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In praise of Peters,
Kors and others on Hackney memoir.

 

EVERYTHING A PROFESSOR SHOULD BE

Seeing Professor Peters on the cover of the Gazette [“The Immeasurable Curiosity of Edward Peters,” May/June] brought me back to my first class at Penn. Before Professor Peters even walked into the room, I was intimidated. I was only a freshman in a class largely populated by upperclassmen, and I had never even heard of intellectual history. Then Professor Peters walked into the room. Seeing his imposing figure, I was ready to drop the class before it even began.

Looks, as I quickly learned, can be deceiving. Professor Peters was not intimidating and intellectual history was fascinating. He was everything I had hoped an Ivy League professor would be: learned, distinguished, approachable, and engaging. From that first semester forward, I did my best to make sure I could take a class with Professor Peters each semester. And I succeeded in doing so in four out of my eight semesters. I also became an intellectual history major.

Until I saw Professor Peters on the cover of the Gazette, I thought I was the only one who knew how terrific he was and what a treasure he is. Once again, I am glad to know I was wrong.

Barry E. Moscowitz C’90
New York

 

Proving that, even after 10 years, the “water buffalo” incident has not lost its power to roil tempers and provoke sharp debate within the University community, the bulk of the mail we received about our May/June issue concerned the excerpt from former Penn President Sheldon Hackney Hon’93’s memoir published here under the title “Sheldon Hackney’s ‘Spring-from-Hell.’” .—Ed.

 

KORS: HACKNEY’S DOUBLE STANDARDS AND HYPOCRISY WERE TO BLAME, NOT A CONSERVATIVE CONSPIRACY

Sheldon Hackney again seeks rehabilitation by blaming everyone but himself. He was powerless to rein in overzealous agents of his policies. The media crucified him. There was a political conspiracy. Hackney is the Richard Nixon of Penn.

Despite his desperate efforts to present his critics as “movement conservatives” and himself as a surrogate for Clinton-bashing, what is one to do with their actual identities …The ACLU? The New Republic? The Washington Post? The Village Voice? The Progressive? The Philadelphia Inquirer? The Philadelphia Daily News? John Chancellor? Cokie Roberts? Sam Donaldson? Both sides of Crossfire? Gary Trudeau in a full-color Sunday Doonesbury? What sort of conspiracy might he have in mind? In the media, Dorothy Rabinowitz, Nat Hentoff, Richard Cohen, John Leo, Charles Krauthammer, Martin Peretz, Richard Bernstein, and The Jewish Forward. In the legal community, Stefan Presser, Deborah Leavey, Robert Reinstein, the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, Sonya and Arnie Silverstein, Harvey Silverglate. In the Senate, Joseph Lieberman, who gave the most principled speech of all. At Penn, Murray Dolfman, Michael Cohen, me, Eden Jacobowitz, and Dan Ben-Amos (a distinguished Penn professor and folklorist whom Hackney mistakenly calls “Ben-David”). All opposed scapegoating. Is that the conspiracy? I hope not.

Hackney’s claim that he was morally unable to intervene in the Student Judicial System is deeply dishonest. That system was not part of a constitutional monarchy, but, as the University itself argued in court when Eden sued, an administrative convenience that, Penn claimed, did not in any manner constitute a formal set of rules. Indeed, Penn asserted in its brief that this Judicial System was not even obliged to turn over “exculpatory evidence” to Eden Jacobowitz. In fact, the Hackney administration suppressed the long, detailed, final, and exculpatory police report on the incident—I learned about that a year later from a campus officer—substituting, as official evidence, a confused first-night hodgepodge that it knew to be false. Preparing for a campus hearing, I asked an administrator to testify to vital facts to which she was eye-witness. She wished to do so, but had to clear it with the administration. She left a message on my tape-recorder answering machine: “I’m sorry … The General Counsel has instructed me that I am not permitted to testify.” She had been Eden’s first advisor, chosen from an official list. Some independent Judicial System.

Hackney intervened in the Judicial System that year in the Gregory Pavlik case, when I advised him that it ill became the nation’s leading critic of Jesse Helms as censor to punish a DP editorialist for politically incorrect opinions. His administrative assistant thanked me profusely in writing for that.

Hackney lies when he claims that John Brobeck, the Judicial Administrative Officer—a decent man in an impossible situation—was independent and that I manipulated him. My publisher’s libel lawyers found my third-party depositions and documentation open and shut on this (and on all my claims). After canceling a hearing when Eden’s witnesses were still at Penn, Brobeck showed up at my door in early May to say that he’d been “ordered” by the administration to hold a dispositive hearing on May 14 (when those witnesses would be gone). Embarrassed, Brobeck gave me his word that such a hearing would not occur. On the evening of May 12, he telephoned me to say, and I quote, “I have terrible news for you and for me. I have been instructed by my superiors that I cannot keep my agreement with you … I have been ordered to hold a hearing on guilt or innocence on the 14th.” When I reminded him that he had given his word, that Eden’s witnesses were gone, and that his only conceivable “superiors,” Hackney and Provost Aiken, had proclaimed him “independent,” he replied, word-for-word: “Until today, I would have said that I was independent, but I have bosses, and they’ve ordered me to do this … I have no choice. I have superiors. Please be gentle with me.”

