The House Committee on Education and the Workforce has demanded a long list of documents from the University of Pennsylvania, saying it has grave concerns about the school’s response to pervasive antisemitism on its campus.
The disastrous campus antisemitism hearings that forced the resignation of University of Pennsylvania President M. Elizabeth Magill last December were only the beginning of its inquiry. In a letter confronting the school with its shameful record of antisemitic incidents, the Committee just gave UPenn two weeks to produce evidence of what it is doing to make them stop.
Magill’s now infamous answer to that question was, basically, “nothing.” When the Committee asked her whether calling for the genocide of Jews would violate UPenn’s code of conduct, she said it was “a context-dependent decision.”
Her mealymouthed response to this and other inquiries that day just made the Committee doubt UPenn’s commitment to the safety of its Jewish students even more. How can the school be serious about addressing antisemitism if it needs “context” to decide whether death threats against Jews are antisemitic?
Others had the same reaction. The fallout from Magill’s pathetic performance began almost as soon as the hearings ended. Two days later, a major donor withdrew his $100 million dollar gift to the school. Then, minutes after Magill resigned on December 9th, UPenn’s Board of Trustees Chair Scott Bok announced his resignation.
But UPenn’s institutional failures to address its antisemitism problem extend well beyond these two former leaders, the Committee says in the letter. Antisemitism is exploding at UPenn because the school sytematically tolerates it in the name of “free speech”—free, that is, as long as Jews are the target:
In defense of this disgraceful record, Penn has cited its supposed commitment to free speech. In former President Magill’s words, Penn claims that it is ‘guided by the United States Constitution,’ which limits it from taking action against antisemitism on its campus.
However, Penn has demonstrated a clear double standard by tolerating antisemitic vandalism, harassment, and intimidation, but suppressing and penalizing other expression it deemed problematic.
UPenn’s free speech claims fall flat when you consider its call to cancel UPenn Law’s Professor Amy Wax, which the letter cites as an example of the school’s hypocrisy. Legal Insurrection readers will recall how Wax came under fire for unapologetically expressing her conservative views back in 2017. We wrote about the university’s relentless proceedings against her ever since in a series of posts, most recently here.
Wax’s case shows how the school applies one standard to people who express viewpoints it favors and another to people who don’t:
In June 2022, Penn Law Dean Ted Ruger took the extraordinary step of requesting Penn’s Faculty Senate impose a ‘major sanction’ on tenured law professor Amy Wax for ‘intentional and incessant racist, sexist, xenophobic, and homophobic actions and statements’ and that ‘Wax’s conduct inflicts harm on [students, faculty, and staff] and the institution and undermines the University’s core values.’ This effort, which is ongoing, is widely perceived to be an effort to strip Wax of her tenure and terminate her.
It’s hard to see how the school can justify shutting down Wax for wrongthink while giving a free pass to the destroy-Israel chants described in the letter:
“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” “Zionism is racism,” “Penn funds Palestinian genocide,” and “From West Philly to Palestine, occupation is a crime.”
And while the accusations against Wax are based on students’ alleged hurt feelings—she makes them almost want to cry!—at UPenn, Jewish students are actually intimidated by anti-Israel protestors marching across campus calling for their death and vandalizing buildings with antisemitic graffiti saying “intifada” and “avenge Gaza.”
Congress is now demanding to see tangible evidence of how the school is protecting its Jewish students from these threats. Its letter asks for 25 categories of reports, records, and meeting minutes, including documents that show “any Penn disciplinary, academic, personnel, administrative, or other processes” for responding to incidents and reports of antisemitism.
- The Palestine Writes Literature Festival;
- The activities of Penn Students Against the Occupation since October 7, 2023;
- Posts by Penn students, faculty, staff, and other Penn affiliates on Sidechat andother social media platforms targeting Jews, Israelis, Israel, Zionists, or Zionism;
- Anti-Israel protests at Penn, and any disruptions to education and student life related to them, since October 7, 2023, including but not limited to the October 16, 2023, protest, Palestine Freedom School, and December 3, 2023, protest;
- The antisemitic vandalization of the Stuart Weitzman School of Design on or about September 14, 2023;
- The vandalization and arrest at Penn Hillel on or about September 21, 2023;
- The vandalization of a property next to the Alpha Epsilon Pi House on or about October 20, 2023;
- The antisemitic emails received by multiple Penn staff members on or about November 6, 2023;
- The projection of anti-Israel phrases onto university buildings on or about November 8, 2023;
- The destruction or unauthorized removal of posters featuring Israeli hostages abducted by Hamas; and
- The posting of “Missing Cow” posters similar in appearance and design to posters featuring Israeli hostages abducted by Hamas.
The university has until February 7th to respond.
UPenn isn’t the only school facing ongoing scrutiny. A similar letter was recently sent to Harvard, as we wrote here. As far as the Committee is concerned, the responses at the December hearings from the presidents of Harvard, UPenn, and MIT to the rampant antisemitism displayed on their campuses were “absolutely unacceptable,” and the formal investigation into all three continues.
Meanwhile, in the two weeks to come, UPenn will have to own up to having one set of rules for anti-Zionists and another one for Professor Amy Wax.
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