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Vice president for Public Safety and superintendent of the Penn Police Department Maureen Rush interrupted a student’s statement during the University Council Open Forum on Wednesday night. Credit: Joyce Lin

After a top Penn public safety administrator accidentally interrupted Wednesday's virtual University Council Open Forum meeting with an expletive-laced comment, the University has declined to pursue disciplinary action.

Vice President for Public Safety and Superintendent of the Penn Police Department Maureen Rush said, "F**k you, bitch," unaware her microphone was unmuted, during a student’s speech on giving students, faculty, and staff Election Day off. Rush said the comment was not directed at the student but at Penn Police colleagues while being briefed on a coronavirus-related emergency. 

“We’ve spoken to Vice President Rush, confirmed that the remarks were not directed at the student but another matter unrelated to University Council, and she has apologized for the use of inappropriate language,” University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian. “We consider this matter closed.”

Students criticized both Rush's conduct and the University’s response to the issue, calling on Penn to reprimand Rush. Some students even questioned whether Rush was telling the truth about what had happened offscreen during the meeting.

College junior Aakruti Ganeshan, a 34th Street Magazine staffer, said she was skeptical that the interruption was in fact accidental, because the expletives were the only words picked up by the microphone. College first year Megha Neelapu also said she found it strange that the microphone did not pick up any other words from Rush's interaction with her colleagues.

Rush told the DP on Wednesday night that she did not know if she muted herself again after the expletives and only found out that she had interrupted the meeting when she was contacted by the DP later that evening.

Ganeshan said that while she is not sure if she believes Rush should be fired over the incident, she said Rush's behavior was unprofessional and she believes there must be disciplinary consequences.

"If it were a student that engaged in this kind of behavior, the administration would be engaged in a barrage of disciplinary hearings and saying that we need to be held to a higher standard of professionalism," Ganeshan said. "Why is one of the highest ranking members of the administration not held to the same standard of professionalism that college students are?"

College junior Evan Shreffler agreed that the University should punish Rush for the use of profanity during the University Council meeting, even if it was not directed at a student. He believes that Rush is not facing consequences because of her high-level position at Penn, adding that if a student or a lower-level employee had done the same, they would be facing consequences.

Not only was the language inappropriate, but Rush's multi-tasking during the meeting showed an utter lack of respect to the students presenting, both Shreffler and Ganeshan said.

"It's absolutely inappropriate to not engage in a student forum where they're voicing their opinions about a very divisive and difficult year," Ganeshan said. "This is one of the very few forums and times that students get to voice that, and as a high-ranking member of the administration, you should absolutely be paying attention and not be doing things at the same time."

Ganeshan said Rush should have left the meeting if she could not give the student speaking her full attention. Rush told the DP that she takes full ownership for the incident and acknowledged that she should have left the meeting to deal with the emergency.

Shreffler echoed Ganeshan's sentiments, adding, "I think it shows to a lot of people that heard it how much power — how much disdain — that the police department has for students."

College senior Jaden Baum said that while she does believe Rush's interruption was accidental and not directed at the student, she still finds the Penn official's use of profanity in a work setting and lack of attention to the Open Forum troubling.

“If you have University administrators and people in power in the University who are attending this Open Forum to listen to students and are not listening to students, then it does feel like it constitutes some sort of dereliction of duty to be dealing with other things while students are using one of the few venues they have to talk to the administration and make their concerns heard,” Baum said.

She added that the fact that the words were not directed at a student does not absolve her of using inappropriate language when addressing her colleagues. Baum said she is disappointed that the University considers the matter closed and Rush will not face any consequences for her unprofessional behavior towards her colleagues. 

“It speaks to a not great culture, I would say, within that organization, and it raises some questions about how Rush is running the department,” Baum said. “It feels irresponsible."