Marc Rowan | University donors, close your checkbooks

Trustees, myself included, have sat in silence as our schools were taken over by ideologues. It’s time to wake up.

University of Pennsylvania March for Israel October 20, 2023. / Photo credit: Jennifer Mesa

By Marc Rowan

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published in The Free Press on October 11, 2023. 

The article had previously been sent to The Daily Pennsylvanian but was not published, with editors citing “incendiary” language. Later that week, on October 16, 2023, the Opinion section of The Daily Pennsylvanian published a response to Rowan’s letter, despite having never published the letter itself. The column written by then Chairman of the Board of Trustees Scott Bok, was entitled, “Setting the record straight: A response to Marc Rowan’s recent letter.”  

We at The Pennsylvania Post would like to—“set the record straight” and allow the Penn community to read the whole story. We encourage you to read former Chairman Bok’s response

While Hamas terrorists were slaughtering Israeli Jews, university administrators were figuring out how to spin it. Do not just take my word for it; read their statements. Across academia, administrators issued statements on behalf of their institutions expressing a repulsive moral equivalence between victims of terror and the perpetrators of that terror. The antisemitic rot in academia is unmistakable.

At the University of Pennsylvania, where I sit on the Wharton School’s Board of Overseers, leaders have for too long allowed this kind of anti-Jewish hate, which sanitizes Hamas’s atrocities, to infect their campuses. There must be consequences.

I call on all Penn alumni and supporters who believe we are heading in the wrong direction to close their checkbooks until President Liz Magill and Chairman Scott Bok resign.

It took less than two weeks to go from the Palestine Writes Literary Festival at the University of Pennsylvania to the barbaric slaughter of innocent civilians in Israel. Foreshadowing Hamas’s massacre, speakers at the gathering—hosted by various university departments and affiliates—advocated ethnic cleansing of Jews, referred to them as “European settlers,” and repeated various blood libels.

Penn President Elizabeth Magill and Board Chair Scott Bok permitted Penn to sponsor this conference and failed to condemn its hate-filled calls for violence. This is not a matter of free speech, but University-sponsored hate speech. 

Words and ideas matter. They mattered in the motivation of Hamas terrorists slaughtering more than 1,000 innocent civilians and kidnapping more than a hundred in their goal to annihilate Jews. In our viral, online world it is especially dangerous when once-fringe ideologies receive a stamp of legitimacy—especially from our elite academic institutions, which hold a special place in our society. By sponsoring the spread of the violent ideologies expressed in the Palestine Writes conference, they normalize and give their imprimatur to what would otherwise be considered morally reprehensible.

Penn is not alone in allowing this culture of hate to become mainstream. It is true for universities across the country. And it’s long past time for donors to take notice. Ultimately, the direction of these institutions is the responsibility of its president and its board of trustees. 

At Penn, the embrace of double standards and the unacceptable status quo, which privileges antisemitism, did not begin on President Magill’s and Chairman Bok’s watch, but they are the protectors of it. Now they are now leading a purge of dissent. They have created a culture of intimidation and fear of speaking out against this status quo. At present, they are organizing attacks on me and my Jewish fellow trustees for speaking out.

The responsibility also rests with many of our alumni leaders and trustees, myself included, who have sat by quietly as the pursuit of truth—the ostensible mission of our elite institutions—was traded for a poorly organized pursuit of social justice and political correctness. Sitting on the sidelines has undermined trust in academia, hindered the production and acquisition of knowledge, and, most troubling of all, allowed for calls of violence and slaughter against a minority group across campuses. We can accept that no longer.

While the moral and human cost for what we have done to a generation of students cannot be calculated, the picture is ugly. The financial cost of these policies is large and increasing. Much of this loss is kept silent as acknowledging it endangers the status quo and would encourage questions in the direction of the university from trustees, alumni, and students.

University communities, Penn included, should not wait for the broken status quo to change. They should call for change from the top: 4,000 of us have already sent a message to President Magill and Chairman Bok about their moral failure to condemn the Palestine Writes hate-fest, but that is only the first step. Ultimately, we must change the culture that allows this to take place, a culture that does not deserve our financial support.

Marc Rowan is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Apollo Global Management and the Chairman of the Wharton Board of Advisors. He is also a 1984 graduate of the Wharton undergraduate program and a 1985 graduate of the Masters of Business Administration. 

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