Trouble continues to plague the top universities in the USA, with institutions such as Harvard, MIT, Columbia University, and the University of Pennsylvania facing criticism from various quarters regarding their approach to handling antisemitism on their campuses. The U.S. Congress has initiated investigations into these universities.
In a major blow to University of Pennsylvania, a donor to the University of Pennsylvania has threatened to withdraw a substantial $100 million contribution due to escalating tensions over the institution's management of student-led protests that are critical of Israel.
The controversy further intensified after University President Liz Magill's testimony in a congressional hearing on antisemitism, leading to a heated exchange with Ross Stevens, the CEO of Stone Ridge Asset Management and a Penn alumnus.
Stevens, who initially gifted the university the substantial sum in 2017 as part of an agreement, warned in a letter obtained by Axios that the school had violated the terms of the donation. According to Stevens, the university has maintained a "permissive approach to hate speech calling for violence against Jews and laissez-faire attitude toward harassment and discrimination against Jewish students."
In the letter addressed to school officials on Thursday, Stevens pointed out that Stone Ridge "strictly prohibits all forms of discrimination and harassment based on, among other things, religion." Expressing his dismay at the university's stance on antisemitism, Stevens particularly criticized President Magill's response to a question during her testimony.
During the contentious hearing, Magill was questioned by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) about whether calls for the genocide of Jewish people would violate the university's policies on bullying and harassment. Magill responded that such speech could violate policies "if speech turns into conduct" and that classifying it as harassment is a "context-dependent decision." Though Magill later apologized on university website for her response. Her move was welcomed by some, but House panel has opened investigation into rising antisemitism in universities that include University of Pennsylvania.
Stevens' letter comes at a time when university officials are under increasing pressure from board members, donors, and lawmakers who argue that there is a rise in antisemitism on college campuses. Calls for President Magill's resignation have intensified, with prominent figures such as Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman joining the chorus.
Stevens is not the first major donor to reconsider contributions to US universities in the wake of geopolitical events. In a parallel incident, billionaire hedge fund founder Leon Cooperman previously warned of cutting donations to Columbia University over a pro-Palestinian protest, adding fuel to the debate surrounding university responses to external conflicts.