University of Pennsylvania

Because there’s apparently nothing current in which to protest, the University of Pennsylvania student group SOUL — Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation — took to the area in front of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity to hold a mock slave auction.

How come? Because back in December the frat had sent out a Christmas card featuring a Beyoncé blow-up doll.

“When you walk on Locust, you’re not supposed to feel the violence that is this house,” Penn senior Victoria Ford said.

The Daily Pennsylvanian reports:

“For four months, I have walked in front of this house and have lost all sense of worth,” Ford said. “No more.”

During the protest, one brother of Phi Delta Theta came outside and told the protesters that “people are listening.”

A member of SOUL responded, “We don’t feel like you guys are actually sympathizing at all.”

Although the chapter was placed on probation by its national organization in January and required to complete cultural sensitivity and sexual and relationship misconduct education programs, some students feel the penalties weren’t severe enough.

“We haven’t forgotten about this and remain unsatisfied with the University’s response and punishment of Phi Delta Theta,” SOUL posted on its Facebook event for a Tuesday meeting to organize the protest. The fake slave auction in front of the chapter house was meant to tie the purchasing of the black sex-doll into the larger narrative of slavery, and the historical relationship between white men and black women.

The fake auctioneers held signs that read $14.60, symbolizing the amount of money the blow-up doll cost. Protesters also painted their heads as a symbol of police brutality.

Indeed. Because the frat did not “take care” to make sure the doll had lighter skin, it deserves “more severe” penalties … also, because what the frat brothers did “represents slavery.” And police brutality. Or something.

Based on the DP’s photos, it seems a whole five people showed up for the protest. But hey — if you’ve got the “right” narrative, you’ll get the coverage, natch.

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ANALYSIS: Two recent decisions call into question university’s commitment to open expression

The University of Pennsylvania is one of only two Ivy League schools with a “green light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education – a green light being as good as it gets. Penn has no speech codes, no “free speech zones,” and its general policy is to abide by the First Amendment.

Yet two decisions by campus leaders this semester have seriously called into question the university’s commitment to free speech and open expression.

In one decision, a probe into claims by some University of Pennsylvania students that they cannot openly express themselves in class because of professors’ biases was essentially dissolved in January by members of the university’s Committee on Open Expression, which decided the assertions were not widespread enough to demand action.

Nevertheless, at a student government meeting just a few days later, the Committee on Open Expression’s chairman Professor Stephanos Bibas recommended the idea of adding a “Course Review” feature that would allow students registering for classes to view ratings of bias for a given professor or course.

Yet the student government ultimately rejected that idea as well. Part of that decision has been blamed on “academic freedom.”

The idea “to create a student metric about how open teacher were to other views” is “not currently being pursued,” student Eric Tepper, academic affairs director for the Undergraduate Assembly, told The College Fix, adding the notion was “very complicated” because of “academic freedom for the professors.”

Added student Jane Meyer, president of the Undergraduate Assembly: “In the end, based on available accounts, we did not feel as though that was a solution that had to be implemented.”

‘Republicans feeling uncomfortable’ 

As for the Committee on Open Expression’s rebuff of students who felt intimidated by professors, it came after a meeting it held to “hear testimony from students who have felt silenced or unable to express their true opinions in class,” according to student government meeting minutes posted online.

Their testimony was presented in part to Meyer, who sat on the committee at the time. She has also been involved with the College Democrats.

“At the conclusion of the testimony, we concluded that this is not a widespread campus issue,” Meyer reported back to the student government, according to the Jan. 25 meeting minutes.

Meyer declined to tell The College Fix who testified at the meeting, or give details on what they said. But the January complainants included “Republicans feeling uncomfortable,” the Jan. 18 Undergraduate Assembly’s meeting minutes state.

This is exactly the type of problem that the committee was intended to combat. Established after the radical student movements of the 1960s, the Committee on Open Expression is the oversight body established by the Guidelines on Open Expression, the official university policy regarding free speech.

Often, the committee serves as an intermediary when issues of free speech arise, although it has no enforcement power. The students, faculty, and administrators who sit on the committee can make recommendations to other bodies, but cannot enact rules themselves.

‘I felt he was attacking a lot of people personally’

But it’s not the first time students with unpopular opinions have felt intimidated by Penn professors.34th

In 2013 and 2014, 34th Street, a publication of Penn’s official student newspaper, ran stories about students who felt uncomfortable expressing their true feelings in class on contentious political subjects.

Layla O’Kane, a 2014 graduate, said she felt that her professor, Hocine Fetni, took classroom debate a step too far.

“I didn’t feel like he was challenging my beliefs,” she explained to 34th Street, “I felt like he was challenging me. I felt he was attacking a lot of people personally.” Fetni maintained his objective was to encourage students to have open minds, and he pursued that goal by challenging all beliefs.

But O’Kane’s anecdote is one of many presented in the article detailing students who said they felt their beliefs – if they ran counter to their professors’ – would negatively affect their grade.

Anthea Butler is another Penn scholar who has been a hot-rod of controversy, for example. She called God a “racist” after the Trayvon Martin verdict in 2013, and called Michael Brown a sacrifice to a “racist god” in December.

College Fix reporter Ben Parker is a student at the University of Pennsylvania. 

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This would have been fun to watch.

Bestselling nonfiction author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell, known for The Tipping Point and David & Goliath, gave a talk at the University of Pennsylvania, The Daily Pennsylvanian reports.