Hackney intervened in the Judicial System after the Clinton transition team asked me, before witnesses, what it would take to end the matter. “Drop the absurd charges,” I said. Three days later, Hackney called me from Washington to say that he would get the women to drop the charges. “This has to end, Alan,” he said; “this has to end.” It ended.

The problems Hackney faced were his injustice, his double standards, and his hypocrisy. If a white fraternity had celebrated late at night beneath Du Bois College House, it would have been the fraternity, not the awakened residents yelling to these white whatevers to shut up, who would have felt his administration’s wrath. Hackney’s mixing of what Eden said and what others allegedly said betrays his notion of individual responsibility. Eden was guilty of being white.

Hackney’s attempt to link me to Jesse Helms is typical of the man. He writes that Linda Hyatt, his chief-of-staff, informed him on April 12 that a “revved up … Alan brought Jesse Helms, national spotlight, the whole nine yards into it.” I told Linda what I had told Hackney countless times: let him apply to himself for once the same standard of respect for free expression that he applied to Jesse Helms. I said that Hackney could not scapegoat an innocent kid in the shadows. On April 14, Linda wrote to me: “Eden and others will remember you with gratitude and respect not only for your compassion but for the full force of your intellect and keen rational powers. I understand why [my husband] considers you not only one of the University’s finest citizens, but one of its most caring and intellectual members. Even under these difficult circumstances, it has been a pleasure for me to begin to understand the reasons behind his esteem.” Let’s quote the whole nine yards.

Hackney’s problem was not Rush Limbaugh—he was easy—but the liberal media. They all sent reporters to Penn. These media interviewed administrators who were appalled by Hackney. They also interviewed students, including, by their accounts, black students who all found the prosecution absurd and preposterous. As the Washington Post reporter told me, she could not find one student, black or white, who did not find the prosecution ridiculous. In a year of many racial protests, there was not one in support of the persecutors of Eden Jacobowitz, and Eden continued his multiracial friendships during and after this awful episode.

On the very day that Hackney portrayed himself as the victim of a “right-wing” conspiracy in its news pages, The Washington Post editorialized about Penn’s “Speech-Code Silliness,” terming it a paradigm of overbreadth, vagueness, and arbitrary prosecutions. The Philadelphia Daily News editorially called the Penn administration “a herd of dik-diks,” a term that would have triggered a prosecution at Penn. These media, as with CNN, NBC, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times, did not take their stories from the Wall Street Journal, though they would have had an accurate account had they done so. They reported, for themselves, from the scene.

At the start, I asked Hackney if the Judicial Inquiry Officer (JIO) could legislate or if she had to follow the policy that Hackney had promulgated. The latter, he answered. His assistant, Steve Steinberg, called to say that Hackney, after investigation, had decided that the charges against Jacobowitz merited judicial adjudication. The JIO was applying Hackney’s policy. Under oath, however, Hackney replied to Senator Edward Kennedy, who asked if the case should have gone forward: “No, I think that this was a misapplication of that policy in the circumstances.” Which was the falsehood?

Hackney places great importance on the race of the students in this case. Here, however, is his sworn testimony about political correctness during his confirmation hearing: “It would be a serious problem if it were to capture a campus. There are various forms of political correctness, but I think in general one can think of it as a term that refers to being overly solicitous of the rights of minority groups and of fashionable and trendy concerns in the present. I think that is one form that could be quite worrisome because you want to have a very balanced and fair approach to things on campus.” President Hackney, meet Sheldon the nominee.

With a racist paternalism, Hackney could not believe that blacks were strong enough to live with freedom. With a double standard beyond bearing, he believed that whites were too tainted by their blood and ancestry to deserve legal equality at his institution. I invite the interested to read the chapter from The Shadow University about the water buffalo incident at www.thefire.org. It was worse than you thought.

Hackney’s Balkanized vision of Penn and his patronizing contempt for fairness and student equality wounded this university. He was coldly willing to see a freshman whom he knew to be innocent punished unjustly. His careerism trumped everything, but he miscalculated the consequences. He was duly criticized—mildly, in my view—when, to his surprise, this wickedness actually was exposed, but even then he was honored and paid handsomely while others took the fall. The man has no shame.

Alan Charles Kors
Professor of History

 

SUPPRESSING RACISM OR
PROMOTING ANTI-SEMITISM?

Sheldon Hackney, in his article on Penn’s infamous water buffalo incident, chooses to overlook one of the most significant factors in the negative publicity that befell Penn—that as events unfolded the water buffalo incident began to look less like the suppression of racism and more like the promotion of anti-Semitism.

