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University Commonwealth trustees declared their support for Penn President Liz Magill and Board of Trustees Chair Scott Bok amid recent donor backlash.

Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

Three trustees appointed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly declared their support for Penn President Liz Magill and University Board of Trustees Chair Scott Bok as the University receives donor backlash.

In a letter obtained by The Daily Pennsylvanian, University Commonwealth trustees Christopher Franklin, Marshall Mitchell, and 1987 College graduate John Shoemaker wrote that they stood "squarely and firmly" with Magill and Bok, praising the University for its action plan to combat antisemitism following criticism of the Palestine Writes Literature Festival.

"As leaders, they recognize that they will be the recipients of emotional reactions and criticism, which they have aptly absorbed while remaining focused on guiding the university with a sense of purpose, and in concert with our mission," the Commonwealth trustees wrote. "Consistent with Penn’s core values, our leadership is open to constructive criticism and has a history of thoughtful responsiveness."

In the letter, the trustees wrote that they believe University leadership is dedicated to upholding Penn's values.

"We invite those who embrace Penn’s values—namely the steadfast rejection of antisemitism, the condemnation of violence, and the unequivocal commitment to openness and free speech—to join us in expressing confidence in our leadership's meaningful efforts," the trustees wrote.

The letter comes after Vahan Gureghian — the fourth Commonwealth trustee — announced his resignation from the Board of Trustees in protest of University leadership earlier this month.

“Like so many elite academic institutions, the leadership of UPenn has failed us through an embrace of antisemitism, a failure to stand for justice, and complete negligence in the defense of its own students’ well being,” Gureghian wrote in a statement at the time.

The Commonwealth trustees are four non-elected officials appointed by representatives on the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

While Franklin stressed that he has "great empathy" for members of the Penn community, he said that "changing the president and the chairman of the board is not constructive."

"Magill has only been on campus over a year. She didn't create these situations. And so I think she's got a great desire and frankly, the skill set, to help solve some of these situations," he said.

The trustees' letter follows a growing number significant University donors pulling their donations and some calling on Magill and Bok to step down.

Jon Huntsman Jr. and Ronald Lauder are among notable donors pledging to "close their checkbooks," citing dissatisfaction with University administration’s response to antisemitism on campus, both regarding the Palestine Writes festival and the ongoing violence between Israel and Hamas.

"I think most people would agree that we shouldn't remove presidents because of wealthy donors," Franklin said. "We should work together as a campus community to resolve our issues."

1990 College and Engineering graduate David Magerman, a former Engineering overseer, called for "rebuilding" Penn's "moral foundations from the ground up" in a letter to Magill and Bok where he said he would halt his donations. Magerman, who was in Israel at the time of Hamas' Oct. 7 attack, told the DP that he was "appalled" upon returning to the United States at the alleged "equivocating" by administrators on the conflict. 

"I lost respect for them changing their messaging in response to the complaints, you know, they sent him a letter, you know, their 

"The way that they reacted initially shows me who they are, and all the negotiated restatements are having them say things that are less authentic," Magerman claimed of Penn's condemning of antisemitism and hate speech in multiple statements since donors began publicizing their discontent. 

The DP previously reported that the University Board of Trustees unanimously reaffirmed their confidence in Magill in a meeting over a week ago.

Staff reporter Elea Castiglione contributed reporting.