A billionaire donor to the University of Pennsylvania, enraged over the school’s recent decision to host a conference where antisemitic views were expressed, is threatening to withhold any future donations to the institution.
Ronald Lauder, heir to the Estee Lauder cosmetics fortune, had pleaded with university President Liz Magill not to proceed with plans to host the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, which promotes Palestinian literature and culture, CNN reported. Despite this, the festival went ahead as originally planned.
Lauder is president of the World Jewish Congress, which works to protect Jewish communities from discrimination. He helped launch the Lauder Institute, named after his father, in the university’s Wharton School of Business. Lauder has asked that none of the festival’s speakers be allowed to teach in the Lauder Institute.
Individuals sent by Lauder to the festival took photos of and attended sessions where speakers were “antisemitic and viscerally anti-Israel,” Lauder wrote to Magill in a letter obtained by CNN.
Lauber said the festival’s timing, during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, couldn’t have been worse. Two weeks later, the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas attacked Israel.
University President Denounces Antisemitism
“The conference has put a deep stain on Penn’s reputation that will take a long time to repair,” Lauder wrote. “You are forcing me to re-examine my financial support absent satisfactory measures to address antisemitism at the university.”
Magill issued a statement saying the university “emphatically does not endorse these speakers or their views.”
“I stand, and Penn stands, emphatically against antisemitism,” Magill emphasized. “We have a moral responsibility — as an academic institution and a campus community — to combat antisemitism and to educate our community to recognize and reject hate.”
On X, the social media platform formerly called Twitter, organizers of Palestine Writes attacked Magill for her statement, calling it “cowardly, immoral and dishonest.”
1/8 Palestine Writes responds to @Penn President's statement issued as Israel is committing genocidal war crimes:— Palestine Writes (@PalestineWrites) October 15, 2023
President Liz Magill's statement is cowardly, immoral, and dishonest. It will stand in history as a testament to the grotesque privileged elite who stood behind a
Free Speech Outweighs Political Correctness
While stressing her condemnation of antisemitism, Magill defended her decision to allow the festival to proceed because the university strives to be a place where ideas can be freely expressed, even if they’re controversial.
“As a University, we support and encourage the free exchange of ideas, along with a commitment to the safety and security of our community and the values we share and work to advance,” Magill said in the statement.
“Penn has a moral responsibility to combat antisemitism and to educate our community to recognize and reject hate in all its forms. I’ve said we should have communicated faster and more broadly about where we stand, but let there be no doubt that we are steadfast in our beliefs.”
UPenn Board of Trustees member Vahan Gureghian resigned from the board as a result of the controversy, citing UPenn’s response to Lauder’s concerns.
Lauder wasn’t the only university donor who criticized the university for staging the literary event. Harsh blowback also came in the form of an open letter condemning the festival, signed by more than 2,000 angry Penn alumni and affiliates.
“The University of Pennsylvania should be doing all within its power to distance itself from the event’s antisemitic speakers, make clear that such antisemitism is wholly at odds with the university’s values, and take proactive steps to ensure that Jewish students, faculty, and staff are safe and welcome at Penn,” the letter stated, as reported by The Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper.
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This article has been produced by TPR Teaching.
Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.