Just as the plight of the black sorority sisters can only be fully understood in the light of American’s history of racial prejudice, so also the selective prosecution of Eden Jacobowitz must be interpreted in light of Penn’s long history of anti-Semitism. Before WWII there was a Jewish quota at Penn, and some faculty would not teach with a Jew in their class. When I was a student at Penn in the 1970s, despite the fact that the student body was by then one third Jewish, not every department of the University was going gently with the flow. For example, in my senior seminar on pre-Shakespearean tragedy we studied Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta, and while other forms of stereotyping and racial prejudice were noted and dealt with in our readings of historic literature, Barabas was taken at face value.

We also cannot forget the unfortunate recent history of communal stress between black and Jewish students at Penn, including the use of student funds to bring in an anti-Semitic speaker at Irvine Auditorium. Penn has, sadly, become a stage for the playing out of black-Jewish tensions in American society. It would be good if Penn, which educates so many future leaders in both the black and Jewish communities, could somehow use its authority as a great institution of learning to forge positive ties between these two groups. If this is happening, it would make a great article for the Gazette.

Far from acknowledging the broader background in front of which the water buffalo incident unfolded, Dr. Hackney continues to throw fuel on the fire. He lists Eden Jacobowitz’ supporters as Harvey Silverglate, Alan Dershowitz, Nat Hentoff, Dorothy Rabinowitz, George Will, the Anti-Defamation League, and the American Jewish Committee. The implication is that while Dr. Hackney overtly claims to have been singled out by the ideological right wing in America, it is really the Elders of Zion who are pulling the strings. Note that the above list includes liberal institutions and individuals as well as conservatives, but all are Jewish.

So the story is not, in the end, only about the inherent danger of star chamber proceedings or about the excesses of political correctness nor about the hysterical response of right-wing ideologues to that movement. The story is about whether all types of hate and prejudice are equally to be renounced by society, or whether the struggle against some forms of prejudice privileges other forms of prejudice. It would be futile to compare the relative destructive power of racism and anti-Semitism as historical motivating forces in the 20th century, but the need to struggle with equal passion against both ought to be axiomatic to progressive-minded people.

Rabbi Stephen M. Wylen C’74
Wayne, N.J.

 

BLINDFOLD WAS OF HIS OWN MAKING

In his lamentable attempt to tell his own story, Sheldon Hackney writes, “In addition to my function as a cudgel with which conservatives could batter President Clinton, and as the anti-hero of the running narrative that conservatives had created that was designed to undermine the moral authority of liberalism, there is an additional large lesson to be learned from the journalistic treatment of the events of the spring. Those who shaped the public perception of them were not trying to inform the public so much as to capture its attention.” Grammatical atrocities aside, how many things are wrong with that paragraph fragment?

Let me start with the notion of moral authority and the presumption that it is derived from the label of liberalism. It amazes me that, oblivious to Bill Clinton’s gargantuan disregard for morality, people like Sheldon Hackney continue to claim high ground by the simple fact that they proclaim themselves to be “liberals.” Surely John Stuart Mill had no such thing in mind. Moral authority is earned by both the passion with which one delineates right from wrong, and the steadfastness with which one acts in accordance with those principles. In the spring of 1993, Dr. Hackney meekly asserted his confidence in the system, then ran off to Washington to preen for the Senate. A college president with moral authority and a sense of duty would have used that authority to persuade the participants to bring the issue to a prompt and fair resolution.

Let me finish with the notion that a “large lesson” was learned about the role of the media. If Dr. Hackney actually listened to Rush Limbaugh instead of blithely tossing his name into Hillary Clinton’s vast right-wing conspiracy list, he would have been well informed as to the motivation and modus operandi of those who shape public perception. Dr. Hackney describes himself as “blindfolded and lashed to the stake” while The Wall Street Journal published a series of editorials about him and Penn. Clearly, the blindfold was of his own making and this experience only partially removed it.

Ted Durant WG’88
Milwaukee, Wisc.

 

NEGATIVE OPINION UNCHANGED

I found Sheldon Hackney’s cathartic explanation of his tribulations as a result of the water buffalo incident fascinating.

It was like reading an explanation of Christ’s trial and crucifixion written by Pontius Pilate. The coincidence that Eden Jacobowitz is also a Jew and Israel-born and was used by the Penn authorities as a scapegoat to mollify the politically correct mob did not slip my notice.

After all these years since the incident occurred, I am still disgusted and disturbed by it and the irrational and unfair treatment of Jacobowitz. Hackney’s biblical “washing of his hands” by telling his story has not changed my negative opinion of him.

Robert M. Skaler Ar’59
Cheltenham, Pa.

 

NO TEARS, PLEASE

Please! No tears for Sheldon Hackney, “Saint” Lani, or his buddy Clinton. They all worked hard for and were proud of their left-wing reputations, which resulted in their subsequent rejection by mainstream Americans.

Oleg N. Dudkin ME’48
Berwyn, Pa.

 

HACKNEY’S TENURE REPRESENTED A
SAD PERIOD FOR A GREAT UNIVERSITY

Having just finished reading Dr. Hackney’s article, one word comes to mind regarding the article and its author—pathetic! It’s pathetic that a man of Dr. Hackney’s academic and public background could write such self-serving drivel. The article is so full of gratuitous hyperbole (“As the threatened political campaign against me exploded in the news media,” “while I stood blindfolded and lashed to the stake,” etc., etc.) it is hard to believe that a scholar and former university president could have penned these words.

