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Credit: Emmi Wu

Reflecting on the events of the past few months, several Penn alumni have reached out to The Daily Pennsylvanian with thoughts on the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, the ongoing Israel-Gaza war, the withholding of alumni donations, and responses from Penn’s administration to these ongoing crises. 

Letters written since Nov. 1 are presented, with several in response to written columns and articles. Since these are not full length guest columns in the Opinion section, there is less space to elaborate on details and provide nuance. With the fall term coming to a close, the Opinion section will not be accepting guest columns until classes are in session again, but we encourage readers interested in continuing these conversations to reach out at in the new year.

To the Editor:

“There has been a huge amount of noise to the effect that the Ivy League presidents — including Penn President Liz Magill — were somehow shown up by their inability to answer Rep. Elise Stefanik's (R-N.Y.) questions about antisemitism on campus. Asked repeatedly whether calling for genocide of Jewish people would violate free speech and conduct policies, all the university presidents answered versions of 'it depends.' Shocking, deplorable … and exactly correct.

Let's start with the point that these are private institutions, so they don't necessarily have to comply with the First Amendment. But they all say they want to live up to those principles, and public commentary for the past decade has consistently been to the effect that they should do more, not less, to protect free speech and First Amendment principles. Those principles state that advocacy of hateful things is always protected speech, but that speech becomes unprotected when it crosses the line into harassment or threats or incitement. 

In other words, 'it depends' is exactly the right answer. And the political courage to stand by those free speech principles in the face of a withering political assault is commendable.”

Howard Schweber

1984 College graduate

Dec. 6, 2023

To the Editor:

“Today I just watched Penn's president testify in front of Congress that calling for the genocide of Jewish people does not necessarily violate the University's Code of Conduct. This really is how things got off to a start in 1930s Germany. The Germans didn't wake up one day and say 'kill all the Jews.' It started with small hatred and ended with the death of tens of millions and all the destruction of a world war.

I was planning to leave a chunk of money to Penn in my will. I was planning to endow a professorship. That has changed. I'm certainly not leaving money to Penn in my will if Penn's actions could be what resulted in my death.”

Shaun Briedbart 

1983 Wharton graduate

Dec. 5, 2023

To the Editor:

Re “I am a Jewish alumna and former class president. I charge Liz Magill with complicity in genocide.” (Opinion, Ariel Koren, published Nov. 16, 2023) 

“After reading your opinion piece for the third time — to satisfy myself that I didn’t miss any key or subtle points — I still can’t find the part where you condemn [Hamas] anywhere near as strongly as strongly or directly as you condemn Magill, or Israel.

Your opinion “… is and of itself …” disingenuous at best, and dishonestly antisemitic at worst. 

Magill is in a no-win situation, and we can both agree that she probably has to resign seeing as though she really has no viable way to appease either side, or those fat cat donors. But you and I will never agree that somehow the provoking terror that Hamas exacted on thousands of innocent civilians can be ignored or canceled out — because Israel responded to that terror by executing a disproportionate and fatal assault that, agreed, killed innocent Palestinians. Horror begets horror. 

But you seemingly give a pass to the terrorists who begat that initial horror blow, and therefore only part of your opinion has veracity that equals the gravity of the moment.”

Michael Dobson

2005 College graduate

Nov. 25, 2023

To the Penn President:

“Dear President Magill: I am writing to express my concern about the state of our Constitutional guarantee of free speech. I do not think students at Penn and other campuses understand what free speech means in practice in the 21st century. 

Unfortunately, that is also the case with my fellow alumni who have made major financial contributions to the university and have threatened to cease their support because they do not like what you or others have said. Their threat to withdraw support is itself a form of free speech, but they need to recognize that the University campus is a place that should encourage different points of view to be expressed.

I am a professional lobbyist at the federal level of government who works with elected officials of all parties to help them respond to my local government clients. Some of the issues I work on are controversial, such as energy and climate change. I learned how to be an advocate at Penn, where I also learned that I and others could disagree with the University administration but find a way to get to common ground. Penn gave me the opportunity to fight those battles, talk with and even yell at my opponents, and try to learn from others.  I have built a life around those lessons.

I urge Penn to incorporate contemporary civics into its required curriculum, and I urge my fellow alumni to express their opinion without trying to blackmail University leaders to do their bidding.”

Howard Marlowe

1964 Wharton graduate

Nov. 20, 2023

To the Penn President:

"Regrettably Madam President, I must urge you to resign. Advocacy of genocide should be a violation of the University’s code of conduct.  Your remarks at a congressional hearing appeared to be the words of lawyers and not of the heart. I am a Wharton ’64 graduate and I am ashamed of your remarks."

Howard Marlowe

1964 Wharton graduate

Dec. 7, 2023

To the Editor:

Re: “Penn denounces projections of pro-Palestinian messages onto campus buildings as 'antisemitic'” (News, Nov. 9)

“While I would like to feel heartened that Penn Police is investigating the anti-Zionist messages projected onto campus buildings, I am not. 

When I lived in Hill College House, there was a Confederate flag in someone's bedroom window at Zeta Psi. Every time I walked past, I wondered what Hill's Black residents and employees thought about it and why the University didn't intervene and have the fraternity remove the flag. Having read the DP article, I wonder whether anything at Penn has really changed.”

Steven Ruth

1983 College graduate

Nov. 9, 2023

To the Editor:

Re: “Penn continues to lose donors, including building namesakes and Penn Club of New York founder” (News, Nov. 3)

“It’s ironic that at the University of Pennsylvania, home of the Wharton School, President Liz Magill and University Board of Trustees Chair Scott Bok could lose sight of who their customers are and the products and services they value. In allowing antisemitism to flourish on campus, they added the proverbial final straw to the back of a camel already laden with illiberal, anti-Western, and progressive ideals. 

Is Penn’s brand forever tarnished? Who knows? A good start to repairing the damage would be Magill and Bok conceding in their resignation letters that allowing a Palestine Writes Literature Festival was a grievous error that betrayed the University, its students, and its mission.”

Robert Aberman

1991 Wharton graduate

Nov. 3, 2023

To the Penn President:

“I am writing to you today neither as an alumnus of the prestigious university you lead, nor am I writing to you as a Jew. Neither am I writing you as a benefactor with millions of dollars in expected donations. I am, however, writing to you as a resident of your hometown, Fargo, N.D.

I am deeply ashamed to admit to you that I no longer know what values drive the philosophy, or indeed, the daily currency of thought, at Penn. What values are intoned when hatefulness is granted room to howl on Locust Walk? Can you claim to believe in morality if you remain ambiguously silent, or worse, invite those who hail an act of terror? I believe you are not a person with strong implicit biases, but I request … no, I implore you to remember the place you once called home. Fargo, and its community, still have lessons to offer. Please consider this a standing invitation. If you ever want to help push a stranger’s car out of the snow, make a meal for the recent widow in the neighborhood, or simply shake a farmer’s hand as a display of gratitude, Fargo will welcome you and help you remember. I sincerely hope your choices allow College Green to be the place it was meant to be.”

Cameron Landis

2022 College graduate

Nov. 1, 2023