he was worried that the resignation would set a dangerous precedent for the future of academic freedom and free speech at Penn and other universities.

“It’s terrifying,” he said. “As scholars, as academics, we’re used to being in disagreement all the time. The whole academic world is set up in such a way that the proper response to speech that you don’t like is more speech. This is now another game entirely. When you speak, are you going to find somebody disagreeing with you? Or are you going to find somebody who will just quietly fire you?”

For Michael Krone, 26, who attends the university’s Wharton School of Business, Penn needs to create an atmosphere “that fosters productive dialogue but also creates clear walls around speech that won’t be protected,” he said by phone. He added that as a Jewish student, he considered “calls for the genocide of my people to be abhorrent.”

Laura Van Koughnett, 24, a graduate student of landscape architecture, said that Ms Magill found herself unable to please people on both sides of the debate.

“She was ignoring calls for anti-Islamophobia; she was ignoring the progressives,” Ms. Van Koughnett said. “She was focusing mostly on antisemitism, but with that, it felt like she was pandering to donors who also were not happy.”

Kaylin Men, 18, a freshman premed student who similarly said that Ms. Magill expressed too much support for Israel and not enough for Palestinians, did not see how her departure would resolve the conflict on campus.

“The crowds that wanted her out are saying that the person they replace her with isn’t going to be any better, while the crowds that liked her don’t seem too content,” Ms. Men said, adding that she did not think anything would change.

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2023-12-11T08:00:00.0000000Z

2023-12-11T08:00:00.0000000Z

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