In his article, Dr. Hackney manages to skewer, among others, a distinguished historian and author (Dr. Alan Kors), the student who was subjected to this investigatory farce, The Wall Street Journal, George Will, Dorothy Rabinowitz, and anyone else who happened to disagree with the University’s handling of this sad affair.

There are so many ridiculous statements in Dr. Hackney’s article that it boggles the mind. But let’s address one. Dr. Hackney states that “With regard to disciplinary cases, I was similar to a mayor, who cannot tell the district attorney what to do, and I was not at all like the chief executive of a corporation, who can tell anyone in the organization what to do.” Please!! Dr. Hackney must think we all just rolled off the turnip truck. Having taught at both the undergraduate and graduate levels of another university, it was my experience that a university president can exert significant influence, if he or she chooses to do so.

In my view, Dr. Hackney’s tenure as president of Penn represented a very sad period for such a great university, a period from which the University is just beginning to recover.

Finally, I suspect that any professor of English worth his or her salt would find it difficult to give Dr. Hackney’s article a passing grade.

Robert D. Morrow C’54
Southport, N.C.

 

BOTTOM LINE: UNIVERSITY WAS HURT
AND HACKNEY WAS RESPONSIBLE

Thank you for the story of the water buffalo. President Hackney was responsible that the University had an ineffective Judicial Inquiry Officer.

I do not agree with his conclusion that it would have been both wrong and counter-productive for him to have intervened. I think it was his duty to intervene. He could have called and presided over a mediation session, invited and encouraged all female celebrants to attend, and required attendance of all residents of rooms fronting on the area in question. The University’s best behavioral psychologists could have advised him and participated. The session would have not been fact-finding but group therapy. He could have concluded the session with an apology in the name of the University and a declaration that the case was closed.

Of course, that, too, could have exploded.

The bottom line is that the University was hurt, and the president was responsible.

Again, thank you (and him) for the article.

Captain Herbert F. Rommel WEv’39
Newport, R.I.

 

INTERVENTION WASN’T THE ISSUE,
THE PROBLEM WAS THE POLICY

The point isn’t whether Sheldon Hackney could intervene in the infamous water buffalo case in his role as University president. He makes a very persuasive case in explaining the unconstitutional nature of that proposed intervention. But that wasn’t the real problem or the real reason he was being criticized in the spring of 1993.

The real reason was because he never bothered to implement the right “racial harassment” policy in the first place. How do I know? I was there. When that policy was being debated, I stood up and voiced my concerns with it. I was booed off the stage—highlighting the very point I was making about political correctness winning over free speech. At the time, Sheldon Hackney was quietly listening in the back of the room—he neither did anything about it nor took note of the matter.

At this point, I am the host of a “liberal” talk show fighting against the Rush Limbaughs of the world. I think President Clinton did a fantastic job in office, including appointing Sheldon Hackney as the head of the NEH. I am no right wing nut. I do, however, fervently believe in the right to free speech and the concept that more speech—not less—leads to the better advancement of ideas.

It was obvious to anyone who bothered to look that the racial harassment policy Penn was about to adopt in the early 1990s was a terrible idea. On a university campus of all places, people are supposed to exchange ideas. They’re supposed to challenge each other, learn from one another, and grow together. You don’t do that by putting a muzzle on everyone. You don’t do that by implementing a policy that bans certain forms of speech.

If you do put into place a policy diametrically opposed to free speech, then you should be criticized. You were derelict in your duties as president of the University. How can you let people shout down their opposition in a legitimate campus debate and then get surprised when people criticize you for not protecting speech on campus?

I was not the only one who was greeted by a hostile crowd when trying to voice a dissenting opinion on campus. I saw conservative speaker after speaker get shouted down at Penn. I didn’t necessarily agree with these speakers, but I wanted to hear what they had to say—that’s why I went to college.

The point I was trying to make that afternoon when Penn was debating its racial harassment policy is that dissent is a good thing—it keeps you honest and makes you fight for the truth. Instead of fighting back with ideas, I was met with a mob mentality that refused to even hear what I was saying … while Sheldon Hackney watched and did nothing.

Professor Hackney seems like a perfectly pleasant guy, and I even feel bad criticizing him, but he should understand what the real root of the problem was—not his actions after the policy was implemented, but before it was implemented—when he had a chance to stand up for free speech and he did not.

Cenk Uygur W’92
West Hollywood, Calif.

 

WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND

Dr. Hackney is the “liberal” victim of the “Borking” of a brilliant jurist by his fellow liberals. What goes around comes around.

Dr. Hackney should look inward, and if he has a valid complaint, he should lay it at the feet of his brethren in the “liberal wing” of the Democratic Party.

As for myself, I believe he handled the entire matter in a typical “feckless” politically correct manner and brought shame upon the University.

Richard Berkowitz W’54
Savannah, Ga.

