At Penn, tensions can only rise after Magill’s resignation

Campus protests are usually not focused on one person. But last week at the University of Pennsylvania, professors rallied against Marc Rowan, the New York private equity billionaire.

A Penn alumnus and major benefactor of the university, Mr. Rowan poured his vast resources into a relentless campaign against Penn’s president, M. Elizabeth Magill, which led to her resignation in December.

But it was what happened next that sparked the protest. Mr. Rowan sent a four-page email to university trustees titled “Moving Forward,” which many professors interpreted as a blueprint for a more conservative campus.

Amy C. Offner, a history professor who led the protest, called the document a proposed “hostile takeover of the university’s core academic functions.”

The protest of about 100 people was a sign that discord on campus was likely to continue despite Ms. Magill’s resignation, which many in the Penn community had hoped would quell anger over testimony she gave at a congressional hearing that appeared ambiguous about whether the students will be disciplined if they called for the genocide of the Jews.

Instead, Penn, now operating under interim president Dr. J. Larry Jameson, faces a group of alumni, donors and students who argue that universities have been taken over by a liberal orthodoxy that tolerates or even promotes anti-Semitism.

Penn is now under attack from many sides. It is the defendant in a lawsuit by Jewish students and funded in part by unnamed donors, and is the subject of a congressional subpoena investigation. State Republican lawmakers have threatened to withhold $31 million for its veterinary medicine program, the only state appropriation the private university receives.

Two former students, Mr. Rowan and Ronald S. Lauder, a cosmetics heir, were prominent sponsors of a fund-raiser for the re-election of Representative Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina, whose House committee is investigating Penn and other universities over allegations of anti-Semitism.

Mr. Rowan and Mr. Lauder did not attend the fundraiser, but the event’s organizer — Andrew Sabin, a New Yorker who made a fortune recycling metals — said the sponsors share opposition to anti-Semitism and hope to pressure Congress to remove federal funding and tax-exempt status from some universities.

Separately investigations The House Ways and Means Committee questioned whether campus anti-Semitism threatens Penn’s nonprofit status, as well as Cornell, Harvard and MIT

“We have a very, very aggressive path forward,” said Mr. Sabin, who did not attend Penn.

Some professors at the university say the attack on Penn is part of a conservative effort, started by governors like Florida’s Ron DeSantis, to overhaul American higher education — an effort that is now spreading to dozens of universities, including Penn, Harvard and Columbia, which are now under investigation by the federal government for reports of anti-Semitism.

“This is an anti-democratic attack that is taking place, not just at Penn, but across the country, including public universities in Florida, Texas, Ohio and beyond,” said Dr. Offner, president of the university chapter of the American Association of University Professors, a faculty professional organization.

Penn, she said, has become “ground zero for a coordinated national attack on higher education, an attack orchestrated by billionaires, lobbying organizations and politicians who would like to control what can be studied and taught in the United States.”

On Wednesday — two days after a fundraiser that raised about $60,000 for her campaign — Ms. Foxx filed 14 page letter university, seeking documents that might reflect the concerns of some Penn donors that the number of Jewish students at Penn declined as the university admitted more Asian, black and Latino students.

The demands made by Ms. Foxx cite figures from the Jewish organization Hillel International that suggest Penn’s Jewish undergraduate population drops to about 1,600, or 16.4 percent of the student body, in 2023, compared with about 2,500 students, or 25 percent, in 2013 .Jews make up just over 2 percent of the American population.

The proposal of Mr. Rowan, who published in full by The Philadelphia Inquirer, is framed as a series of questions about the direction of the university. He asked whether some academic programs should be eliminated and whether merit and academic excellence should be the most important factor in hiring and admissions, which many interpreted as a call to eliminate diversity.

The document immediately caused a strong and powerful pushback from faculty members, more than 1,200 of whom signed a a letter sent to trustees January 16. “We oppose all attempts by trustees, donors and other outside actors to interfere in our academic policy and to undermine academic freedom,” the letter states.

The faculty, however, is not of one mind. Michael J. Kahana, professor of psychology, responded directly in an email to the Faculty Senate.

“Your letter specifically refers to Marc Rowan’s questions, which I have studied and found to be reasonable and helpful,” wrote Dr. Kahana, who shared his email with The New York Times. dr. Kahana was recently organized by a journey to Israeli universities by Penn professors, in solidarity with academic colleagues in Israel.

Mr. Rowan, who serves as chairman of the advisory board at Wharton, Penn’s prestigious business school, suggested through a spokesman that the faculty had misinterpreted his intent.

“Marc says these are questions, but he doesn’t try to provide answers,” said Steven Lipin, a spokesman. “That’s not what Marc wants in any way. At the end of the day, that’s what administrators and faculty want.”

At a rally last week, just after the start of Penn’s spring semester, professors and others stood outside in freezing temperatures for nearly two hours and said they were seeking reassurance from Dr. Jameson, Penn’s interim president, that Mr. Rowan’s ideas would be successful. not to be hugged. A dozen faculty speakers, as well as several students, said they were concerned that donors were on a crusade to attack Penn’s traditions of diversity, academic freedom and free speech.

So far, the university administration has not issued what professors see as a violent dismissal of Mr. Rowan. But in a recent paper by Q. and A. published to the university’s website, dr. Jameson, an endocrinologist who was dean of Penn’s medical school, he reiterated the idea that the role of trustees is to delegate governance to academic leaders and faculty.

Nor dr. Neither Jameson nor the university’s new board chairman, Ramanan Raghavendran, an investor, could be reached for comment for this article.

Mr. Raghavendran, who has three Penn degrees, including from Wharton, was appointed after the resignation of Scott L. Bok, an ally of Ms. Magill. Selection of Mr. Raghavendran leading the board was seen as a hopeful sign by some faculty members, who cited his support for Penn’s liberal arts college, the School of Arts and Sciences, where he served on an advisory board.

dr. Harun Kucuk, associate professor of history and sociology of science, said professors may be ready for even more activism. The AAUP, a professors’ group, said its membership is growing on Penn’s campus.

dr. Kucuk recently resigned as director of the university’s Middle East Center in protest of the university’s attempt to block the screening of a film critical of Israel.

“There’s a timeline to get things right,” he said, “and I don’t think it’s a year from now.”

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