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Resignation reactions, privilege checked, Sun Ra celebrated.

Beyond “Both Sides”

I am sure that at this difficult time for our University of Pennsylvania community [“From College Hall,” Jan|Feb 2024], many alumni will be submitting letters expressing strong opinions from both wings of our current intractable polarization. I would call out “both sides” for creating this situation.

As a proud Jewish person and child of a Holocaust survivor, I am disgusted that right-wing interests are exploiting a tragic and catastrophic situation in order to score political points. As one who generally finds myself aligned with progressives, I deplore the Israeli government’s decision to disregard international standards for protecting civilians during armed combat.

On the other hand, I am appalled at the failure of former Penn president Liz Magill and the former Harvard president to unequivocally condemn any call for genocide against any group of people, much less a group of people who have already been subjected to genocide. Saying that calling for genocide is unacceptable, full stop, should have been a no-brainer. I am not sure in what possible context a call for genocide could ever be tolerated.

Furthermore, I find that complaints from the Left that those on the Right are cherry picking and using gotcha tactics to torpedo people with long and distinguished careers ring hollow to me as those on the Left routinely pile on those who deviate in any way from Left orthodoxy and press for extreme measures to be taken against them. As a Jew and believer in universal human rights, I am horrified that those on the Left have ignored, excused, minimized, or even endorsed the atrocities committed by Hamas against Israeli civilians on October 7.

One may surmise from the above that I am writing merely to condemn “both” polarized sides. However, I am actually going to now call for a recognition that it is time to pull together as a community, honestly acknowledge the failures on everyone’s part (as well as the legitimacy of different viewpoints), do a lot of soul-searching, and recommit to our shared values. I am sure this great University that we all love can weather this controversy—probably the worst one in many decades. I will also say that I recently made my annual contribution to the Penn Fund, as I have every year since I graduated, and that I urge all donors to continue to support this University. I am also publicly volunteering to be part of any task force the University would like to establish to investigate the situation and come up with recommendations for how we can do better in the future. I am sure this can happen if we all come together and work on it.

Elise Auerbach C’81, Chicago

Nothing If Not Predictable

I awaited the next issue of the Penn Gazette ever since Liz Magill resigned. I anticipated how you would cover one of the seminal episodes in recent Penn history, and you did not disappoint.

Cover story [“Chasing Justice,” Jan|Feb 2024] on a self-impressed social justice warrior? Check.

Anodyne little piece from Ms. Magill’s replacement about the “challenging times,” “important work,” and “coming together” (natch) that entirely failed to mention her name, or the words “antisemitism” or “Jewish”? Check.

Nothing if not predictable. How is Penn going to turn things around without the candor to openly look in the mirror and address the hatred that has been exposed right on Locust Walk? Until then, here’s another observant Jewish alum whose kids and money will not be going to Penn. 

Matthew Grad WG’98 G’98, St Louis

Meeting the Challenge of Campus Diversity

I was gratified to learn that J. Larry Jameson, dean of the School of Medicine, was named Penn interim president at a time of turbulence [“Gazetteer,” Jan|Feb 2024]. Having been trained as a physician, he is a healer who can restore diversity in its rightful place in a collegiate environment. I purposely chose Penn for my college education, knowing it attracts an international instructional and student body, which would enlighten me to views and opinions quite different from my familiar community. I learned, from personal experience, that debate and discussion broadened my perspective of the larger environment I would be entering after college.

The ensuing recent outrage tarnished Penn’s reputation for not allowing divergent ideas to flow freely, in addition to punishing those who expressed them. From reading his extensive biography, I believe Interim President Jameson is most capable and appropriate to meet the challenge of campus diversity.

Jacqueline Zahn Nicholson W’62, Marietta, GA

Ugly Head of Ethnic Hatred

As a PhD graduate, I had always taken pride in my association with Penn, just as I have pride in my undergraduate institution, Harvard. I was especially pleased with the Palestine Writes conference in September.

But that was also the beginning of my displeasure with Penn. Alumni complaints of this conference raised the ugly head of ethnic hatred. This Islamophobia among Penn’s alumni is embarrassing to anyone who believes in academic freedom and diversity. The Penn administration’s acquiescence to the Israeli policy of ethnic cleansing in Gaza, as evidenced by the departure of President Magill, disgusts me.

Douglas Banik Gr’73, Redding, CT

Often Disappointed But Never Embarrassed—Until Now

I have been disappointed in Penn many times; my recent issue has been Penn’s handling of women’s swimming, but nothing has ever made me embarrassed to tell people from where I graduated until now.

