Erika James, dean of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said the institution had a responsibility to repair its reputation and repair relationships with donors who accused it of tolerating anti-Semitism.
“I do not consider my colleagues, for example, within the university, to be anti-Semitic, but I recognize that many of the activities that are happening now could lead to that impression,” James said at an event organized by the Economic Club of New York. York. “It’s our responsibility to repair these relationships.”
Penn has been rocked by increased calls from alumni, including Apollo Global Management Inc., Marc Rowan, will change direction following the university’s response to the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. Tensions were already simmering after the university hosted a Palestinian writers’ festival in September, with speakers including some alumni accused of having a history of anti-Semitic rhetoric.
“For us, it started before the attacks in the Middle East,” said James, who became the first woman and first Black person to lead Wharton, Penn’s business school, in 2020. “The thing that The hardest thing for Penn has been that it has been seen for so long as a school that is very committed to Jewish students.
The Philadelphia school has been drawn into a broader debate over free speech and anti-Semitism on campus that has also rocked Harvard, Stanford and Cornell. Rowan led a campaign demanding that Penn President Liz Magill and Board of Trustees Chairman Scott Bok resign. Rowan also urged his fellow donors to withhold their financial support unless there is a change in leadership.
Magill said in a letter Monday that a small number of Penn staff members had received “vile and disturbing anti-Semitic emails” threatening violence against members of the school’s Jewish community. University police notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation of “this potential hate crime” and a joint investigation was underway, she said.
James said the school has prioritized the safety of students, faculty and staff and is working with campus police. In his field at Wharton, James also tackles reputational damage.
“It is our responsibility to respond to donor backlash,” she said.