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  • Reverend James Squire

When Money Talks, Reason Walks

Many educational institutions and corporations across America have been caught in the middle of addressing the horror of the Hamas attacks, standing with Israel as well as addressing the needs of the Palestinians. There is great suffering in Palestine with the banning of water, electricity, medical care for those injured in the military response from Israel as well as basic food needs. The bombing has destroyed their homes and infrastructure. They are required to leave Gaza when they have no place to go and too little time to get out. The United Nations supports this statement of disagreement with Israel’s response. It is inhumane.

I am most familiar with how Harvard and Penn have responded to the crisis where there is a troubling ethical response by those two institutions as money has been introduced into the ethical equation to keep support for Palestine at the same time where Hamas needs to be labeled as a terrorist organization who committed heinous acts.

I will focus on Penn’s President Liz Magill’s recent response that she made to her earlier response after various alumni with deep pockets said that they were responding by no longer giving to Penn except just to give 1 $ to make their point. “Don’t open your checkbooks.” Magill said, “We should have acted faster” in her letter sent yesterday. The Executive Director of the Palestinian Festival which was another point of concern for donors said that Magill’s statement “was cowardly, immoral, and dishonest.” A Palestinian leader at Penn said that “we are not afraid nor are we intimidated by the craven statements of individuals who genuflect before powerful billionaire donors to attack the weak and marginalized…”

I really don’t know what “move faster” means but I do sense the hand of Penn’s marketing people came up with that. “Don’t admit you did anything wrong.” I think that Magill got it right the first time. Why? There is not one mention of the word, Palestinian, in her recent correction. In my opinion she threw the Palestinians under the bus to get the fund raising back to where she needed it to be. I may not be right but it appears that the Executive Director of the Palestinian Writers Workshop and other Palestinians on campus picked up on that right away.

Remember the guideline that I gave my ethics students. “Show me the money! Follow the money.” Her “didn’t move fast enough” comment looks too much like a haves and have nots situation which is how many Palestinians describe their poverty status side of the coin. They are not the ones with the money. That is what the statistics say that I mentioned in a previous blog.

I will never forget a conversation that I had with Mike Schmidt, the former Phillies great, whose two children went to our school. I asked him what he liked about Episcopal. He responded by saying, “When I drop my kids off at school, I am treated just like everyone else. Sure, some kids want an autograph, but the teachers treat everyone the same. It doesn’t matter about fame or money. You leave all of that at the door.”

I think what Mike Schmidt was saying was “Everyone is treated the same. HERE YOU CAN’T BE BOUGHT! That is something that Penn needs to learn. Let’s say that a group of Palestinian billionaire alumni wanted to give even more money to Penn. Fundraising would look like an auction. When people see money as a way to get their way with an institution, and the institution responds with a “we should have done it faster” without mentioning in a letter that the Palestinians are people too, you have made your school a place where people can be bribed. It is one of the worst things that you can do to a school’s reputation. As my father told me one summer night sitting on the steps of our front porch, “Your name is all you got. Don’t do anything to dishonor it.” That goes for the name of schools as well for when money talks, reason walks.

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