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  • Reverend James Squire

President Magill Is Right and Governor Shapiro Is Incomplete


The Presidents of Penn, MIT, and Harvard were interviewed (attacked) by Congress. Shapiro and Congress don’t understand the ethical importance of CONTEXT.


Let me quote in part from an article in today’s Inquirer by Snyder, Cone, and Distefano.


I had the drumbeat of the importance of context covered in my course in ethics. In fact, I start with the famous lifeboat example where, among other things, there is a man overboard. Would you dive in to rescue him? Yes, if it was a family member, students would say. Would you jump in to save Vladimir Putin and the answer is “absolutely not.” Actions are determined by context.


Shapiro said, “If (calls for Jewish genocide) doesn’t violate policies of Penn, well, there’s something wrong with the policies of Penn and that the board needs to get on or there is a failure of leadership from the President, or both. (speaking at a press conference).


Since I was Chaplain of the Episcopal Academy, I celebrated our diversity where we learned from one another AS LONG AS WE WERE TRUE TO THE RULES AND VALUES OF THE SCHOOL. That is what Magill and the other university leaders were trying to get across. Magill’s response was “I was focused on our university’s long-standing policies aligned with the U.S. Constitution and laws which say that speech alone is not punishable. I was not focused on, but should have been, the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible human beings can perpetuate. It’s evil pure and simple.” She was attacked by faculty who thought that she wasn’t speaking strong enough about free speech.


Universities are complex places as was the Episcopal Academy. Gay from Harvard and the President of MIT basically had the same response as Magill. You are juggling differences of strong opinions all the time. You honor that diversity and treat everyone as equal. That’s what the Constitution says.  Now here is where it gets interesting. You can see the problem with the chief attacker who was a Republican leader, Stefanik. When Trump responded to the event in Charlottesville, where white supremacists said, “The Jews will not replace us.” Did she or the Republicans come out with the same attack as on Magill or any comment for that matter?  No! Did those words empower that movement to create the increased actions of antisemitic attacks? ”Yes!” Why didn’t they speak up?” They were afraid of Trump. They could exercise their muscles of dissent with Magill. Trump has created more actions of antisemitism by his words than any person on a college campus. Stefanik and Johnson have recently said that they will support Trump. Give me a break. You can’t selectively choose your moments to protest antisemitism.


Gay from Harvard attempted to school Stefanik on the difference between harassment as both personal and environmental. Stefanik had difficulty understanding this. One form attacks a person. Another creates a hostile environment. Both are actions and require a punitive response.


Shapiro went on to say, “Leaders have a responsibility to speak and act with moral clarity and Liz Magill failed to meet that simple test… whether you’re talking about genocide against Jews, genocide against people of color, genocide against LGBTQ folks, it’s all wrong.” (When counseling others I always focus on what people don’t say that they should be saying). Who’s missing from this above list. The Palestinians. Indicating the location of Hamas mixed with citizens, but killing 16,000 citizens is wrong. I have heard the word, genocide, used in this context as well.


“I have a question for Shapiro and Stefanik. Magill has received a petition signed by more than 500 academics and writers from inside and outside the United States have called on Penn to defend students, faculty, and staff against targeted harassment for not speaking in support of Palestinians. How would Stefanik and Shapiro handle that?”


What the Governor and Stefanik did in attacking Magill was to drive a wedge between the Jewish and Palestinian students at Penn. This is another botched job by politicians. The Constitution can be summarized by one word, equality. It was a mistake to bring the topic of antisemitism and genocide to be heard without giving equal importance to having a discussion with Palestinians and islamophobia as well. It takes courage to have those meetings. It is much easier to do when you have the safety of your political office to use questions and speech that divides and can add a bit of self-righteousness to your words.


The politicians can learn something very important from schools and Magill is doing this. Bring TOGETHER the leaders of Jewish and Palestinian students to talk. Then that permeates a community. The goal is to make a school feel safe so that all views are heard. In harassment terms, it means to create a safe environment. That isn’t done by politicians. It is done by people such as President Magill working with students and faculty. We had a course in Genocide at EA taught by a member of the religion department which had a great impact on students in general. In fact, I was talking recently with one of the students in that course who has majored in college about that issue and is currently interning in Washington about the nature of Genocide. People forget that the Armenian people were subject to a genocide. It is a word that embodies evil.


The challenge at Penn and other schools is to examine their values and use this as an opportunity to deal with this very tragic situation in the Middle East as Magill is doing. That takes guts. She has people attacking her from all sides. She could achieve the goal of an environment without fear if people showed a bit of empathy instead of demonizing her. Having attended many workshops on the Holocaust as well as the History of the N word you realize the amount of intense emotion associated with these words as well. Where words and actions meet is where you find CONTEXT.


Robert Coles, Harvard Professor of Ethics, summarizes his book, The Moral Life of Children in just eight words: “Do as I do, not as I say.” Words everyone should live by including politicians.





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