The president’s inexplicable testimony in front of Congress made me ashamed of my alma mater. To have said the things she said was truly the epitome of ignorance. I understand she has stepped down, but that action will not erase her remarks. Surely, there were others who made similar embarrassing statements, but nothing will ever absolve her of the horrid impression she made for Penn at that hearing. Aside from the hearing, her inaction on campus in the face of antisemitic assaults on Jewish students was worse. This is a truly dismal time for Penn.

Ernest Price C’63, San Diego

What Exactly Was Inadequate?

I can’t believe that our former president attempting to carve out a space for the subtleties of free speech on campus, even while being used as a political punching bag for the GOP, was enough to force her into resignation.

Since when did defending nuance in this decades-long, extremely complex conflict become such a controversial position? Calls for Palestinian rights and humanity are not automatically equivalent to antisemitism (no matter how much Hamas tries to conflate the two). Of course such a delineation is “context dependent.”

The rights of students to represent their beliefs on campus are a key part of the college experience and should only be restricted in the most extreme, endangering scenarios. While I don’t question the experience of my fellow Jews at Penn, what exactly was inadequate about Magill’s newly established task force on combating antisemitism? Was this same level of care taken for our Muslim students during the spike of Islamophobia following September 11? The October 7 attack reopened some very old wounds and the temperature on both the pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian sides is higher than ever. But we can’t heal these wounds with more vitriol and tearing down those leaders who are trying to help bridge that gap.

Benjamin Chirlinn EAS’11, Petaluma, CA

This Is Why It Will Continue

I enjoyed this issue, as I usually do, and found many of the articles to be thought provoking and informative. It was almost shocking, though, to read an entire magazine, written during one of the ugliest episodes in Penn’s history, that did not even mention the problem at all. If you’ve listened to the experiences of Jewish students who testified before Congress and spoke out in other venues and heard how the administration did little to nothing to address the situation, it would have been reasonable to expect that this issue of the Gazette would devote at least one article to his topic. And it would have been reasonable to expect that J. Larry Jameson’s statement would at least use the phrases “antisemitism” or “Jewish student.” But no, you would have been disappointed.

And this is why it will continue.

Debbie Hirsch-Boyle W’85, Fanwood, NJ

Moral Framework Needed

In this magazine’s announcement of Dr. J. Larry Jameson’s acceptance as interim president, he is quoted: “I accept this responsibility clear-eyed about the challenges facing our University.” Then, the author quotes Dr. Jameson as having said (early in the COVID-19 pandemic), “we will innovate our way out of this crisis, we will invent better tests. We will find new drugs.”

Among Dr. Jameson’s many laudable, principled visions, I’d argue an eye toward old solutions is needed at this inflection point in his career, such as the awareness that some concepts are objectionable prima facie. There are indeed circumstances when no more information need be gathered, no more time need pass, before a productive reaction is available.

One such reaction is the revulsion to calls for the eradication of any proximate population. Dr. Jameson’s awareness to “train future leaders of our country” as a primary element of Penn’s mission should be the motivating principle here. Many of these future thinkers are now minors placed in his and other faculty and administrators’ care; they are often teenagers signed up for the guidance that should accompany a world-class University experience.

Penn’s principles must be sufficiently stable to provide them the moral framework that their own future responsibilities will require.

Bruce Costa, parent, Perkasie, PA

Alumni and Students Have Been Let Down

A thief has broken into your vaults of old stone and ivy. Your precious guarded things have been stolen. Alumni and students have been let down.

The brief article by President Jameson, “Challenge and Progress,” lacked several key points:

The importance of freedom of speech and thought. 

The late great President Magill and the circumstances surrounding her resignation.

My deepest regards to Elizabeth Magill. I appreciate your stance. You will always have my support.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom—and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.” I wish success to Interim President Jameson. 

Wilson J. Stewart GEd’02, Phoenixville, PA

Testimony Was Appalling

The testimony of President Liz Magill before Congress on the question of whether calling for genocide and the abolition of Israel (and Israeli citizens) was against Penn’s code of conduct was appalling. It seems that calling for genocide only violates those codes if it is followed by attempts at actual genocide. That’s absolutely unbelievable! 

I seriously doubt that Penn’s previous president Amy Gutmann would have spoken in that manner.

