Penn Trustees meeting is cut short after students protest the war in Gaza

A meeting of the University of Pennsylvania’s board of trustees was disrupted Friday by a group of pro-Palestinian students protesting the school’s involvement with Israel, prompting administrators to adjourn the meeting about 10 minutes after it started.

With their hands raised, some of which were painted red to symbolize blood, the group of about 12 students began protesting shortly after J. Larry Jameson, Penn’s interim president, began addressing the university’s board of trustees. It was his first public meeting with the board of trustees since taking office in December.

“Endowment transparency now! Distance yourself from genocide!” the students sang.

The protesters, who represent a group called Freedom School for Palestine, said their action was in response to Penn’s relationship with Israel, citing a study abroad program, a recent faculty trip to Israel and “donations to the IDF,” referring to the Israeli army. . A Penn spokesperson denied that the university makes donations to the IDF

“We condemn the board of trustees’ support for the genocidal Israeli state and we call on the Penn administration to support Palestinian students, drop disciplinary charges against pro-Palestinian protesters and rid itself of genocide,” the group said in a statement. It added that it was pushing for the university’s $21 billion donation to withdraw investments in Israeli companies or other entities that support the war in Gaza. It was not clear whether Penn had any investments in the country.

Friday’s protest was the latest unrest to roil the country’s top universities since Hamas attacked Israel in October. The campus movement that began as grassroots protests against ongoing Israeli retaliation in Gaza has recently shifted its focus to university funding, with protesters demanding that schools attract investments that would support the war.

At Brown University, about 19 students protesting the war staged a hunger strike earlier this year, demanding that the administration enact a divestment resolution. The idea behind the divestment movements, which in the past have also focused on fossil fuels, tobacco and apartheid in South Africa, is to encourage university endowments to advance the public good and be instruments of change.

But Penn’s campus was already in turmoil before the war, embroiled in conflict over former President M. Elizabeth Magill’s decision to allow a Palestinian literary festival on campus last September. With her leadership already under fire, Ms. Magill continued to be the target of criticism after the war in Gaza broke out, with Jewish donors, alumni and students questioning what they saw as her office’s lukewarm statements following the Hamas attack.

Ms. Magill ultimately resigned in December after an appearance on Capitol Hill, where she was questioned about whether a call for genocide on campus would be grounds for discipline. Dr. Jameson, an endocrinologist who previously served as dean of Penn’s medical school, was named interim president to replace her.

Some Jewish students at Penn have spoken out against anti-Semitism on campus, including Noah Rubin, who told members of Congress on Thursday that the university administration had failed to address his complaints.

Penn trustees began committee meetings Thursday and Friday’s meeting was expected to be the culmination of their work. The Rev. Dr. Charles Lattimore Howard, Penn’s chaplain, kicked off Friday’s meeting with remarks focused on healing after the unrest on campus.

“There is a lot of division in the world, a lot of hatred and mistrust, a lot of indifferent isolation and indifference, a lot of zero-sum perspectives,” he said, adding: “But some of our students try to remind us of another way. In small and personal ways, they try to understand the other side, or at least humanize it.”

Dr. Jameson followed the invocation and began his speech by noting the excitement of students at Penn. “They are thrilled to be here. They thrive on the outstanding academics, research and work that improves the world around them,” he said.

But he was Can not go on, and the cheerful mood quickly changed as chants broke out, started by a group of students in the audience. Ramanan Raghavendran, the recently appointed chairman of the trustees, unsuccessfully made three separate pleas to the students to quit.

Unable to continue, the board simultaneously approved approximately 20 resolutions up for discussion and then left the meeting room.

After the meeting, a university spokesperson issued a statement saying the disruption violated the school’s student code of conduct and that the students had been referred for disciplinary action.

The Freedom School for Palestine also organized two other protests: a sit-in in a campus building last fall and a “study-in” in Penn’s library in February.

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