The spectacle of the once prestigious University of Pennsylvania’s President squirming before a congressional committee trying to walk a tightrope between moral certitude and adherence to the speech codes that dominate higher education shocked the nation.
Despite repeated opportunities to admit genocide of the Jewish people would be a violation of university policy now former Penn President Liz Magill could not bring herself to state the obvious. Her equivocation, echoed by the presidents of Harvard and MIT, provided a rare glimpse into the institutional rot that has pervaded the nation’s colleges and universities.
In Pennsylvania, gridlocked this past year by a partisan legislative divide, Magill proved to be a unifying force. Democrat Governor Josh Shapiro was among the first to denounce her performance and was quickly joined by lawmakers from both parties.
The University of Pennsylvania (not to be confused with Penn State), is one of four so-called state-related universities (the others being the University of Pittsburgh, Lincoln University and Temple University) which receive partial funding from the commonwealth.
The University of Pennsylvania along with the other three state-related universities already was under the legislative microscope before the genocide controversy. The state’s annual appropriation to the universities was with-held for six months due to concerns over transparency and accountability of taxpayer funds.
The Pennsylvania Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative state House lawmakers, had already been waging a battle against the state-related universities for the suppression of conservative speech among other issues. In March of last year State Representative Joe D’Orsie (R-York) who sits on the House Education Committee submitted legislation to ban the free speech bias against conservative students and speakers. Back in October as the funding battle continued the Freedom Caucus even warned about a troubling rise in campus antisemitism.
Magill’s performance in front of the congressional committee exploring antisemitism on college campuses proved the Freedom Caucus’ point. Her attempts to defend radicals on her campus calling for Jewish genocide on free speech grounds – or as she put it “context dependent” – laid bare the university’s moral decay and pervasive institutional ideological discrimination.
Fallout over the issue resulted in the state House denying funding to the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. That $33 million appropriation was put to a vote shortly before Christmas and failed to gain the two-thirds majority vote needed to approve the funding.
House Republican leaders sent Penn’s Interim president a letter outlining what must now happen to receive the funding. In addition to stating unequivocally that calls for Jewish genocide violate the university’s code of conduct, the university must support a package of bills introduced at the end of the year designed to combat antisemitism at both the basic and higher education levels, and support a discussion of free speech issues currently under consideration in the legislature.
In announcing the legislation State Representative Aaron Kaufer (R-Luzerne) lamented: “It is hard to believe that in 2023 we have to say that genocide against the Jewish population, or any religious group, is wrong. The rise of antisemitism in our systems of education, both at the primary and higher levels, mist be stopped – period.”
Among the legislative proposals is a bill sponsored by State Representative Rob Mercuri (R-Allegheny) that would require institutions of higher learning receiving state taxpayer support recognize antisemitism and calls for the genocide of the Jewish people as bullying, harassment and intimidation as part of the institution’s code of conduct. Mercuri said “Taxpayer funding should only follow with a university’s commitment to combat antisemitic behavior and demonstrate leadership on campus by clearly identifying calls for genocide as against the code of conduct.”
In a news release Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Bucks) noted that a recent survey in The Economist showed that one in five young people believe the Holocaust is a myth. She is sponsoring legislation requiring curriculum transparency in Holocaust education occurring in schools and noted that parents and the community deserve to know how these events are being taught.
All of this represents only the first steps on the long road to addressing the pervasive antiseminitic Left-wing rot that has infected our nation’s institutions of higher learning.
Guy Ciarrocchi of the Commonwealth Foundation pointed out: “The root cause is the morally vacant, anti-liberal mindset that permeates Penn, produces graduates who become teachers and professors and civic, media and business leaders. Magill didn’t misrepresent Penn’s values, she stated them loudly, clearly, and repeatedly.”
He concluded: “The reality – I hope – is that America revolted against not merely Magill’s words, but against Penn’s values.” Values, or lack thereof, now revealed for all to see as prevalent on university campuses across the nation.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly American Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)
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