A long-serving trustee has resigned over what he called the University of Pennsylvania’s “embrace of antisemitism,” the latest hit to the Ivy League institution roiled by an alumni and donor revolt over anti-Israel sentiment on campus.
Vahan H. Gureghian, who joined the UPenn Board of Trustees in 2009, told board Chairman Scott Bok that he was stepping down immediately, saying that he no longer believes the university is “acting in the best interests of the students or community.”
“Just as at so many other elite academic institutions, the Penn community has been failed by an embrace of antisemitism, a failure to stand for justice, and complete negligence in the defense of our students’ wellbeing,” he said in the Saturday letter shared with The Washington Times.
Mr. Gureghian, founder and CEO of the charter-school consulting group CSMI, said he held off until Friday’s board meeting to make his decision, hoping that his mind would be changed, but “I felt no such reassurance.”
“I urge you to take a hard look at the direction the school is headed and the externalities of its broken moral compass. It is time for universities across our nation to reassess the values they demonstrate to the young minds they are shaping,” said Mr. Gureghian.
“I hold great hope for the future of the University of Pennsylvania, but for that hope to be realized, I believe you must commit to stop harboring haters,” he said.
His exit comes days after billionaire donor Marc Rowan announced he would stop giving and urged other UPenn alumni to do the same until Mr. Bok and President Liz Magill resign, saying that “leaders have for too long allowed this kind of anti-Jewish hate, which sanitizes Hamas’s atrocities, to infect their campuses.”
Other alumni pushing back include Dick Wolf, producer of television’s “Law & Order” franchise.
“Sadly, their leadership has inadequately represented the ideals and values of our university and they should be held to account,” Mr. Wolf told the Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper.
The pushback from prominent alumni and donors comes amid a surge of pro-Israel feelings over the bloody Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israeli civilians, which prompted Israel to declare war and order the evacuation of 1 million people in Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Mr. Bok responded to Mr. Gureghian’s resignation by emphasizing that the university “vehemently condemns the atrocious terrorist attacks by Hamas on Israel and unequivocally rejects antisemitism in all forms, everywhere it exists.”
“We stand with our Jewish students, faculty, staff, and alumni and with Jewish people all over the world,” he said in a statement. “I regret that Mr. Gureghian has made the decision to step down from the Board of Trustees. I look forward to working with a future Trustee appointed by the Commonwealth when they are named.”
At UPenn, tensions were already running high over last month’s Palestine Writes Literature Festival, which featured speakers who had previously called for the destruction of Israel.
“The fact that Penn hosted the Palestine Writes Literary Festival just a few weeks ago, and at that festival speakers condoned violent efforts to defeat Zionism, is abhorrent,” Mr. Gureghian said. “I was shocked to read of the hate-filled rhetoric being espoused on our campus at an event fully supported by the University.”
More than 2,000 alumni and university supporters, including several trustees, signed a letter last month expressing “deep concerns” about the Sept. 22-24 festival, while 36 faculty members defended the event and said it “should not be singled out for censure.”
In his Wednesday post, Mr. Rowan accused Ms. Magill and Mr. Bok of seeking to “purge dissent” by “organizing attacks on me and my fellow Jewish trustees for speaking out,” which Mr. Bok denied.
Mr. Bok did say that the board had discussed whether to push for the resignations of board members who publicly aired their grievances by signing the open letter, but decided against it.
“Our Trustee Executive Committee, after thoughtful deliberation, concluded that we would not force the resignation of anyone who took that unusual step,” he said. “We did make known to two Trustees pursuing that unusual step that they could consider voluntarily resigning, thereby freeing them from all the constraints involved in serving on a board. Those individuals chose not to resign, and they remain welcome as members of Penn’s board.”
Concerns about antisemitism on campus aren’t new. Jewish groups have raised alarm for years about events like “Israeli Apartheid Week” and anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions resolutions stoking animosity against Jewish students.
Students at about two dozen universities held pro-Palestinian protests after Students for Justice in Palestine declared Thursday a “national day of resistance” in celebration of the “historic win for the Palestinian resistance.”
They included Columbia University, which closed its campus ahead of competing protests by its SJP chapter and Students Supporting Israel.
The SJP template advertisement for the “day of resistance” featured a paraglider, an apparent reference to the Hamas paragliders who descended on a music festival near the Gaza Strip, killing at least 260 concert-goers.