By Liz Magill
November 3, 2023
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
For nearly 300 years — we are looking forward to our 268th Commencement in June — Penn has created knowledge, shared it for good, and educated the next generation. With everything I have, I believe in the power and importance of our mission. It must continue, and it will continue. But this is a dark and difficult time for the world. And it is a dark and difficult time for Penn.
Many in our community have an immediate connection to the war – to Israel, to Gaza, to the region. So many lives have been taken or shattered, with families and communities ripped apart. Voices are being raised on all sides. We see some sharing light and reaching for unity. We see some sowing fear and stoking division.
Antisemitism is resurgent in our society. There have been swastikas and hateful graffiti on our campus — here in our home. There have been chants at rallies, captured on video and widely circulated, that glorify 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. There are other examples from other campuses, and there will be more. It is difficult to fully convey how sickened, and how horrified, and how angry I am. I condemn personally these hateful – hateful – antisemitic acts and words, which are nothing but inhumane. And I assure you that Penn has and will investigate any act of hate on our campus and take full action in accordance with our policies and our laws.
The vibrant engagement of Jewish faculty, students, staff, and alumni has long been such an important part of who Penn is. To see their sense of belonging shaken by this hurt and fear — that is intolerable.
I have sought to communicate these and other core beliefs clearly. I’ve heard from some that I have not been as effective as I could or should have been. This left room for doubt – doubt about my convictions, what our University believes, and how Penn moves forward from this. I regret that, and I am listening.
Here is where I stand, and where Penn stands, and how we will move forward, together.
We will continue to ensure the safety and security of our community, while safeguarding our ability to carry out our academic mission. We have and will investigate and pursue those who commit acts of hate, like the drawing of swastikas, that violate the law or our policies. We will not tolerate—and take immediate action against—any violence or incitement to violence. We have increased security across campus. Penn Police and Allied security are at every event, rally, protest, and vigil. We have strengthened security for Penn Hillel, the Katz Center, Lubavitch House, and spaces where our Muslim students worship at the Christian Association. We are ensuring students have access to safety escorts, mental health, wellness, and pastoral support.
We will fight antisemitism and strive to be what I hope is one of many higher education leaders on how to address this urgent challenge. This campus cannot and will not be a comfortable or uncontested space for evil and hatred. On Wednesday, I announced an Action Plan to Combat Antisemitism, centering on three key areas: Safety and Security, Engagement, and Education. The Plan includes the creation of a new Task Force composed of faculty, student, staff, and alumni leaders, and our Penn Dental Dean Mark Wolff will be the Chair, for which I am deeply grateful.
The interconnectedness of antisemitism and other forms of hate also demands our attention and action. I will soon convene and charge a Presidential Commission on these broad challenges, which will be chaired by Penn Engineering Dean Vijay Kumar and Penn GSE Dean Katharine Strunk.
We will also defend the free exchange of ideas that is essential to our educational mission. Those in positions of leadership must not act as censors. Our duty is to ensure that our faculty and student scholars have freedom and security to pursue academic discourse unthreatened. At the same time, we will contest hateful views and repellant ideas on our campus. We can counter hate speech. And we will. That is what moral leadership demands.
We will also strengthen the ties that connect us to one another. This is essential. Our Jewish community is afraid. Our Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian communities feel unseen and unheard. I condemn the death threats and doxing that many at Penn are experiencing based only on their identity, their affiliations, or their views of the suffering in this war.
I am a President for all people in this community. We must find common ground on which to support and protect each other and this University. We must, together, bring our research, our teaching, our service missions to bear on urgent challenges. We must do this while advancing understanding aided by all the amazing resources of this extraordinary institution. That is why the actions I have outlined will be well-integrated with our strategic planning for the University’s future.
I and Penn commit to these things. But I need help from every member of the Penn family.
To move forward and to uphold our academic mission, we must stand together as a community. A community that condemns hate and finds ways to respectfully debate and talk across difference. A community that leads with care and compassion. I want and I welcome your insights, expertise, and partnership.
For our alumni who have made clear their anger, pain, and disappointment, we need and want them, too. I hope, with time and progress on our goals, that they will once again engage with Penn. And I will work tirelessly to regain that trust.
It is the honor of my lifetime to lead this amazing University. I am grateful for the strong support I have received from so many, including the Board of Trustees, and I am listening carefully and respectfully to those who want Penn to do better.
I was lucky enough to have a great mentor, Justice Ginsburg. She said, “Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” Above all, I care about Penn, our people, and our noble missions. That’s what I’m fighting for, and it is my sincerest hope that, even when we disagree, everyone who loves Penn will join the effort. Thank you.