Over 900 faculty members at the University of Pennsylvania signed a letter opposing influence from trustees and donors after former President Liz Magill resigned.
The letter was addressed to those on the Board of Trustees and states, “We oppose all attempts by trustees, donors, and other external actors to interfere with our academic policies and to undermine academic freedom.”
“The current efforts of some members of the broader Penn community to reverse our longstanding governance structure threatens the freedom of the faculty to conduct independent and academically rigorous research and teaching,” the letter states. “Penn’s academic excellence is built upon decades of shared governance in which the faculty play a central role in crafting policies around teaching, research, and all other aspects of our University’s academic mission, grounded in the principles of academic freedom and open expression.”
According to the Daily Pennsylvanian, the letter was circulated by the university’s faculty senate and also comes after Wharton Board of Advisors Chair Marc Rowan wrote an email to the Board of Trustees, titled “Moving Forward.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Rowan included a list of 18 questions in the email, one of which asked if the university should consider eliminating some academic departments.
“What are the Board’s criteria for the instruction of students and recommendations for degrees in course and in faculty?” Rowan wrote. “What are the Board’s criteria for the instruction of students and recommendations for degrees in course and in faculty?”
“What are the Board’s criteria for the instruction of students and recommendations for degrees in course and in faculty?” he also asked.
In the email, Rowan said that the university also has a “culture” problem.
“While antisemitism has received the most attention, I believe this is just a symptom of a larger problem…,” Rowan wrote. “A culture that allowed antisemitism to take root and be accepted inside UPenn, that has allowed for preferred versus free speech, and one that has distracted from UPenn’s core mission of scholarship, research, and academic excellence.”
Magill stepped down in the days after a Dec. 5 congressional hearing on antisemitism when she gave a non-answer to New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik’s question asking if “calling for the genocide of Jews violate[s] Penn’s rules or code of conduct? Yes or no?”
“If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment. Yes,” Magill responded, later adding, “It is a context-dependent decision.”
“This is unacceptable. Ms. Magill, I’m gonna give you one more opportunity for the world to see your answer. Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Penn’s code of conduct when it comes to bullying and harassment? Yes or no?” Stefanik then asked.
“It can be harassment,” the University of Pennsylvania president responded.
Magill would later walk back her comments in a video posted to X on Wednesday evening.
“There was a moment during yesterday’s congressional hearing on antisemitism when I was asked if a call for the genocide of Jewish people on our campus would violate our policies. In that moment, I was focused on our university’s long-standing policies aligned with the U.S. Constitution, which says that speech alone is not punishable,” Magill said. “I was not focused on, but I should have been, on the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate.”