“Legitimacy theory” explains why Americans generally pay their taxes when it’s easy to cheat the system, Gladwell said – and why Penn is illegitimate:

To relate the legitimacy theory to Penn students in particular, Gladwell explained that the 10 wealthiest private schools in the nation, including Penn, receive the greatest amount of tax subsidies. As a result of these subsidies, the average Penn student receives $27,000 worth of benefits while the average student at Penn State receives a mere $9,000.

“Is there a reason why Penn gets such a high proportion of taxpayer money?” he asked. “Is it the case that Penn does a better job at making education accessible?”

Gladwell did not think so. He claimed that only seven other schools serve a smaller percentage of disadvantaged kids than Penn, yet another example of inequality that he believes undermines the legitimacy of American higher education.

“There is no justification for why you should get a subsidy three times that of someone at a public school,” Gladwell said. “You need to stand up and say that you do not want to profit from a version of authority that is not fundamentally legitimate.”

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IMAGE: PEN American Center/Flickr

 

If it looks like BDS, walks like BDS and talks like BDS, maybe it’s BDS under a new guise.

That’s what pro-Israel students at the University of Pennsylvania worry about a new push to divest from companies that “displace” people, The Daily Pennsylvanian reports:

Eight student groups –— Penn Arab Student Society, Penn for Immigrant Rights, Penn Students for Justice in Palestine, Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation, Penn Amnesty International, Penn Non-Cis and the Student Labor Action Project — announced in a Daily Pennsylvanian guest column on March 30 a new divestment movement called Penn Divest from Displacement, which proposes the University divest from corporations that profit through practices that displace people.

Penn Divest from Displacement identified seven companies involved in “human rights abuses related to the displacement of peoples.” The companies listed are involved in such fields as the private prison industry, drone manufacturing and the weaponization of bulldozers used against Palestinian homes in the West Bank.

One student had this to say:

“[The] divestment resolution about global displacement blames Israel wholly for the current conflict,” College junior and President of Israel@Penn Daniela Jinich said. “The fact that four … companies specifically target divesting from Israel shows that this is not an unbiased divestment proposal of global displacement struggles … [it] takes a simplified stance on complicated and polarizing issues, ignoring valid narratives and pragmatic solutions, and thus promotes more separation in the Middle East and on our campus.”

But the issue appears to be dividing one group on campus with J Street members.

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Several law faculty at the University of Pennsylvania are already on record criticizing the school’s new sexual-assault policies and the federal government’s heavy-handed tactics to minimize due process for accused students.

Now a criminology professor is joining the chorus who thinks Penn has no business trying to achieve justice for either party – and that the new policies won’t address the fundamental problem, The Daily Pennsylvanian reports:

Professor of Criminology Emily Owens believes that the policies are too similar to civil legal procedures for a situation that demands criminal legal proceedings, and that Penn is not prepared to handle such serious problems as sexual assault.

“Sexual assaults are crimes. They’re state offenses. And the University of Pennsylvania is not a government,” Owens said. “It’s not obvious to me that the University is equipped to replace a criminal court.”

Owens also believes the policies should address the issue of underreporting. Among collegiate women between the ages of 18 and 24, only 20 percent of incidents are actually reported. Common reasons for not reporting assaults include knowing the assailant, believing that the process would be too costly and feeling like the incident is not serious enough.

“My biggest concern is about underreporting, and I don’t know that there is a right solution for Penn,” Owens said. “It’s a very hard problem to solve.”

The Daily appears to be referring to a Justice Department report from December. That report elaborates on reasons for not reporting alleged rapes (page 9):

Regardless of enrollment status, rape and sexual assault victimizations were more likely to go unreported than other types of violent crime (not shown). The [National Crime Victimization Survey] does not directly collect information about whether victims reported to other officials or administrators.

The reasons for not reporting a rape or sexual assault victimization to police varied somewhat between students and nonstudents. A greater percentage of nonstudent (19%) than student (9%) victims stated that they did not report to police because the police would not or could not do anything to help. Nonstudent victims were also more likely to state that they had reported to a different official. Student victims (12%) were more likely to state that the victimization was not important enough to report, compared to nonstudent victims (5%). About a quarter of student (26%) and nonstudent (23%) victims who did not report to police believed the incident was a personal matter, and 1 in 5 (20% each) stated a fear of reprisal.

That suggests nearly 2 in 5 students didn’t actually think they were raped, in the criminal sense – it wasn’t “important enough to report” or it was “personal.” And fewer than 1 in 10 blamed police for perceived inability to help.

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IMAGE: Donkey Hotey/Flickr

This is supposed to be a crowning achievement in student democracy, but it looks pretty familiar as an indication of American apathy.

Just a third of the University of Pennsylvania undergraduate student population voted in a referendum on whether the school should divest from fossil fuels, The Daily Pennsylvanian reports:

Thirty-three percent of undergraduate students voted in total, with 87.8 percent favoring divestment. In order for the referendum to be valid, 15 percent of the student body had to vote and 50 percent had to favor divestment.

This was greater than turnout in the midterm elections last fall. The problem was the online voting system turned away a big chunk of students:

However, students who enrolled in fewer than four classes, an option popular with seniors, had trouble voting because of the way the computer voting system works.

Those students had to email their votes to the Nominations and Elections Committee, but not all students were told about that option.

It’s unclear whether the trustees will be swayed by the vote – last summer they rejected calls to divest from tobacco companies because such products are legal.

An editorial said Penn’s investment in the top 200 fossil fuel companies is 4 percent of its endowment.

Read the article.

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