Mega Donor Issues Threat To University Over Antisemitism

A prominent donor to the University of Pennsylvania, Clifford Asness, has suspended his financial contributions to the institution. He cites concerns over what he perceives as antisemitism and believes the university has deviated from supporting free expression. Asness, co-founder of AQR Capital Management and a university graduate, expressed his concerns in a letter to UPenn President Elizabeth Magill.

Asness pointed to what he believes is the decline of genuine free speech at top universities, including his alma mater, Penn. He referenced Penn’s sponsorship of the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, which hosted speakers previously accused of antisemitism, as a particularly concerning event.

Asness stated, “I fully support free speech, but it needs to be equitable. It’s problematic when only certain groups are allowed this freedom.” He further criticized the university’s handling of Hamas’ attack on Israel, which resulted in significant casualties.

Expressing his deep connection to Penn, Asness emphasized his desire to see the university address these issues. He recently completed a five-year donation pledge and indicated he wouldn’t consider future donations until he observes meaningful change at the institution.

UPenn President Elizabeth Magill, in a statement from Oct. 10, condemned the attacks on Israel by Hamas. On Oct. 15, she reiterated the university’s stance against antisemitism and the terrorist attacks in Israel. Calls for Magill’s resignation have emerged from UPenn alums, citing discontent with her handling of the Palestine Writes Festival and the university’s response to the Hamas attacks.

Scott Bok, the Penn Board of Trustees chair, revealed that trustees had discussions with Magill to address the concerns and understand the situation. They condemned the actions of Hamas in Israel and showed solidarity with the Jewish community. The trustees acknowledged the strain these events have placed on the Penn campus. Bok voiced confidence in Magill and her team to lead the university forward.

Magill, discussing the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza, stressed that Penn would not condone any form of violence or incitement to violence, prioritizing the safety of its community members.