 

ACCOUNT LEAVES A “GAPING HOLE” IN
THE SEQUENCE OF EVENTS IN SPRING 1993

I must write to set the historical record straight, after reading former President Hackney’s amnesiac “Spring-from-Hell.” There is a gaping hole in the sequence of events as he recalls them. Between “Kors called me” and “The day after” there was an unprecedented free speech rally led by undergraduates. As co-leader of that rally, I know just how much sweat went into rescuing a young mind from the vise of the University’s then ill-guided justice system. As my peers and I prepared placards and speeches, we even received a call from a then-assistant to the president asking us to reconsider marching on the president’s Walnut Street mansion. Hackney’s disingenuousness reaches new heights when he refers to Jacobowitz as “a folk hero for the conservative cause.” Those of us who resisted the proceedings over which Hackney presided with laissez-faire blindness stood for liberty and fairness as put forth in our larger Constitution.

I am as proud today as I was then to have led what Dr. Kors endorsed as the first grassroots student-protest at Penn in more than a generation. Together, the courage and determination of faculty and fellow
students helped to get the racialist charges against Jacobowitz dropped. While Hackney concludes his story with self-congratulatory rumination over his Senate confirmation, the black mark on his University presidency cannot be so easily expunged. The hundreds of us who marched that heated evening during final exams in the spring of 1993 did indeed have a pivotal role in disbanding the thought police from and restoring free speech to Penn’s community.

Michael R. Unglo C’93
New York

 

LET BYGONES BE BYGONES, BUT …

There’s a lot to be said for letting bygones be bygones, but Sheldon Hackney’s account of the “water buffalo” affair and his own role as unfortunate victim requires some response.

Fortunately, the nasty racial polarization (continuously driven by an official obsession with defining and punishing racial harassment) which existed on the campus during President Hackney’s administration has largely disappeared. The water buffalo case marked the reductio ad absurdum of the racial harassment policy, which was essentially a speech code. Professor Hackney is to be commended at least for the wisdom of his hindsight: “The events of that spring have convinced me that it is a mistake to try to deal with matters of racial incivility through behavioral rules backed by disciplinary mechanisms.” The University Council, which devoted numerous sessions to discussions of the racial harassment policy, is strictly an advisory body, and President Hackney was perfectly free to follow the advice of the dissidents.

Professor Hackney repeatedly states that University rules prohibited him from intervening in the student judicial process. A few weeks before the Jacobowitz case became public, Hackney intervened when the Judicial Inquiry Officer threatened to bring charges of racial harassment against a Daily Pennsylvanian columnist and Alan Kors informed the president of the disastrous implications of such charges. Furthermore, according to Kors, either the president or the provost ordered the Judicial Administrative Officer to renege on his promise to Kors that the May 14 hearing would be limited to consideration of Kors’s motion to drop the charges against Jacobowitz, since most of Jacobowitz’s witnesses had left town.

Professor Hackney states that the women who brought charges against Jacobowitz finally dropped the charges in order that they might be permitted to speak out publicly and present their side of the story. The student judicial code specifically states that if one party (in this case, Jacobowitz) speaks out publicly, then the other side is permitted to speak out.

I voted for Clinton twice and had no particular desire to lynch President Hackney. I strongly believed (and still do) that it was important to have a national discussion of campus speech codes. I salute Alan Kors, a true moral and intellectual leader, for initiating such a discussion and making Penn a more sane and just campus.

Michael Cohen
Emeritus Professor of Physics

 

NO MOB, NO CONSPIRACY

Sheldon Hackney’s account of the infamous “water buffalo incident” obfuscates the known facts of the case with how he rationalizes his indefensible position for justifying terrible “political correctness” policies under his tenure at the university. By his own admission, he states “White students in the dormitory began shouting out the window at the celebrating women below.” Then, throughout the article he wonders how Eden Jacobowitz, the accused violator of the politically correct speech policy, would be viewed, implying on at least three separate occasions that he was part of a “mob.” There is no basis for making the “mob” inference since there was no lawless, disorderly crowd (by definition, a large number of persons, especially when collected into a somewhat compact body without order). Everyone stayed in their rooms shouting from windows and no “mob” confronted the women outside the residence hall. Hackney makes the argument that in all journalistic accounts the women are never seen as individuals, but as faceless, nameless antagonists. However, Hackney is inconsistent because he does likewise by never naming or describing the women involved. Finally, Hackney makes a weak attempt to conclude that this sad episode in Penn’s history was part of conservative conspiracy “to delegitimize President Clinton at the outset of his term in office.” Does he honestly believe that if a conservative and/or a Republican was president when the events unfolded, that the reaction would not have been the same? Furthermore, Hackney’s disconnected comments concerning the WSJ’s editorial page with “thought of death squads in Guatemala, Pinochet in Chile, the dirty war in Argentina, apartheid in South Africa and similar situations, but it would have been churlish to raise those questions” are gratuitous in nature. Continuing in this diatribe he tries to connect all of these sad events to a conservative attack on “the moral authority of liberalism.” How condescending—give me a break, Dr. Hackney!

