Business School Deans Face Controversy Over Statements On Hamas Attack On Israel

Soon after issuing a carefully worded statement of support for Israel in the wake of a terrorist attack by Hamas, a business school dean received a flood of hate mail from pro-Palestinian students and alumni.

Like so many university and school leaders, the dean–who requested anonymity–was thrown into the dilemma that many face: should school leadership comment at all on social and geo-political events. The University of Chicago thinks it should stay mum, believing that the very taking of a position might chill the environment for free expression and academic freedom. But students, alumni, and faculty often demand such statements. A prominent alum of the Wharton School has taken to task the leadership of the University of Pennsylvania for not speaking up in support of Israel. Apollo Management CEO Marc Rowan, who along with his wife donated $50 million to Whartonl in 2018, was so incensed by the silence that he is demanding that UPenn President Liz Magill and Scott Bok, chair of the board of trustees, step down. Rowan is chair of the Wharton School Board. He’s not alone. Jon Huntaman Jr.  has told Penn it will “close its checkbook” on future donations to the university. Huntsman, whose family has donated at least $50 million to Wharton, wrote that the university had become “almost unrecognizable” due to administrators’ response to antisemitism.

At Harvard University, Bill Ackman, who earned his MBA from Harvard Business School in 1992,  asked for the names of students who signed on to a letter blaming Israel for Hamas’ deadly attack so that he and other business leaders could make sure they are never hired by their companies.  At least a dozen business executives have endorsed the call by the founder and chief executive officer of Pershing Square Capital Management, a hedge fund.

STATEMENTS ISSUED BY B-SCHOOL DEANS AT HARVARD, WHARTON, INSEAD AND HAAS

Despite the controversial nature of such statements, deans at many business schools from Harvard Business School and INSEAD to the Wharton School and UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, have waded into the highly polarizing unrest in the Middle East. What they have often found, however, is that the schools are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t–regardless of what is said in a statement.

INSEAD Dean Francisco Veloso wasted not time in taking a  clear, unequivocal and morally powerful stand against terrorism. “I am writing to you in response to the shocking bloodshed in the Middle East,” he began his letter. “INSEAD strongly condemns the horrific terrorist assaults committed by Hamas in Israel. We are sickened by the barbaric acts of terror carried out indiscriminately against innocent civilians. We firmly condemn the atrocities against humanity causing such pain to the victims, their families, and communities.”

At Harvard Business School, Dean Srikant Datar noted that he has spoken with students, faculty, staff, and alumni who have been “deeply affected by Hamas’s violent attack on Israel and its devastating consequences. Terrorist actions against civilians are not only unconscionable, they are inconsistent with our most fundamental values; as humans, we must condemn them. They are especially troubling coming at a time of rising antisemitism globally.”

‘NO MATTER WHAT IS SAID, THE REACTION IS OFTEN INTENSE’

Business school deans acknowledge that such statements can lead to a backlash. “Frankly, no matter what is said, the reaction is often intense,” says Susan M. Fournier, dean of Questrom School of Business. “In an emotionally charged situation, your comments will be appreciated and respected and at the same time highly scrutinized and challenged.”

Nonetheless, she adds, many stakeholders expect some sort of statement from leadership. “There is increasing social pressure for leaders to issue a public statement, most often during a crisis, that takes ‘a moral or perceived political stand,’” adds Fournier. “A leader’s comments are almost always considered political, no matter the intent. What a university needs to keep in mind are the guiding principles of free speech, and respect for diversity and diverse opinions among stakeholders and students, and acknowledgment of the impact of the crisis on individuals closest to the incident  In so doing, deans need to create a barometer and filter which is based on the organization’s cultural values.”

Consider what transpired in the past week at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Acting Dean Jenny Chatman sent out two community messages on Hamas’ attack on Israel. On Monday, she put out the first message of support for all who were hurt or impacted by the violence.  “I am saddened that my first message to you as acting dean comes as the world reacts to new bloodshed and fear in the Middle East,” wrote Chatman. “I am heartbroken by the loss of life and outraged by civilian casualties.”

AFTER FIRST FAILING TO CONDEMN HAMAS, STUDENTS CLAIMED THE UNIVERSITY WAS ANTI-SEMITIC

What she didn’t do, however, was condemn Hamas for the attack nor refer to the attackers as terrorists. Some students were outraged as a result. The acting dean received a large volume of emails sent from current students and alumni as well as a letter campaign asking her to amend her statement.