Joel Ackerman C’62, Jerusalem, Israel

Disappointed and Outraged

I am disappointed and outraged at the circumstances which led to the resignation of President Liz Magill. The relentless pressure on her to step down came not as a result of her performance in her job, but because of her performance at a Congressional hearing.

On December 5, Penn’s website published President Magill’s written testimony submitted to the House Committee on Education & the Workforce, along with her pledge that “we are unyielding in our opposition to antisemitism, Islamophobia, and hate in its many forms.” These clear words didn’t seem to matter during the hearing, as committee members berated witnesses and insisted on “yes or no” responses to loaded questions; these tactics were eerily reminiscent of those used by an earlier committee investigating “un-American activities.” President Magill’s attempts to explain University policies in this hostile atmosphere were somehow interpreted as an insufficient denunciation of genocide, something completely unsupported by her previous words and actions, and she has now been hounded out of office.

It would be naive to believe that this resignation will lead to closure. I fear many more resignations to come. To paraphrase Martin Niemöller, a German Lutheran pastor imprisoned by the Nazis: first they came for the university presidents, and I did not speak out, because I was not a university president.

Susan Brumbaugh CW’65, Lansdowne, PA

Penn Has Been a Profound Source of Pain

I’m especially disappointed with the Jan|Feb 2024 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Not a word about the rampant antisemitism on Penn’s campus. Interim President Jameson’s brief letter, “Challenge and Progress,” also mentioned nothing in particular about the Jew hatred that antisemites spewed on Penn’s campus.

This does not bode well for any progress toward purging Penn’s campus of students, faculty, and leadership that believe it is appropriate to advocate for the destruction of the only Jewish homeland and/or to harass Jewish students. I had such a positive experience at Penn Law over 20 years ago. I can’t believe I have to write this letter. But recently, Penn has been such a profound source of pain. This recent edition of the Gazette implies that Penn is not addressing the issue head on and doing the work necessary to regain its moral compass.

Adam Singer L’03, New York

Rush to Judgment

The reprehensible antisemitic rhetoric and behavior on the Penn campus is clearly unacceptable and must be dealt with as an urgent matter. That said, I am also appalled by the circumstances of the swift resignation of President Magill who apparently was summoned by a highly partisan committee of the House of Representatives to a Congressional hearing where she was excoriated by more than a few political windbags, fully aware that the next Congressional election cycle is now less than a year away.

I would have hoped the Penn trustees might have assembled some sort of blue-ribbon panel to investigate thoroughly and report findings with contextual background, what happened, when, and to the extent possible, why. A rush to judgment is seldom a satisfactory response to complex issues and, in this case, may leave the Penn community without a comprehensive account of relevant information and may also leave our former president without due process.

John DeGursé Jr. C’57, Shepherdstown, VA

Current Crisis Cannot Be Ignored

I just briefly read the Jan|Feb issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette (which I appreciate receiving). But I was disappointed to note that there did not appear to be any significant discussion about the crisis that the University is currently experiencing: antisemitism on campus, concerns about anti-Palestinian behavior, a leadership transition in the middle of an academic year, impact on application numbers, and relations with high-level donors.

I realize that the market for the Gazette is alumni, and its focus must be on University growth and achievements. But this current crisis cannot be ignored, and I am sure that there are alumni who would appreciate a factual analysis of what has been happening.

Louise Braunschweiger CW’62 G’63, Brooklyn

As the letters above make clear, the events of last semester—which received widespread media coverage, not least in the Daily Pennsylvanian—have provoked sharply differing responses among the Penn community. Please see the stories in this issue’s “Gazetteer” reporting on the University’s initiatives to combat antisemitism, counter hate, and build community; and profiling Penn’s new board of trustees chair for updates on how Penn is moving forward. —Ed.

Groan Eliciting Quotes

I enjoyed reading Julia M. Klein’s piece on alumnus Rajiv Shah, “Risk and Reward” [Jan|Feb 2024]. Unfortunately, I do have a complaint about the quotes from Mr. Shah and his book Big Bets.

Klein quotes Shah saying that “he grew up in a pretty normal household in suburban Detroit.” Klein then goes on to write that he was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, describing his parents’ arrival from India in the late 1960s on academic scholarships and their subsequent professional careers; his tight-knit Indian American community in West Bloomfield, Michigan, where there existed a shared community of high aspirations for kids; and Shah’s attendance at a magnet public school.

None of this is “pretty normal.” Shah enjoyed a very privileged upbringing and childhood. I am pleased he was able to do so.