M.J. Leib, parent
Sugarloaf, Pa.

WEB: More responses to “Sheldon Hackney’s ‘Spring-from-Hell.”

NO HELP NEEDED IN UNDERMINING
MORAL AUTHORITY

I found it quite ironic that Sheldon Hackney, in his weak attempt to justify his actions, and inactions, in connection with the infamous Water Buffalo incident, used the phrase, “moral authority.” Moral authority is exactly what Dr. Hackney lacked as president of the University, and led directly to the embarrassing events which he is still trying, unsuccessfully, to distance himself from more than a decade later.

Moral authority would have prevented a “through the looking glass” situation where a group of anonymous criminals (yes, disturbing the peace is illegal) could bring charges against an individual who simply exercised his freedom of speech (not only legal but constitutionally protected). Moral authority from the president of the University might have avoided the Orwellian speech code that Penn enacted at the time that gave rise to this matter. Moral authority might also have led that same president to immediately denounce a process that was not only unconstitutional, but morally repugnant to the ideals of free expression that should have been (but weren’t) at the core of the University’s values.

But not at Penn, because Dr. Hackney showed no moral authority at the time, and still shows none in his recently authored defense of his former stewardship (I can’t quite call it leadership) of the University. I would have thought that Dr. Hackney would have finally taken some responsibility for the “politically correct” atmosphere that governed Penn during his tenure. But according to Dr. Hackney, the Water Buffalo incident was apparently everyone else’s fault but his own. It was Eden Jacobowitz’s fault (he was “part of an ugly, intimidating, and raucous mob”). It was Dr. Alan Kors’s fault (he “sabotaged” and “manipulated” the process). It was The Wall Street Journal’s fault (it “shaped” and “colored” the story to achieve its political “purpose”). And finally, it was the fault of the “conservative masters of mass media” (who “created” the Water Buffalo “story” as a means to wage a “political campaign” against Dr. Hackney personally and thus “undermine” liberalism in general). Everyone’s fault except the person in charge when the rule which led to this mess was created.

While Dr. Hackney tries to distance himself from the speech code by claiming it was debated, enacted, and enforced by others within the University community, he nevertheless continues to defend the indefensible when he argues that the speech code was “extremely narrowly drawn” and that it had “wide-spread support within the Penn community.” Wrong on both counts.

In the end, Dr. Hackney’s summary of the matter is that “it wasn’t the rule that failed, but the process that failed.”

Sorry, Dr. Hackney, but the rule was doomed to failure the moment it was enacted. All restrictions on our freedoms of expression, like the University’s speech code, are ultimately doomed to failure. And when you and the other so-called liberals in charge of the University at the time enacted that speech code, the undermining of your moral authority didn’t need any assistance. It was accomplished all on your own.

David L. Richter W’88 ENG’88 L’92
Princeton Junction, N.J.

 

AN EMBARRASSING TRIP
DOWN MEMORY LANE

As a member of the Class of 1993, I remember the Water Buffalo incident very well, along with many other racially charged events during my four years at Penn. I also remember the Administration’s failure to find any constructive solutions to those problems. I note that only a few of these other incidents are mentioned in President Hackney’s essay (the DP thefts, etc.), and then only in passing. Perhaps his book addresses these other incidents in greater detail. Suffice it to say that I find it highly inappropriate for President Hackney to portray himself as “blindfolded and lashed to the stake,” given the infamous nature of one of the incidents in question.

Returning to President Hackney’s version of the Water Buffalo incident, I must confess that at the time I believed President Hackney was putting his thumb on the scales of the University’s judicial system to suit the perceived needs of particular minority groups, regardless of any impact on free expression. With the passage of time, I changed my view, and came to believe that it was probably simple incompetence (as opposed to politically correct pandering) that produced the Administration’s failure to quickly resolve the Water Buffalo incident. Reading President Hackney’s helpful diary, however, I now see that my first instinct was more or less correct—it was President Hackney’s willful blindness to any course of action that might somehow offend any individual or group (save Mr. Jacobowitz) that left the entire campus twisting in the wind for months on end.

The lawyers among us will no doubt chuckle over Professor Hackney’s professed devotion to “due process” for the unnamed Water Buffalo plaintiffs, as if that were the only “constitutional” issue involved. What about freedom of expression? President Hackney writes that it wasn’t the presence of a speech code that was the problem, but rather the imperfect enforcement of that speech code. I would have hoped that President Hackney had taken more lessons from this awful experience other than the need to rearrange the disciplinary bureaucracy at the University. It seems the President’s desire to sanitize the University against any sort of uncomfortable speech on issues of race remains blissfully unexamined and unaltered. (Perhaps it’s just me, but having one’s legally protected speech made into a “teachable moment,” whatever that is, doesn’t sound all that different from a disciplinary hearing.)

Nevertheless, if, as President Hackney says, the real issue was “due process,” then what of the defendant’s due process rights? The right to a speedy trial? The right to be free from frivolous prosecution, or, as President Hackney called it, a “miscarriage of justice”? President Hackney came to the defense of these issues very late in the process, it seems.

