(Bloomberg) -- Over the years, David Magerman has given $10 million to the University of Pennsylvania. When it came time for his sons to go to college, they chose Penn, just like their father. In an acknowledgment of his support, a wing in the school’s nanotechnology hub was named for him.

But Magerman is done with Penn. He won’t be donating anymore, and has asked for his name to be taken down. The son who is still at the university is transferring to a different school this summer.

“I don’t want to save Penn,” said Magerman, an investor who helped build the trading systems at Renaissance Technologies. “These institutions have made a choice and they have every right to pursue a mission that they think is valuable. I don’t think it’s a donor’s place to try” to change that mission, he said in an interview.

His choice was made before the most recent developments on campus, where a statue of founder Benjamin Franklin was defaced with “Zios get f—kt” in lime green lettering on the pedestal. It was also where police in riot gear removed a pro-Palestinian encampment this month and where seven students were arrested Friday night for attempting to take over a building.

Magerman is driven by a belief that the university — once seen as one of the most welcoming to Jews among the Ivy League — is no longer a place that lives up to that billing. And he’s far from alone in voicing his displeasure.

Marc Rowan, the billionaire chief executive officer of Apollo Global Management Inc. and chair of the advisory board for Penn’s Wharton School, led a campaign last year to encourage alumni to withhold financial support until the school removed President Liz Magill and did more to combat antisemitism.

Such actions have sparked backlash. Over 1,000 Penn faculty signed a letter to trustees in December rejecting donor, alumni and board influences on the school’s “academic priorities or governance policies,” saying it “threatens the freedom of the faculty to conduct independent and academically rigorous research and teaching.”

Curriculum Review

While some donors like Magerman are turning their back on Penn, others say they won’t give up on the university, even as they’re dismayed by recent events. 

Jacqueline Reses, the chief executive of Lead Bank, wants the university to revisit its curriculum and examine its processes for hiring faculty and student admissions. The school also needs to review its code of conduct and make sure it’s applied consistently, she said.

“The most important thing that we need to focus on is academic excellence and creating a safe environment for students,” said Reses, an alumna who serves on Wharton’s board.

A shift may already be in the offing, with the faculty of the School of Arts and Sciences reviewing its curriculum for the first time in almost 20 years, according to the Daily Pennsylvanian.

Reses also believes donors should rethink scholarships they provide so they don’t fund people with views antithetical to their own. It’s a change she just made to give more consideration to applicants with interest in Jewish history and culture.

“I definitively don’t want to give scholarships to kids who could have a potential to hate me. No interest,” she said.

The fight over Penn’s future was ignited by Rowan, but it’s gone on publicly and behind the scenes through the academic year as protests escalated over the Israel-Hamas war.

The Middle East conflict was sparked by an Oct. 7 assault on Israel by Hamas that killed over 1,200 people. The Jewish state then launched a bombing operation in Gaza in a bid to defeat the militant group, which is still holding hostages captive. The campaign has killed over 35,000 Palestinians, including children and women, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza.

Student Concerns

As students demonstrations intensified, Penn’s interim president, Larry Jameson — much like leaders at other universities — struggled to balance free speech concerns with those over student safety.

Groups of students, faculty and alumni have been incensed by failures to combat antisemitism, while others are frustrated by the interference of donors and lawmakers, as well as the use of police force.

There was a steady drumbeat of demonstrations in the days leading up to the university’s commencement ceremony on Monday. Now, even as students head into the summer break, the struggle over Penn is set to continue — pitting board members, trustees and lawmakers against each other and key parts of the university’s leadership and tenured faculty, including over the selection of a new president. 

“The danger right now is far from trustees overstepping the bounds,” Rowan said in an interview with Bloomberg TV earlier in May. “Trustees for the most part of these big institutions, myself included, have failed to act. We have not done our job in the most fundamental way.”

The job of university trustees is to support long-term excellence in education, academic research, freedom of expression and freedom to disagree, he said.

Penn declined to make Jameson available for an interview, and referred to previous statements on its response to the demonstrations and the formulation of an antisemitism task force.

Presidents Exit

Colleges across the US have been rattled by the war in Gaza. Penn’s Magill was forced to resign weeks before Claudine Gay, head of Harvard University, stepped down. Both were widely criticized after congressional testimony in which they failed to say calling for the genocide of Jews violates school policy.

Police arrested over 100 protesters demanding divestment from Israel after they barricaded inside a building at Columbia University, and violence broke out at the University of California at Los Angeles when counter-protesters attacked a pro-Palestinian encampment.

Divisions at Penn though had been brewing well before the war as some alumni disagreed with the priorities of former president Amy Gutmann — now US ambassador to Germany — and Scott Bok, the ex-chairman of Penn’s board, who quit alongside Magill.