Similarly, Shah writes in Big Bets, “My family and I faced our share of America’s racism—the hateful glances, the slurs, and, when I was a kid, the occasional shoves and punches—that come with being a skinny brown kid growing up in predominantly white communities.”

For such a privileged man to write this is disappointing. Loving parents with high aspirations for their son, magnet high school, the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania, degrees in medicine and economics. I’m sure he worked hard and deserves every bit of his success. But this is not how I would describe “America’s racism” and its truly vile features.

This kind of thinking and writing needs to end sooner rather than later. It is just not helpful. I will go so far as to venture that there were many groans when this was read by other Penn alumni.

Catherine Carroll GNu’91, Dearborn, MI

I Accept My Sister As She Is

Thank you very much for publishing “Mind Tease” [“Gazetteer,” Jan|Feb 2024], the enlightening and also quite touching interview with Amy S.F. Lutz about her multiple roles in life as educator, writer, and parent of a severely affected autistic son. The latter role matters most to me because I have a low functioning autistic sister and am her legal guardian.

My 62-year-old autistic sister is nearly nonverbal, is unable to perform tasks that require more than a typical three- to four-year old’s cognitive thinking level, and resides in a group home with five other women where there is round-the-clock supervision. Most of the time she is cheerful and enjoys her life, but it can still be … exciting if she is under stress.

I remember, so clearly, the toddler who seemed perfectly normal until one day, when she was about two and a half, our family realized that she was no longer talking. Then no longer wanting to be hugged. Disappearing from home as a teenager and adult and found miles away. Having screaming fits and clawing her legs raw. She was 12 years old before my parents heard the term “autism”; before that, everything from deafness to auditory aphasia to schizophrenia had been raised as the problem.

I related so intensely to Ms. Lutz’s story of the “intact mind,” which supposedly was there “somewhere” and one-day would be found if my parents only got her to the right doctor, did the right exercises, exposed her to enough stimuli, etc. My parents never completely quit believing in the “intact mind.” I finally gave it up only when my sister was near 50 and I in my mid-60s. Now I accept my sister as she is, and always will be, rather the person who may yet be reached. But it’s been very hard to get there. And it shouldn’t have been.

Pat Shutterly (wife of Michael Shutterly C’74), Richmond, VA

ICA Honored Sun Ra in 2009

Secrets of the Sun” [“Arts,” Jan|Feb 2024] does not entirely do justice to Penn’s engagement with Sun Ra and his Arkestra. He was properly honored by a Penn institution in 2009 with an exhibition at the ICA, entitled “Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn & Chicago’s Afro-Futurist Underground, 1954–1965” [“Arts,” Jul|Aug 2009]. My daughter (Class of 2011) was a student then, and knowing of my admiration for Sun Ra, she gifted me a precious T-shirt made especially for the exhibition.

When I was a student, I remember a day-long concert by Sun Ra and his Arkestra that took place on the roof of the International House on the Penn campus. The concert is documented in the 1980 film by Robert Mugge, A Joyful Noise.

The mention of Geno’s Empty Foxhole in the article brought back fond memories of some of the jazz greats who played there. I especially remember seeing Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who had the remarkable ability to play multiple instruments simultaneously, even after having had a stroke that left him partially paralyzed.

Alan Kennedy W’72, Santa Monica, CA

Imagine My Surprise

I was excited to learn that the Penn Libraries acquired two collections of Sun Ra materials. He stands as a jazz icon, whose music, poetry, and cosmic philosophy were something to behold. But imagine my surprise to read in the article that Sun Ra never performed on the Penn campus. Luckily, I kept some of the posters from New Foxhole Café during my time on campus in the mid- to late 1970s. For just $4, you could enjoy the likes of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Sonny Rollins, and, yes, Sun Ra.

Jack Eisenhauer C’78 Gr’78, Santa Barbara, CA

Sun Ra Was Legendary

I loved reading Trey Popp’s article about Sun Ra. He was legendary in his approach to jazz freedom. In your article you stated that he never played on the Penn campus, but I distinctly and unforgettably remember having my mind blown by the Intergalactic Space Arkestra at Geno’s Empty Foxhole around 1971. I thought that was on campus. There was so much great music at tiny West Philly (and beyond) venues back then—Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee at Geno’s, Mississippi Fred McDowell at World Control Studios, Rahsaan Roland Kirk at I can’t remember the name of the place. Good times. Glad I had time to squeeze in my homework. “Space is the place.”

