Amid backlash from some trustees and donors, Penn President Liz Magill issued another statement Sunday morning condemning Hamas and emphasizing the University's position on antisemitism.
In her second statement since the Hamas attack on Israel, Magill referred to the Hamas violence as a "terrorist assault," a change from her initial statement. She also said that toll of the war between Israel and Hamas, combined with recent acts of antisemitism at Penn, had created a difficult moment on campus — adding that Penn will continue to work with Jewish leaders, faculty, students, and staff at the University to ensure a safe environment.
Sunday's statement also referred to the Palestine Writes Literature Festival which occurred on Sept. 22-23, an event which some donors and trustees have used to call for Magill's and University Board of Trustees Chair Scott Bok's resignations.
Magill said that the University could have been more forceful in communicating its view on the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, distancing Penn from festival speakers who, she wrote, had a "public history of speaking out viciously against the Jewish people." She said that many members of the Jewish community had voiced "anger and frustration" about the event, particularly given that it coincided with the start of Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday.
"The University did not, and emphatically does not, endorse these speakers or their views," Magill wrote. "While we did communicate, we should have moved faster to share our position strongly and more broadly with the Penn community."
The statement did not mention Israel's ongoing siege and airstrikes in Gaza in response to the Hamas attack, which have contributed to a mounting death toll of Palestinian civilians.
"I stand, and Penn stands, emphatically against antisemitism," Magill wrote. "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."
Palestine Writes posted a response to Penn's statement on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, writing that Magill's statement is "cowardly, immoral, and dishonest."
"We will continue to call out zionists for the white supremacists colonizers that they are," Palestine Writes wrote. "We are not afraid, nor are we intimidated by craven statements of individuals who genuflect before powerful billionaire donors to attack the weak and marginalized, and who cannot spare an iota of sympathy or even acknowledgement with those are literally experiencing genocide and erasure."
Palestine Writes Literature Festival previously sparked criticism from campus and national Jewish groups who said that the event featured speakers who had made antisemitic comments in the past. Magill and other University administrators released a statement in response to the criticism on Sept. 12, condemning antisemitism and emphasizing the University's support of free speech.
"We unequivocally — and emphatically — condemn antisemitism as antithetical to our institutional values. As a university, we also fiercely support the free exchange of ideas as central to our educational mission," the administrators wrote on Sept. 12. "This includes the expression of views that are controversial and even those that are incompatible with our institutional values."
This statement was the first time in recent memory that the University responded to criticism of a campus event.
Magill’s statement on Sunday comes amid growing pushback from trustees and donors in recent days.
Following a three-hour emergency meeting of the Board of Trustees on Friday, trustee Vahan Gureghian announced his resignation in protest of University leadership, citing his decision as resulting from Penn's response to the Palestine Writes festival.
Recently, Chair of the Wharton School's Board of Advisors Marc Rowan called on Magill and Bok to step down, citing the University's handling of antisemitism on campus. A spokesperson for Rowan told the DP that Rowan's position had not changed in light of Magill's message on Sunday.
1979 College graduate and Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees Julie Platt previously told the DP in a statement that she had “full confidence” in Magill and Bok’s leadership.
"The University has publicly committed to unprecedented steps to further combat antisemitism on its campus, reaffirmed deep support for our Jewish community, and condemned the devastating and barbaric attacks on Israel by Hamas," Platt wrote.
In the statement on Sunday, Magill also wrote that Penn's Division of Public Safety will provide increased support and security for centers of Jewish life both on and off campus. The University will continue to monitor threats of violence in Philadelphia as well as in other parts of the world, she said.
Magill encouraged members of the Penn community to provide support to one another, praising the vigil held in front of the LOVE statue in solidarity with Israel.
"Wherever you are, I hope you find comfort in this community we share," Magill wrote. "We will continue to work for meaningful and enduring change, together."