UPenn crisis deepens: Former trustee calls for president to resign as donors bail

By Matt Egan , CNN BusinessNew York (CNN Business) — Former University of Pennsylvania trustee Vahan Gureghian is calling for Liz Magill, the Ivy League school's president, to step down and warned the…

UPenn crisis deepens: Former trustee calls for president to resign as donors bail


Matt Egan

CNN Business

New York, (CNN Business), Vahan Gureghian, a former University of Pennsylvania trustee, is calling on Liz Magill, Ivy League School's President, to resign. He also warned that the reaction from wealthy donors would likely worsen over the growing outrage over the way the school dealt with accusations of antisemitism.

Gureghian told CNN, in a Wednesday phone interview, that she was 'negligent' and not up to the task of being president of one the eight or so elite universities around the world.

A growing number of high-profile donors are pulling their funding from Penn. They claim that Magill and her staff did not condemn the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, which took place on campus last month. UPenn leaders recognized that the event featured speakers who have a history of antisemitic remarks. They issued a statement before the festival, condemning antisemitism in general - but not the festival.

Donors' dissatisfaction grew rapidly after Hamas attacked Israel. They argued that the university was not sufficiently combating antisemitism.

Gureghian resigned from the board last week, in protest at the school's reaction to the Palestinian Literature Festival that was held last month. This occurred before Hamas' terror attacks against Israel.

Gureghian, as a trustee of the University's Board of Trustees, was one of the people who approved Magill becoming the ninth president.

It's a huge operation. Some people just aren't cut out for the job. We may have chosen the wrong person. It's possible that it is time to let her go. Gureghian is the CEO and founder of charter school operator CSMI Consulting Group. She told CNN that she believes it's time for her to go.

Gureghian said he didn't know whether Scott Bok, the chair of the school's Board of Trustees, should remain on because he also bears responsibility.

Donors protest by protesting with their checks

The Palestine Writes Festival has been a lightning rod of criticism at one America's most prestigious Universities and the catalyst for several prominent supporters to stop their financial support.

Marc Rowan, the billionaire hedge fund Cliff Asness, David Magerman, the venture capitalist David Magerman, and former US ambassador Jon Huntsman have all promised to close their bank accounts.

People will just turn off the spigot. Gureghian stated that this is a huge, major event for a university with such a reputation. You'll see major donors withdrawing their support at University at Pennsylvania day after, day after. This is a situation that she cannot survive.

Gureghian's decision was influenced by the letter sent to Magill this week by billionaire Ronald Lauder, which was first reported on CNN. Lauder, who is a major Penn supporter, said in the letter that he had made a special trip to Philadelphia and called Magill twice to convince him to cancel Palestine Writes.

I told you those who were invited had a long history of antisemitism, not only a strong anti-Israel bias but also an outright antisemitism. Lauder wrote that you were aware of many of these things.

Gureghian says Magill should've asked the board for advice at that time on whether or not to hold the Palestine Writes Festival.

It was an easy lay-up to see if it was okay. Gureghian added that Magill should "definitely" resign. Liz has done it all before. It's not her first time. Liz seems to be unprepared for the job.

Discussion on free speech and antisemitism

Magill did not just face pressure from Lauder or other opponents of Palestine Writes Festival. Even some Jewish members of the community were vocal supporters of the festival.

Days before the festival began on September 22, dozens Jewish members of UPenn's community wrote Magill to express 'enthusiasm for the event' and to criticize her condemnation against antisemitism. The Daily Pennsylvanian published a letter from UPenn's faculty that included three dozen letters in support of the Palestine Writes Festival.

The Daily Pennsylvanian reported that organizers of the Palestine Writes Festival denied that they embraced antisemitism.

When asked about Gureghian’s criticism, UPenn referred CNN back to a Tuesday statement Magill made in which he said that the school had a'moral obligation to combat antisemitism' and educate its community on how to identify and reject hatred.

Magill's new message, released on Wednesday, addressed the campus demonstrations which are occurring at a moment when "many members of our communities are experiencing great pain and fear."

"Hateful remarks have no place at Penn. No place. Magill stated that she categorically condemned hateful speech which denigrated others, as it was contrary to her values. In this tragic moment we must recognize the pain of our colleagues and classmates, and that our words and actions can both heal and harm our community. We must choose healing and resist those who want to divide us. Instead, we should respect and care about one another.

Bok, the chair of UPenn’s board of Trustees and CEO of Greenhill & Co. said in a Monday statement that dozens current and former UPenn Trustees gathered in recent days for a couple of virtual conversations to discuss and hear from Magill.

Bok stated that 'the unanimous feeling of those present was that President Magill's existing University Leadership Team is the right group to move the University forward'.

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