Robert Dautch C’72, Ojai, CA

Jazz history is blessed with many figures who still inspire enthusiasm decades after their passing, but leave it to Sun Ra to arouse enough fervor to blind more than one reader to the very first verb in my article about him—which stated neither that Sun Ra “never performed” or “never played” on campus, but that he was never formally “invited,” as John Szwed reflected with a tinge of regret. Fortunately for Quakers in those days, invitations were one of many earthly constraints Sun Ra transcended. —TP

Marines Taught More than Wharton

Mr. Barniskis has triggered me [“Letters,” Jan|Feb 2024].

My two Wharton degrees were very helpful in my career; however, they pale in comparison to my personal development resulting from my experience as a Marine officer. I often shock people by telling them that, having survived it, it was the best thing that ever happened to me, except for my family. I did not desire military service, but I did it, I gave it my best and then I left. 

I did serve at the tip of the spear in Vietnam, but I put that behind me until my early 70s when my wife encouraged me to give something back by contributing some time and talent to veterans’ organizations. I have. It has been difficult, painful, and yet very rewarding.

As to military recruitment, our political leaders must demonstrate that they base all decisions regarding the Department of Defense and all DoD internal policies on the premise that its purpose is to deter war or, if necessary, win war, and if committed to war, would be allowed to win it. Current actions are seriously hurting both retention and recruitment. Meanwhile, I can only pray for our country and our world. 

Bill Lohmeyer W’67 WG’73, Smyrna, GA

Anti-US Indoctrination Impedes Zoomer Recruitment

It is telling that Matthew Weiss’ appeal to Zoomers to consider the military as a career [“Expert Opinion,” Nov|Dec 2023], did not emphasize how service offers the opportunity to come to the aid of their country, and to become involved in something bigger than themselves.

I’m guessing that Weiss is aware that such an approach would not attract today’s young Americans. At our universities, Zoomers are being indoctrinated to believe that the US is a racist, oppressive, and colonizing power that perpetuates the patriarchy. Who would want to pick up a rifle in support of a country like that?

Jonathan Lipsky EE’84, Bet Shemesh, Israel

Larry Doby Played There

As a postscript to “Field of Dreams” [“Alumni Profiles,” Nov|Dec 2023] it is interesting to note that a street in the vicinity of Hinchcliffe Stadium was recently named Larry Doby Lane. Larry Doby was the second Black man to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier, and the first to do so in the American League, three months after Jackie Robinson’s debut. He subsequently won a World Series with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998. Doby played multiple high school sports at Hinchcliffe Stadium.

Michael Brown C’69, Houston

A Study in Contrasts

In the “Paradise Now” article [“Gazetteer,” Jan|Feb 2024], I was struck by the dichotomy in the two quotations the first paragraph:

The utopian simplicity of the first quote about the start of an ideal community—“sharing of the smallest things in our daily lives”—and the dystopian complexity of the second quote about relevant research—“the lived experience of socialism and post-socialism, the gendered effects of the economic transition from Communism to capitalism, and the ethnographic study of post-communist nostalgia in Central and Eastern Europe.”

A study in contrasts in another well-done Gazette—great content, well written.

Jim Waters WG’71, Pearl River, NY

Digital Archive Unearths Family History

Prompted by the note that The Bennett News had been digitized in the story on John Bence being named University Archivist [“Gazetteer,” Nov|Dec 2023], I searched the archives for my mother-in-law, M. L. McKinney CW’46. Sure enough, she was mentioned many times as sports editor and for her involvement in activities on campus. I also searched my father-in-law, Frank Loughran W’45, and found his name mentioned in “Walter Snitchall’s” gossip column “Around Campus.”

In the January 25, 1945, issue, his dancing with “Jane” at the NROTC Bash was noted. A March 8, 1945, column mentioned Frank’s commissioning celebration “Sunday shindig”; this time he was with “M. L.” Commissioned officers graduated mid-year, as many, including Ensign Loughran, embarked aboard ships in the Pacific shortly thereafter for the final months of the war. My wife, Fran Loughran C’83, shared the issues with him. He greatly enjoyed them. Frank looks forward to his 80th Penn reunion in May 2025.

Paul Garvey W’82, Lafayette Hill, PA

The writer adds, “Frank did not remember Jane’s last name but recalled that her father was the commanding officer at Lakehurst when the Hindenburg exploded in 1937. Frank and M. L. were married shortly after he returned from Japan. Mom (M. L), who passed in 2022, was a class president for many years [“Obituaries,” Jul|Aug 2022].”—Ed.

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