Free Speech and Anti-Semitism at the University of Pennsylvania

Roger Waters tour (ocad123, Wikimedia Commons), Liz Magill (
September 29, 2023

University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill has become a great champion of free speech in recent days, making clear that the university "fiercely support[s] the free exchange of ideas as central to our educational mission."

These are, of course, not heartfelt sentiments from the leader of a school trying to set a precedent by yanking tenure away from one of its own professors for her politically incorrect statements.

No, Magill draped herself in the mantle of free expression as the school played host over the weekend to the Palestine Writes festival, which included a gaggle of anti-Semites. Among them was the former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, who has donned Nazi regalia and hung an inflatable pig adorned with a Jewish star from the rafters at his concerts.

In her statement, Magill noted that "many have raised deep concerns" about the anti-Semitic views of some of the speakers. She did not indicate whether she shared them. The school newspaper noted "past comments labeled as antisemitic by some." In other words: That's just your opinion, man! Meanwhile, the atmosphere on campus in Philadelphia is such that, in the past week, the university Chabad's sukkah and Hillel buildings were vandalized, and a swastika was found at a university building.

This is not to say the university should have intervened to cancel the event. University administrators should not be in that business, nor should they be trying to revoke tenure from controversial professors. Their obligation is to foster free expression. Instead, we see them champion free speech when anti-Semites want to talk but denounce racial prejudice at every turn.

Princeton University president Christopher Eisgruber pledged to "stand up against racism, wherever and whenever we encounter it," but kept his mouth shut when members of his own faculty welcomed an anti-Semite to campus. Penn's former president, Amy Gutmann, issued an official statement in the wake of George Floyd's death, making clear that she wanted "Penn's African American students, faculty, and staff to know how much they and their contributions to our community are treasured," while Magill offered no view on Waters and his allies at the Palestine Writes festival.

The free expression in question includes their own, and it would be something if, one of these days, some Ivy League administrator, somewhere, would speak up and say: "Roger Waters is a vicious anti-Semite. Hear him, listen to his critics, and make up your own mind."

Published under: Anti-Semitism , UPENN