On Wednesday evening, two days after Chatman’s first email, she sent a second message, signed by a group of deans and senior leaders. In it, Chatman invited students, faculty, staff, and alumni to a community conversation, which took place on Thursday. “Since the terrorist attack Hamas launched on Israel on Saturday, we have spoken with many of you who have been deeply affected by its horrific consequences,” she added. “We see that our community is hurting, afraid, and exhausted. Terrorist actions against innocent people are indefensible; they are inconsistent with our fundamental humanity, and we must condemn them. We are all bracing for how the violence will reverberate in the immediate future and over generations to come in Israel, Gaza, and around the world.”

Hannah Schlacter, a full-time MBA student at Haas, and Danielle Sobkin, an undergraduate student at Cal, penned an op-ed piece, broadly decrying what they believe is antisemitism at the university. They also singled out Chatman’s amended second statement. “Students at the University of California, Berkeley feel terrified and isolated following interactions with campus administration,” they wrote. “The administration refuses to condemn Hamas terrorists for the murder of innocent civilians. This lays bare Berkeley’s desire to avoid controversy rather than support students affected by the tragedy in Israel. The University has failed its students, failed to stand up against terrorism, and failed to acknowledge the hate which continues to grow not by the day, but by the hour.” 

HOW BUSINESS SCHOOL DEANS RESPONDED TO THE CRISIS IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Here’s how different deans reacted to the events in Israel:

Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar’s Statement

Harvard Business School Dean Srikant M. Datar

Dear members of the HBS community,

I wanted to follow up on the message I joined with Harvard’s leadership in sending last evening, and on the statement issued by President Claudine Gay earlier today.

Over the past few days, I have spoken with students, faculty, staff, and alumni of Harvard Business School who have been deeply affected by Hamas’s violent attack on Israel and its devastating consequences. Terrorist actions against civilians are not only unconscionable, they are inconsistent with our most fundamental values; as humans, we must condemn them. They are especially troubling coming at a time of rising antisemitism globally.

Members of our community have experienced loss, are fearful for family and loved ones, or worry about the escalating tensions in the region. I share their heartbreak, their shock, and their horror.

In moments like this, we gain strength from our community values. Conflicts exacerbate divisions of nationality, faith, culture, and identity, and harden divergent points of view. We cannot fall prey to this division, nor can we condone words or actions that intend to incite or inflame. As an academic institution, we instead must strive to deepen the connections that are the foundation of our community. We must ensure we foster free expression and robust dialogue, even as we respect the rights, differences, and dignity of others and work—always—to create a culture of inclusion. Our sense of community is one of Harvard Business School’s greatest assets, and I hope we might draw on it now to extend our empathy and care to those who are suffering, and to deepen our understanding. The world needs leaders who will make a difference now more than ever.

Over the weekend we began reaching out to and meeting with members of our community to offer support. We are committed to providing every member of our community with the resources they may need. Students can reach out to SAS staff (617.495.6087 or sas@hbs.edu 8 am-5 pm weekdays) or CAMHS Urgent Care (617.495.5711 weekends and evenings). Staff and faculty can contact the Employee Assistance Program (877.327.4278), with counselors available 24/7. The Harvard Chaplains are available to serve students, staff, and faculty. Additionally, the HBS Chapel offers a quiet place for reflection.

At this very difficult time, I urge you to reach out to and support one another, listen to those who are hurting, and be generous with each other and kind to yourselves.

With hope,
Srikant Datar

 

INSEAD Dean Francisco Veloso’s Statement

INSEAD Dean Francisco Veloso

INSEAD Dean Francisco Veloso

I am writing to you in response to the shocking bloodshed in the Middle East. INSEAD strongly condemns the horrific terrorist assaults committed by Hamas in Israel. We are sickened by the barbaric acts of terror carried out indiscriminately against innocent civilians. We firmly condemn the atrocities against humanity causing such pain to the victims, their families, and communities.

The full extent and horror of the acts are beyond what any of us could have imagined. Over the past few days, I have taken the time to engage and speak with many members of our community to understand the magnitude of what is happening and the suffering inflicted on so many people, as well as to offer our support. I have also been touched by the many acts of kindness and generosity that are taking place across our community.

I want to express my gratitude to our students, alumni and colleagues for sharing their personal and often painful experiences with me. I know that many people in our community have been affected in profound ways and I want you all to know that I and the INSEAD community are with you and your loved ones in these trying times. I encourage those in need of help to contact the school’s Psychological Services team for support.

We are very concerned for the safety, security, and well-being of our own community, as well as many others who are suffering and fearful as further escalations unfold in Israel, Gaza and the broader region. We will continue to dialogue with all our community to find ways to aid and support all of those in need.

INSEAD was founded after the Second World War to bring together people from different countries and backgrounds to foster mutual understanding and collaboration, and ultimately promote peace. Our commitment to this mission is unwavering. We stand together for humanity. We will continue to firmly stand against terrorism, against violence, and against racist narratives, including antisemitism.

