Encampment update

University campuses across the country and around the world are facing protests of increasing intensity. We are all seeing these protests unfold differently—with university leadership responding differently and their communities reacting differently. Every day, I hear from people with clear ideas about what we should do at Penn. They express support, surprise, or betrayal for the University’s actions or inactions, depending on their perspective. As we manage the situation at Penn and its many impacts on our campus, my north star continues to be the safety of our community and the furtherance of our teaching, research, and service missions.

The encampment should end. It is in violation of our policies, it is disrupting campus operations and events, and it is causing fear for many in our large, diverse community, especially among our Jewish students. But any response to the encampment must balance possible escalation of the current situation with the need to protect the safety and rights of everyone. At Penn, this risk is more significant than at some other institutions because we have an open campus in a large city.

I have now met twice with several of the Penn student and faculty protestors to hear their views and try to find a productive path forward. We continue to propose additional meetings—this path remains open. We have asked the protestors in the encampment to disband multiple times and offered accommodation to continue their demonstration in ways that do not conflict with safety and policy. On each occasion, the protestors have refused. They have made additional demands that reflect an unwillingness to negotiate on reasonable terms to a conclusion. I believe there are alternative paths and am willing to pursue all reasonable options to avoid escalation and further disruption to our community.

Universities must give broad latitude to the open expression of ideas, but must do so in ways that keep campuses physically safe and free from disruption. At Penn, we embrace civil discourse and rigorous debate. The terrorism and hostage-taking by Hamas must be addressed, and so too, the urgent and critical humanitarian crisis and loss of life in Gaza. But passion for a cause does not entitle anyone to act beyond the rules that govern and protect us. Protests that threaten or harass, that disrupt the access of others to spaces and facilities, or that make us unsafe inevitably lose support and undermine their cause.

Now is the moment for de-escalation. We are in active conversation with local public officials and law enforcement, who recommend that we continue to focus on de-escalation and dialogue before taking steps that could inflame tensions. However, we are concerned that many of the protestors occupying the encampment on College Green are seeking such a confrontation. We have heard reports of circulating documents with instructions for escalating a protest, including through building occupations and violence.

Every day the encampment exists, the campus is less safe. Some have aimed to characterize this as a peaceful protest. It is not. Two cherished Penn landmarks, the Benjamin Franklin statue and The Button, have been defaced and vandalized. There have been disturbing reports of harassing and threatening speech. On Wednesday night, protestors threatened and attempted to provoke Penn Public Safety police officers. On Friday, we were made aware of an alarming video that showed a Penn student being barred entry to the encampment and threatened. Penn Public Safety has opened an investigation and is in touch with the student to provide support. Protestors within the encampment have also described being spit on, harassed, and threatened. Penn Public Safety continues to be onsite 24/7 to ensure safety and provide support. All of these actions are unacceptable.

Protesters wear masks and refuse to produce identification, as required by our policies and stated on each Penn ID, making it difficult to distinguish those individuals who are part of the Penn community from those who are not and are trespassing. The tents create an additional risk because they provide no line of sight to those entrusted with campus safety. Penn Public Safety resources are required 24/7 to monitor the safety of the encampment, diverting them from other campus spaces and events.

To this point, we have taken a measured approach to avoid escalation and to uphold our fundamental belief in and commitment to open expression. We must, however, also enforce rules that are designed to support safety and our missions. Those in violation of our policies are making choices. We are continuing to implement student conduct procedures, which may result in the inability for some of our students to graduate or continue their education at Penn in subsequent years. The roles, responsibilities, and activities of Penn faculty and staff members in the encampment are also under review.

We will maintain an enhanced security presence to support physical safety and will adjust our response as conditions warrant. We will continue to provide safety and wellness resources, which can be found on Penn’s Public Safety website, to all members of the Penn community. I am distressed and disappointed by the actions of the protestors, which violate our rules and goals. I know this is a terribly difficult time for our community, but my confidence in our institution, our people, our traditions, and our spirit of discovery and service is unbowed.