The Israel-Hamas war has put a major spotlight on the University of Pennsylvania. The school faces scrutiny for delayed communications on the current war and its response to a Palestinian literary festival held right before Yom Kippur, the New York Times reported. University President Liz Magill gave a long-awaited statement on Oct. 15 addressing both situations.
Jewish students and community leaders protested some festival speakers because they had made anti-Semitic remarks in the past, per the Times.
“I know how painful the presence of these speakers on Penn’s campus was for the Jewish community, especially during the holiest time of the Jewish year, and at a University deeply proud of its long history of being a welcoming place for Jewish people,” Magill said in the statement.
With the ongoing war, donors threatened to stop giving money and Penn Trustee Vahan H. Gureghian, founder and CEO of CSMI, announced his resignation Saturday.
After megadonor Marc Rowan threatened to cut off funds, Magill made a statement that seemed too little, too late.
Why it matters:
Magill’s very late statement was problematic because it was done only after threats to withdraw funding and Gureghian’s resignation.
Speaking out one week after the Israel-Hamas war was also bad timing. Other universities spoke up much faster — though others, like Harvard, also bungled the response. Magill’s week-late statement made the university look inconsiderate and uncaring.
“We should have moved faster to share our position strongly and more broadly with the Penn community,” Magill said Sunday.
The university also had bad timing by not thinking about the cultural and religious issues that could crop up by allowing the conference to take place around the time of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which left students and community members feeling outraged and unsafe amid the anti-Semitic comments from some speakers. Magill spoke previously about the festival but didn’t factor in the importance of timing.
Be measured and thoughtful in your response timing. Get the facts and move accordingly before making a statement. But if you’re responding only after controversy, your statement could come across as unauthentic. This could make your stakeholders feel that you’re only saving face.
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Sherri Kolade is a writer at PR Daily. When she is not with her family, she enjoys watching old films, reading and building an authentically curated life. This includes, more than occasionally, finding something deliciously fried. Follow her on LinkedIn. Have a great PR story idea? Email her at email@example.com.