published : 2023-10-28
Former Penn Trustee Warns Universities of Consequences for 'Woke' Decisions
Pro-Palestinian rallies and controversial events strain relationships with donors
Colleges should anticipate a shift in board members becoming more vocal and donors becoming less generous if they continue to let students influence administrative decisions, warns a former University of Pennsylvania trustee. The trustee, Vahan Gureghian, CEO of CSMI and a charter school magnate, emphasized that universities are governed by the board of trustees, not the students.
Gureghian argues that university presidents must exercise caution before making decisions aligned with 'woke' culture, as these choices can adversely impact the reputation of elite institutions and provoke a response from donors. The awakening of these donors, now more reluctant to simply write a check without scrutinizing the actions and statements of universities, has put pressure on top universities like UPenn, where pro-Palestinian student groups have staged anti-Israel rallies.
The University of Pennsylvania faced criticism for hosting the 'Palestine Writes Literature Festival,' despite concerns of antisemitism raised by alumni and students. Gureghian, still a trustee at the time, expressed surprise at the university's president, Liz Magill, for allowing the event to proceed. He believed Magill's delayed response to Hamas' attack on Israel, following her decision about the festival, was a significant mistake and prompted his resignation after serving for nearly 15 years.
Major donors have also cut off support to UPenn, putting the university in an existential crisis. Some wealthy alumni have called for Magill and the chair of the board of trustees, Scott Bok, to resign. Matt Nord, a donor leading an advisory board, resigned from the Weitzman School of Design and echoed the sentiment that UPenn is endangering its reputation. He stressed the urgency to combat antisemitism on campus and take swift action to limit long-term damage.
Gureghian emphasizes that university administrators have given too much power to students, allowing extreme views to thrive without pushback. He calls for a cancelation of controversial events and decisions. Gureghian predicts that if universities persist in their current direction, more board members will speak up and reject unanimous voting, leading to further controversy and a potential change in university leadership.
It remains crucial for universities to navigate these challenges and regain the trust and support of their donors, while addressing concerns raised by students and alumni alike.