He now cloaks himself in “due process” to justify his view that he, as just a poor university president, had no real influence over what happened to Mr. Jacobowitz in the University’s judicial system. How he can maintain this argument when it was his own intervention in the case that finally led to a settlement is not explained.

All these years later, President Hackney is still trying to pass the buck—if only the media had bothered to find out just how useless a university president truly is, this never would have happened, he seems to say. Is there really any question why the University took such a beating in the media in 1993?

Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane, President Hackney. I had almost forgotten how embarrassing it was to be associated with the University of Pennsylvania in the early nineties.

W. Spencer Murphy C’93
New Orleans

 

MIND-BLOWING

It blows my mind to consider how much money and how many man-hours the University expended in investigating and reporting this ridiculous incident. Surely Shakespeare must have had such incidents in mind when he wrote Much Ado About Nothing. I certainly don’t want my alumni contributions to be used in such a frivolous way, so my payments to The Penn Fund will stop. Water buffalo indeed!!

Dean H. Martin C’47
McLean, Va.

 

MORE TO BE PITIED THAN PUNISHED

Sheldon Hackney still doesn’t get it! His memoir moans that his betrayal of the First Amendment at Penn in the water buffalo case almost cost him his appointment as chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The lesson it teaches is that one so purblind about freedom of speech is more to be pitied than punished.

Or, maybe it is we who don’t get it! Penn’s current president, Judith Rodin, proclaims freedom of speech as her credo but she, too, refuses to abolish the speech code which earned Penn worldwide ignominy in the water buffalo case in which Hackney glories.

And when the Penn law faculty threatened students who roasted one of its members, Rodin refused to publish a word of criticism on the ground that the outcry by students and the media was enough to teach law professors a lesson in freedom of speech. As evidence, she claimed that the law faculty apologized, which, of course, was not true.

Ben Franklin warned that the Constitution that he labored to create was only as good as constant fidelity to its principles. He would be shocked to know that “Ben Franklin’s University,” as Penn is proud to call itself, finds those principles objects of contempt.

Burton Caine C’49
Professor of Law, Temple University

 

HACKNEY ACTS LIKE ACCUSERS

I found it quite interesting to read the defense of Dr. Hackney by Dr. Hackney. He seemed to see the entire issue as a personal attack upon his person. His criticism of the news accounts as being biased and slanted seemed to be the very things being taught at the Annenberg School. Aren’t we taught to use the power of the press and to sway people with our writing? Certainly Dr. Hackney was attempting this very same thing.

Kevin Wassong W’70
Whippany, N.J.

 

RE “BORKING”: SHOE IS UNCOMFORTABLE
WHEN IT’S ON ONE’S OWN FOOT

At first I was furious, then I started to laugh upon reading Dr. Hackney’s bias on the infamous water buffalo incident of 1993, and his fear that it would jeopardize his chance to join the National Endowment for the Humanities. It was filled with the usual liberal blather, excusing his failure to take any sort of action as “letting due process work,” and blaming the whole nasty incident on the “Great Right-Wing Conspiracy” of a “threatened political campaign against me.” Some of us fail to see any connection whatever between these two incidents—except that it exposed Dr. Hackney’s leftist leanings—permitting the JIO to go ahead and prosecute in the name of “fairness,” despite Eden’s contrite letter and explanation. Much less damage would have been done to the University if the nonsense had been stopped through some sort of arbitration.

Further, to state that Lani Guinier was being “Borked” when she was being subjected to the same treatment as Robert Bork had received earlier reveals that the shoe is rather uncomfortable when it’s on one’s own foot.

Finally, his comment that “[the incident] did not succeed in blocking my appointment” sounded a lot like an eight-year-old’s “nyah-nyah-nyah” when someone else got punished for something he had done.

Do you wonder why I no longer support The Penn Fund?

M. Ruth Severiens Nu’60, GEd’62
Cleveland Heights, Ohio

 

REASONS FOR LAG IN SCHOLARSHIP?

One possible reason for Penn being last among some elite schools in scholarship support, as noted by President Judith Rodin in “A Special Bond” [“From College Hall,” May/June] may be found—in my estimation—in what I consider a sanitized version of some events described by Dr. Hackney in his article in the same issue; and, maybe also because of Mr. Walt Gardner’s contention [responding to an article on attempts by some graduate students at Penn to unionize] in the Letters section of the May 18, 2003 New York Times Magazine that, “Since [Dr. Rodin] assumed the presidency, Penn has become virtually indistinguishable from any large corporation.”

Leon W. Zelby, EE’56; GrE’61
Norman, Okla.

 

TAKEN AS A COMPLIMENT

I read much more of the May/June 2003 issue than any in the past 40 years. Someone did something right this time!