Given the very difficult times ahead, now more than ever it is imperative that we support one another. We are a diverse global community, and we must continue to prioritise solidarity and respect.

Let’s take care of each other.

Francisco Veloso
Dean of INSEAD

Stanford Graduate School of Business  Dean Jon Levin’s Statement

Stanford GSB Dean Jonathan Levin

Dear GSB,

I write with profound sadness over the attack by Hamas and the violence and death in Israel and Gaza, and to express solidarity with each of you whose family and friends are suffering.

My heart goes out to colleagues and classmates whose lives will be personally and irreversibly impacted by the escalating conflict. Let us be united in supporting them and each other in this moment of grief and loss.

I hope and believe that as an academic community, in the coming weeks and months, we can find ways to engage in discussion and thoughtful dialogue about these unfolding events, as befits the members of one of the world’s great institutions of learning. I know many of us will want to hear from scholars and experts who have made the region their life’s work.

I encourage those in need to reach out for help from the school or other university resources, and I encourage everyone to remember our collective responsibility to engage with each other in ways that are grounded in empathy and compassion.

Jon

Wharton Dean Erika James’ Statement

Wharton Dean Erika James

Wharton Dean Erika James

Wharton community – As you likely are aware, on Saturday morning, Israel was attacked by Hamas. Over the next 48 hours, the unsettling assault has led to escalating death tolls, fear, and devastation. The sorrow and concern so many of us are feeling on behalf of those affected is palpable.

Wharton unequivocally condemns the atrocious assault against Israel and declares our solidarity with those suffering in the wake of such violence. It is our hope that all impacted communities can find refuge quickly and safely, for themselves and their loved ones during these troubling times.

Wharton is a diverse, vibrant community more than 100,000 strong, existing within a worldly society of growing, complex interconnectedness. In educating student leaders to be engaged, global citizens, we acknowledge the instability and distress such incidents cause, and stand alongside those in need as the severity of this situation continues to unfold.

The University is working with Penn Global, University Life, and the Office of the University Chaplain to provide support resources for Penn students at home and abroad in Israel. Plans for a number of University-led convenings are in the works with information forthcoming, but we encourage anyone seeking immediate assistance to utilize Penn Wellness or other student and faculty/staff services.

Sincerely,
Erika James

 

Berkeley Haas Acting Dean Jenny Chatman’s Statements

Sent Monday:

Acting Haas Dean Jennifer Chatman

To the Haas community:

I write from the Dean’s Office, where I am serving while Dean Harrison is on sabbatical. I am saddened that my first message to you as acting dean comes as the world reacts to new bloodshed and fear in the Middle East. I am heartbroken by the loss of life and outraged by civilian casualties.

While these events are taking place far from our campus, they impact many in our community who have close ties to this region. For everyone directly affected by these events, our hearts go out to you. If you are in need of support, please make use of the resources available to you through campus. They are listed at the end of this message.

As this conflict escalates to formal war, I invite you all to embrace our Defining Leadership Principles. We must be students always as our fellow humans experience vulnerability and trauma. We must listen to each other, learn from each other, and seek out experts—whether we agree with them or not—who always have something to teach us.

I am humbled to be serving as acting dean through the end of December. I remind you (and myself) to lean into our core values and the Haas community—they are our superpowers.

My very best,
Jenny Chatman, Acting Dean

Sent Wednesday:

Dear Haas Students, Faculty, Staff, and Alumni,

Since the terrorist attack Hamas launched on Israel on Saturday, we have spoken with many of you who have been deeply affected by its horrific consequences. We see that our community is hurting, afraid, and exhausted. Terrorist actions against innocent people are indefensible; they are inconsistent with our fundamental humanity, and we must condemn them. We are all bracing for how the violence will reverberate in the immediate future and over generations to come in Israel, Gaza, and around the world.

As we grieve the loss of life, and as we continue to process the escalating war, we would like to offer a space for our Haas community to come together to understand and support one another.

We invite you to join us online on Thursday, October 12, at 12:30 p.m. PT, for a community dialogue and healing space. (Zoom registration required.) It will be facilitated by Katrina Koski, Director of Inclusion & Belonging, and Emma Hayes Daftary, Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Programs. Professor Omri Even-Tov has kindly agreed to help open the conversation and share his perspective.

Finally, echoing messages from Haas and across campus, we want to direct you to two important messages from University of California Board of Regents Chair Leib and UC President Drake; and Chancellor Christ. As Chancellor Christ wrote, we encourage you to seek out support services if you are impacted.

With care and in community,
Jenny Chatman, Acting Dean

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