President Liz Magill and Board of Trustees Chair Scott Bok pledged to regain the trust of critical alumni who are doubtful of their leadership and halting donations at a board meeting on Friday, while community members held a demonstration outside.
At the meeting, Magill and Bok addressed calls for their resignation, frustration among Penn’s Jewish community, and hateful rhetoric on campus in their most extensive remarks to date about the turmoil among alumni and donors.
“I have heard from some that I have not been as effective as I could have been or should have been," Magill told the trustees as part of an eight-minute speech. "This left room for doubt. Doubt about my convictions, what our university believes, and how Penn moves forward. I regret that, and I am listening."
Outside the Inn at Penn, where the meeting was held, over 50 Penn community members rallied in support of Palestine, calling for the removal of several members of the Penn Board of Trustees and the Wharton Board of Advisors, as well as the University's divestment from “destructive industries.”
To the trustees, Magill said she hoped that critical alumni will resume their engagement with Penn as the University makes progress on its goals.
"I will work tirelessly to regain that trust," she said.
Magill's remarks prompted a standing ovation and applause from trustees in the room.
Bok acknowledges failed push to oust him as chair
Before Magill spoke, Bok addressed a proposal to oust him as chair written by two voting trustees and one emeritus trustee. He wrote in a statement that there was a poll fielded to trustees to gauge support of the proposal which failed.
“[N]o trustee on our large board — apart from the two who signed the original letter — wished to pursue the proposal to replace the Chair," Magill reported to the trustees, according to Bok.
A majority of Penn's emeritus trustees — who do not have the right to vote — conveyed to the Secretary that they do not support the proposal as well, according to Bok. A trustee emeritus who was granted anonymity confirmed that a private vote was held last weekend.
Bok said that discussing the proposal to oust him was not added to the agenda of this Board of Trustees meeting “given the lack of any meaningful support for the consideration of the proposal.”
Magill addresses campus divisions, antisemitism action plan
Addressing the trustees, Magill acknowledged her disappointment in some of the rhetoric at recent rallies on and off campus.
"There have been chants at rallies captured on video and widely circulated that glorified the terrorist atrocities of Hamas, that celebrate and praise the slaughter and kidnapping of innocent people, and that question Israel's very right to exist," she said.
Earlier this week, Magill announced a comprehensive antisemitism action plan that will focus on safety and security, education, and engagement.
As part of the plan, Penn will launch a new task force on antisemitism chaired by Mark Wolff, the Morton Amsterdam Dean of the School of Dental Medicine. The University also announced a presidential commission to address the "interconnectedness of antisemitism and other forms of hate" faced by Jewish, Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab communities.
Several students previously told The Daily Pennsylvanian that they commended this action plan, while some are waiting for more follow-through from the University or a stronger commitment to addressing Islamophobia on campus.
“We are all very supportive of the current administration,” trustee and 1986 College graduate Ted Schlein said when approached for comment by the DP.
Trustee Joan Lau gave the Penn Alumni Report and said that there was a recent “impassioned conversation” with the alumni trustees who showed support for Magill’s new action plan and discussed free expression guidelines and “the complexities of how [free expression] can or should exist at Penn.”
Several other trustees declined the DP’s request for comment
The proposal to replace Bok comes after weeks of criticism of him and Magill over the University's response to the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, the Israel-Hamas War, and antisemitism on campus. A movement for donors to "close their checkbooks" began when 1985 Wharton MBA graduate Marc Rowan called for the resignations of Bok and Magill.
In a statement provided to the DP on Oct. 11, 1979 College graduate and Vice Chair of the University Board of Trustees Julie Platt said that she had “full confidence” in Magill and Bok’s leadership. Platt added that the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees had “unanimously endorsed” the steps Penn has taken to respond to acts of antisemitism.
Student groups rally outside meeting
Multiple student groups including Fossil Free Penn, Students for the Preservation of Chinatown, and Penn Students Against the Occupation hosted a solidarity rally calling for the protection of Penn community members and divestment from “destructive industries.” Many speakers framed the conflict between Israel and Palestinians as representative of broader themes of settler colonialism, exploitation, climate justice, and legacies of anti-Black racism.
Several speakers and rally organizers were granted anonymity out of fear of personal safety.
One representative from FFP said that several Penn students wrote a letter to the Board of Trustees signed by members of the student groups, and planned to “attend the meeting and respectfully deliver it to them in person,” but were denied entry.
Although they arrived at 11:30 a.m., when the meeting was scheduled to begin, the representative told the DP that demonstrators were told that the meeting was full, and they were told to arrive earlier next time. The doors of the Inn at Penn were locked from the outside during the rally.
Trustees meetings are open to the public as long as they can be reasonably accommodated and attendees are only present for the purpose of observance, according to University policy.
“The trustees are here bankrolling Penn’s occupation of the Black Bottom, and they’re threatening to pull funding in defense of the imperialist Israeli occupation of Palestine,” one speaker said, expressing frustration that donors had not shown the same objection the displacement of Black people in University City or the harassment of Arab students on campus.
The protestors called on the University to remove David Adelman, CEO of Campus Apartments, from the Penn Medicine Board of Trustees. They also called for Josh Harris’s removal from the Wharton Board of Advisors, and for David Blitzer’s removal from the Wharton Board of Advisors and the Penn Board of Trustees.
One speaker from FFP criticized Penn trustees Christopher Franklin, Kenneth Moelis, and Rowan for their allegedly exploitative business practices, accusing them of harming marginalized communities.
"Today, the harassment of Palestinians, Arab Muslims, and anti-Zionist Jewish students on campus is a direct result of lack of protection from the University," the speaker said.
Across the street, 1992 Wharton graduate Joseph Esses yelled over the protestors with a megaphone throughout the first portion of the rally, calling the idea of Palestinian liberation “a lie and a scam.”
“You are fake. You are driven by hate,” Esses said. “I’m not gonna let this happen. I want to send my kids here.”
The DP previously reported that multiple faculty members and students have received violent threats due to their involvement in pro-Palestinian demonstration on campus.
Students and other community members held signs saying “Penn Thrives on Genocide,” “Protect Palestinian students,” and “Ceasefire Now.”
One Penn student and FFP organizer said they attended the rally because they believed climate justice and pro-Palestinian activism were “fundamentally connected.”
“The military industrial complex is one of the biggest polluters on the planet, and they are the ones who are propping up Israeli apartheid,” the student said.
Speakers at the rally also criticized Magill’s most recent statement announcing a University-wide action plan on Wednesday, calling it a “dangerous backsliding of academic freedom and freedom of speech.”
Multiple other rallies have taken place at Penn in solidarity with Palestine over the past few weeks on Oct. 16, Oct. 18, and Oct. 25. On Friday afternoon, over 300 community members and alumni marched down Locust Walk in solidarity with Israel.
In response to a request for comment from the DP about the two demonstrations on Friday and security measures, the Division of Public Safety wrote that "Public Safety was present for both events held today, ensuring the safety of participants and onlookers alike."
“Those in positions of leadership must not act as censors,” Magill said at the meeting. “Our duty is to ensure that our faculty and student scholars have freedom and security to pursue academic discourse unthreatened.”