Gutmann had put resources into promoting diversity and inclusion and she was also criticized for failing to protect free speech for conservatives.

Weeks before Hamas attacked Israel, Penn hosted a Palestine literature festival that featured a slew of speakers with a history of making antisemitic comments.

The event infuriated Rowan and offended donors, including Dick Wolf of Law and Order fame. Hedge fund titan Cliff Asness, a free speech proponent, described it as an “antisemitic Burning Man festival.” One of the organizers subsequently praised the “brave” fighters of Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organization by the US and European Union.

Tensions though soared after Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and have reached a crescendo in recent weeks.

The Gaza Solidarity Encampment started in late April with dozens of tents pitched onto a part of Penn’s College Green, similar to scenes across US campuses.

Immediately, it was a challenge for the administration. The school, which has public streets running through the campus, didn’t know how many of the protesters were students because they refused to hand over ID.

While Penn said the encampment posed a threat to the campus and violated policies, it didn’t rush to take it down, even as complaints piled up and Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro urged the school to act. 

Of particular concern to some Jewish students interviewed by Bloomberg was an anonymous blog post that called for “action and escalation” at the camp, saying “the window is closing quickly” before it was evicted by the police.

Others said they were disturbed by chants, including “we don’t want no Zionists here” and those urging Hamas’ military wing to kill soldiers. Protesters also waved the flag for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, designated a terrorist group by the US.

Eyal Yakoby, a graduating senior who is suing the school for civil rights violations, said he hand-delivered a petition to Jameson’s office on May 2, signed by 3,200 Penn students, parents, faculty and alumni, to disband the encampment.

“What’s troubling to me is that Penn says we’re taking extra security measures. Why do you need to take extra security measures on a college campus rather than just stopping the crime that’s happening,” Yakoby said in an interview before the encampment was taken down. “Students should come here to be safe and worry about their finals, not that they’re going to get assaulted.”

Freedom School for Palestine, a group representing Penn’s protesters, denies its encampment at the school represented a threat to others. It said in a statement on social media “the only threats to campus have been a consistent disregard for Palestinian life, a lack of awareness of the genocide, and vilification of free speech.” It also said the demonstrators were targets of harassment from counter-protesters.

One student protester, who asked not to be identified because of fear of retaliation, said that the encampment offered educational programming and art workshops over two weeks.

As the encampment persisted, Penn — which has its own smaller police force — was in a bind. It initially reached out to Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker for assistance from city police on May 1, but was told the force wouldn’t get involved unless arrests were being made.

The mayor instead pushed for talks — encampments at Brown University and Northwestern University were quietly cleared through deals with protesters.

Campus Negotiations

Penn met several times with protesters, whose demands included amnesty for participating students and faculty and divestment from weapons manufacturers for the school’s $21 billion endowment.

The school said it proposed deploying Penn’s academic resources to support rebuilding and scholarly programs in Gaza, Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East but “the gap between the positions of many in the encampment and the University proved too wide to bridge.”

The university “strongly opposes sanctions, boycotts, or disinvestment targeted against Israel,” according to a spokesman. “Divestment focused on Israel is also against the law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Protesters said discussions were held in bad faith and were told on May 8 that talks would only continue if the encampment was taken down. 

Instead, the encampment expanded. The school called on Philadelphia police to help clear the camp. Arrests of 33 people including nine students were made early in the morning of May 10. Police found several long chains, as well as smaller chains with nuts and bolts attached that could be used as weapons, a school spokesman said.

The student protester at the encampment said the chains recovered from the area were used as bike locks.

Hours later, the protesters were back, storming Jameson’s home. Eight of them climbed the iron gates, shaking them until they opened, according to Penn Public Safety. A week later, police arrested 19 people — seven of whom were students — trying to occupy Fisher-Bennett Hall.

Penn Students Against the Occupation of Palestine said it was in reaction to arrests, and a refusal to negotiate in “good faith” over divestment from Israel. 

Despite the recent events on campus, Monday’s commencement on Franklin Field unfolded without controversy, with all graduates going “airport-style” through security screenings.

Reses was frustrated by the amount of time it took to remove the encampments, but understood the pressures on Jameson, who was Dean of the Perelman School of Medicine, and his team, who she said ultimately acted with pragmatism.

“I understand that there were lots of competing interests,” she said. But for students, it was important that year-end events could go ahead despite the actions of an “extreme vocal minority,” Reses said.

Magerman doesn’t believe it’s such a small group and that the problems include parts of the faculty teaching and promoting anti-Western thought. He also says he hasn’t heard from Penn since he voiced his concerns, and that’s just fine with him.

“When I disowned Penn, my message was ‘you be you,’ it’s just not where I want my philanthropic dollars to go,” he said.

(Adds comment from university spokesman in third paragraph after final sub-head.)

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