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Penn faces investigation from multiple government institutions after  allegations of antisemitism. 

Credit: Ethan Young

Over the past several months, Penn has been the subject of intense scrutiny from the federal government due to the handling of antisemitism on campus, resulting in two federal investigations and increased governmental probing — continuing in the wake of former Penn President Liz Magill's resignation.

Following campus turmoil over the Palestine Writes Literature Festival and Israel-Hamas war, the University has faced an array of congressional hearings, administrative resignations, and widespread criticism from students and faculty. The Daily Pennsylvanian looked at the evolving federal actions taken against Penn amid allegations of antisemitism on campus.

Department of Education investigation

On Nov. 16, 2023, the United States Department of Education launched an investigation into Penn and six other schools over reported instances of both antisemitism and Islamophobia, the first of such investigations since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war.

The investigations centered on the schools' alleged violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which “prohibits race, color, or national origin discrimination, including harassment based on a person’s shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics.” While Penn is a private institution, it receives around $800 million from the federal government per year — allowing the DOE to investigate the allegation.

“These investigations underscore how seriously the Biden-Harris Administration, including the U.S. Department of Education, takes our responsibility to protect students from hatred and discrimination,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a press release. 

Both a DOE spokesperson and a University spokesperson confirmed to the DP that the investigation had been dismissed as of Jan. 4 due to the existence of a lawsuit containing the same allegations. 

The DOE has gone on to investigate dozens more schools, including Drexel and Temple Universities, for reports of discrimination on their campuses in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war. 

House Committee on Education and the Workforce investigation

On Dec. 7, 2023, the United States House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce announced its intention to investigate Penn, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the “full force of subpoena power.” The announcement came after the universities’ respective presidents testified at a congressional hearing focused on addressing antisemitism on campus. 

In a now-viral exchange, Magill said it was “context dependent” in a response to Rep. Elise Stefanik’s (R-N.Y.) question asking whether calling for the genocide of Jewish people violated Penn’s Student Code of Conduct. Former Harvard President Claudine Gay and MIT President Sally Kornbluth gave similar answers. Their testimonies were met with national backlash. 

“After this week's pathetic and morally bankrupt testimony by university presidents when answering my questions, the Education and Workforce Committee is launching an official congressional investigation," Stefanik wrote in a statement to the DP.

Since the hearing and the subsequent announcement of a formal investigation, both Magill and Gay resigned from their respective positions. Scott Bok, the former chair of the University Board of Trustees, also resigned shortly after Magill. 

Members of the Committee on Education and the Workforce did not respond to requests for comment from the DP on the effects Magill and Bok’s resignations may have on the pending investigation.

House Committee on Ways and Means probe

The House Committee on Ways and Means called Penn’s tax-exempt status into question, citing the University’s “failure” to support Jewish students on campus and condemn Hamas following the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

Committee Chairman Jason Smith (R-Mo.) sent a letter on Jan. 10 to Interim Penn President Larry Jameson and three other university presidents, asking them to provide Congress with more information on campus policies.

“If antisemitic speech crosses the line into unprotected conduct, it must be punished severely,” Smith wrote. “If disgusting antisemitic speech remains in the protected category, it should be condemned, not coddled. Your words and actions matter.”

Penn and other universities across the country are tax-exempt due to their “educational mission of teaching, research, and public service.” However, the committee stated that it may be necessary to reexamine Penn's eligibility for its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status due to its alleged failure to address antisemitism.

In the letter, Smith posed 13 specific questions to university presidents, asking them to clearly identify policies relating to student free speech, as well as whether diversity, equity, and inclusion programs on campus serve Jewish students. 

“Ultimately, as the U.S. House Committee with primary jurisdiction over tax-exempt institutions and the treatment of their endowments, we are left to wonder whether reexamining the current benefits and tax treatment afforded to your institutions is necessary,” Smith wrote.

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law professor Amy Wax’s legal case

In addition to various ongoing investigations into the University, tenured Penn Carey Law professor Amy Wax spoke with right-wing political commentator Richard Hanania on Dec. 28, 2023, and hinted at more legal trouble for Penn. 

“There’s a move afoot to get some subpoenas out to Penn of the records in my case, and we are talking about thousands of pages now,” Wax said. 

Wax, who has faced the University sanctions process as a result of racist comments, criticized Penn administration and its handling of her case during the interview with Hanania.

“[Penn] is run by a bunch of midwit gynocrats, these people are as intellectually mediocre and undistinguished as you could possibly imagine,” Wax said.“The notion that they care about consistency or coherence or, you know, objectivity, principles, that’s a joke. They don’t care. It’s all about spin. It’s all about PR.”