F. Charles Lippincott ChE’62 WG’65
Jensen Beach, Fla.

 

ARTICLE OMITTED ROLE OF DR. HARRIS SOKOLOFF
IN PENN’S LANDING FORUMS

Thank you very much for the wonderful write-up on Penn Praxis and the Penn’s Landing Forums [“Gazetteer,” May/June]. You beautifully captured the sense of excitement and engagement that these forums generated, and we are looking forward to creating a regular series that will merge expert opinion, citizen engagement, civic journalism, and design visioning on critical issues facing our city and the region.

There is one glaring omission in the article, however: Dr. Harris Sokoloff, director of the Center for School Study Councils at the Graduate School of Education of the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Sokoloff was an integral partner in the Penn’s Landing Forums, and through his work in public deliberation, he and Chris Satullo of the Inquirer crafted the citizen engagement portion of the forums. It was thrilling to watch citizens who were informed by expert opinion work with facilitators trained by Dr. Sokoloff to arrive at a set of consensual planning principles that any development at Penn’s Landing must honor. It was these principles that formed the foundation for the design visioning and subsequent ranking of the visions by the public. And it is these planning principles that have been embedded in the public consciousness as the bedrock for future development on this site. Dr. Sokoloff’s work gave a democratic legitimacy to the process that should not be underestimated.

Harris M. Steinberg C’78 GAr’82
Executive Director, Penn Praxis

 

LIGHTEN UP A LITTLE ON THE
BIASES OF COMPETITION AND STRIFE

I failed to read the article on Dr. Michael Eric Dyson in the March/April issue [“Make It Plain!”], but I appreciated the letters in the May/June issue from Larry Shelley W’80 and Tom McCarron CGS’74 and from the “insane senior citizen in Oregon,” Frederic Rath W’55, all addressing various aspects of the diversity issue.

Shelley’s attempt to make a connection between the notion of “self-hating Jews” and “self-hating blacks”—or putative notions thereof—is useful in illustrating the overlap of “racial perspectives” addressed by McCarron in his allegation that lower income whites are historically excluded in the diversity formula as presently targeted at Penn and elsewhere.

For me, raised in the mid-South, one of the lessons of my first year at Penn was to encounter blue-collar Jewish students from Philadelphia—for Jewish cohorts in the American South have historically been made up almost entirely of professionals and white-collar individuals. Additionally, as my parents had attended school in Western Pennsylvania, they necessarily had had black classmates. We kids were, therefore, strictly prohibited from taking part in any racially misdirected behavior, setting us apart in kind from our white peers. Our own Presbyterian minister (from South Carolina), the rabbis of our city, and a handful of other outspoken Jews and Christians, with the occasional black teacher or minister, whose courage had to be witnessed to be believed at the time, were the only other figures I recall in this rare middle ground.

Like Rath, I speak fluent Spanish, and I have lived in Asia for many years. We, no doubt, are both very well acquainted with the diverse local Asian varieties of xenophobic behavior, and what else is this than racist?

Like all three of your correspondents, I hardly regard myself as bigoted or prejudiced. And, yet, I have still another complaint, as someone happily married to a person of a different race. Both our elder son at Penn and our younger son at an elite and ecumenical East Coast prep school found themselves virtually forced, in the interest of the carefully nurtured racial politics of “diversity,” to choose between their component “races” and to opt for one social group or another.

In my experience, too, those who propound the policy of affirmative action and official “diversity” all too often seem to hail from a unitary experience of race issues and of economic background, and thus have a remarkably singular perspective. I find increasingly many magazines and media from Penn to be extraordinarily dominated by notions of superior achievement and the struggle to achieve, with the issue of race and diversity intertwined with that of excellence. This is all very well in its place, that of education and of government, yet it may not be the arena in which common garden variety peace and understanding are best obtained between individuals—and, yes, races.

Might it not be time to try and comprehend all the many diverse places we are coming from, as these three different letters seem to counsel, and lighten up a little on the biases of competition and strife? We have come a long way—and while contributing mightily to it, even the University of Pennsylvania has not sought to “legislate” that truly interracial society which alone can be the very underlying ideal of the good life in our time.

David B. Stewart C’64
Kawasaki, Japan

 

“BLIND JUSTICE” IS FAIR,
NOT UNWILLING TO LEARN

The article “Now on Trial: Justice in Smart vs. Dumb” [“Gazetteer,” March/ April], is representative of the kind of academic arrogance that takes an intellectually dishonest potshot at a revered symbol in order to achieve a semantic distinction of dubious value to our community. To imply that the “Justice is Blind” symbol’s long-established meaning of fairness may also imply unwillingness to learn is the moral equivalent of the defense lawyer accusing the 15-year-old victim on the witness stand of seducing a multiple rape offender, knowing that the jury is denied access to the rapist’s prior record. It’s a polluting manipulation that should have no place in serious, compassionate discourse about the emotions of victims.

Remedial social science experimentation after the rapes and murders have taken place will unlikely put an acceptable dent in the antisocial behavior of those perpetrators who are themselves victims of fundamental social neglect. Invariably, the brunt of antisocial behavior is also borne by those least able to escape it. Learn that before you call a democratic principle still worth striving for “unwilling to learn.”

Dana Williams G’95
Owings Mills, Md.


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