After days of consternation, angst, public relations do-overs — and even a video plea for forgiveness — with her universe of supporters shrinking by the hour, Penn’s embattled president was allowed to resign. (And she’ll will likely get a severance that could pay for the tuition of dozens and dozens of Penn students.)
So, all’s well, right? Magill “misspoke.” Pressure mounted. She’s gone.
Except…all is not well at Penn. Magill did not go “off-message.” Her morally tone-deaf statement before Congress — and re-statement — perfectly represents the mindset at Penn and the Ivy League. (And, surprisingly, even MIT.)
Whether you’re attending Penn, have a child attending Penn, or are among the 99 percent of us who have no ties to Penn, you might ask: why do I care? Because whether you are devoutly Jewish, a supporter of Israel, or among those of us who are shocked and outraged at her abject moral failure to speak out against threats of genocide when she appeared before Congress, her departure in and of itself does nothing to address the real problem, the root cause.
The root cause is the morally vacant, anti-liberal mindset that permeates Penn, produces graduates who become teachers, professors and civic, media and business leaders — and their Board of Trustees with their tentacles in corporate America.
Again, Magill didn’t misrepresent Penn’s values; she stated them loudly, clearly, and repeatedly. The reality — I hope — is that America revolted against not merely Magill’s words, but against Penn’s values.
Yes, Magill showed a lack of leadership, a lack of morality, and a staggering level of tone-deafness before Congress and the nation. Remember, her failed testimony came after she was publicly criticized for her initial statement in early October after Hamas’s butchery. Her professionally prepared and reviewed October statement was both very delayed and morally vague. Two months later, when testifying before Congress, it is not at all surprising that she could not label student calls for genocide — genocide! — as bullying. Because, at Penn, it’s not!
What is relevant to all of us is that she is the embodiment of what Penn has tragically become. She sounded just like Penn’s handbooks, press releases, course guides and recent years’ speaker series. They mislabel campus dialogue as “hate,” eliminate debate and opposing points of view, and have so twisted the English language into knots that they mistakenly focus on eliminating campus-created “micro-aggressions.” Yet they tolerate marches, rallies, and near-riots that actually shout chants of hate, destruction and genocide.
They literally cannot tell the difference between right and wrong.
Recall that just weeks ago, after Magill’s delayed and morally challenged statement after the unprovoked terror attacks on October 7, the Board of Trustees at Penn issued a public vote of confidence in Magill.
Shame on us if her departure allows Penn to conduct a search and install Liz Magill 2.0 and we let them treat it as “all’s well.” Again, whoever is president at Penn doesn’t impact us. But how Penn conducts itself does.
Penn and its brethren need a mission overhaul. These schools need to get back to true, genuine liberal education: debates of issues, exposing students to various topics and points of view, and allowing students to work through problems rather than offering them glorified bubble-wrapped, sheltered existences.
Yes, this includes protecting the First Amendment and student safety. Reinforcing actual truths (1+1 does in fact equal 2!), and right from wrong. Inviting debate. And at the same time, teaching that there is true wisdom, there is common sense, and there are cultural norms and American values.
And while science and math should invite constant challenges, reexaminations and seek new horizons, these “elite” universities should not send adults into the world with flat-out inaccurate “evolving” theories of math or science. These universities produce the people who help promulgate the absurd idea that 2+2 could be 5 or that it is racist for teachers to mark that answer wrong for certain students. The false idea that mathematical and biological truths no longer apply. That conservative thoughts are “hate,” yet, antisemitism is protected.
For most of my life, adults would often joke about college students and how most students were living sheltered, easy existences. So often they would say — and I would say, myself, as I got older — “wait ‘til they graduate and have to live in the real world.” Meaning: where close enough isn’t good enough, where some bosses are “mean,” where not everyone thinks like you, and where experience might trump college theory.
One of the great failings of our society is that over the last few years these elite universities and their professors have sought not to get students ready for the world, but instead have been turning American society into university campuses. Changing the rules for science and math. Silencing speech. And turning the First Amendment on its head.
That’s why this past week the Congressional hearing debacle is not about Liz Magill. It’s about a mindset that searches out and installs Liz Magill-types as President. Penn got exactly what they were looking for. Her words and values are morally bankrupt because Penn is. She comes from a world where Riley Gaines is to be silenced and shunned, yet, “from the river to the sea” and “death to Israel” — chanted at Jewish students in student dorms — is tolerated.
As a private university, neither citizens nor Congress can compel Penn to change. But, there are things that citizens, Congress and the Pennsylvania legislature can do.
Neither the Pennsylvania legislature nor Congress should allocate one dime of taxpayer money — not for research or subsidies or incentives. Zero.
There should be no more taxpayer-backed student loans — let Penn with its $20 billion endowment guarantee the loans for its students, especially as it charges up to $92,000 per student and saddles them with debt, which taxpayers are being asked to subsidize and guarantee. (This should actually be how we treat most if not all student loans — but, especially at Ivy schools that have endowments in the billions of dollars.)
Parents should think twice before their children enroll at Penn. And, yes, employers should think twice when interviewing Ivy grads. It’s not about the diploma, it’s about their true knowledge base and the values that they bring to bear in your workplace.
Penn must recommit itself to liberal education, free speech and protecting the actual, physical safety of its students. Until these things happen, no more taxpayer money for research, for development, for subsidies.
They’re forcing their “values” on society. They’re graduating too many debt-ridden, non-critically thinking graduates. Taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize these broken institutions. Not one dime.
The goal isn’t to punish Penn. It’s just to acknowledge that the university — and its higher ed allies — have failed us.
Leave them to their Ivy walls and intellectual fairy tale land, but not on our dime, in our workplaces, or with our children.
Guy Ciarrocchi is a Senior Fellow with the Commonwealth Foundation. He writes for Broad+Liberty and RealClear Pennsylvania. Follow Guy @PaSuburbsGuy