Memo to The President, University of Pennsylvania

published on March 26, 2013

Dr. Amy Gutmann
The President, University of Pennsylvania
[email protected]
 (215) 898-7221

Dr. Thomas Robertson
Dean, The Wharton School
 (215) 898-4715
[email protected]

Dr. Rebecca Bushnell
Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and Professor of English
[email protected], [email protected]
(215) 898-7320
March 23, 2013

Dear President Gutmann:

Subject:  Wharton India Economic Forum Invitation to Sri Narendra Modi to be Keynote Speaker and Summary Disinvitation

“Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.”

Benjamin Franklin, Founder of University of Pennsylvania, 6th President of Pennsylvania, and one of Founding Fathers of the US.

There was a protest demonstration, orderly and peaceful on March 23, on the occasion of Wharton India Economic Forum 2013 meeting.  We the organizers of this rally want to place on record the reason for this unprecedented crescendo of outrage at the action of the University of Pennsylvania and The Wharton School.  We invited you to come and present the viewpoint of the university for this unprecedented action.  Your office wrote to us that you had other commitments that made it impossible for you to attend (understandable).  It can also be a form answer – only you know which it is.  We kept a spot open for you to say a few words without notice, in the extremely unlikely event that you decided to drop by.

We are saddened and outraged to see this great university being bullied by a mere three English and Social Work activist professors of Indic origin.  They are well known for slanted agendas and blatant prejudices, and they have made mendacious statements.  The sad part is none of them are from the Wharton School – not a single professor from the Wharton School signed the statement asking for retraction of the invitation to Sri Narendra Modi.

The principal issues here are freedom of speech and right to dissent.  Sadly, both of these have been brutally trampled on at UPenn by this action.  The shrill voices of a vociferous, known left wing minority of faculty from your English department shedding crocodile tears about human rights in India, happily went about brutalizing the right to free speech and right to dissent of so many others.  There was no calm debate as befits a great academic institution which UPenn prates itself to be.  Everything was done in a pronounced lynch mob manner of the Civil War era.  On top of this we read with utter disgust and revulsion the crowing of these three professors in The Daily Pennsylvanian that they had done this within the space of two days or so.

This action disgraces the name of William Penn and the founding principles of the Quaker State.  It disgraces the name of the University of Pennsylvania as one of the great universities of our nation where freedom of thought and expression is prized.  Sadly, it also brings disrepute and calls into question your personal good name, once widely admired for the principles of freedom of thought, liberality of expression and inclusiveness in orientation.

Second, this exceptionally undemocratic, totalitarian action of issuing a formal invitation to be keynote speaker and then summarily withdrawing it with no debate, seriously calls into question the professionalism and administrative competence of your university administration.  Should UPenn be treated with the same degree of respect, deference, seriousness as the other universities of the Ivy League?  Would you, if the tables were turned?  We keenly note the marked contrast between your actions in relation to Narendra Modi and that of President Bollinger at Columbia University with respect to allowing Ahmadinejad to speak.  UPenn and your administration has suffered a huge decline in respect and right to be treated seriously by this action.

Your vice president of communications in his note to us emphasized that the event was run by students and that you officially had nothing to do with it and hence it was not a First Amendment, freedom of speech issue.  Amongst the supporters and advisors of our protest rally are senior professors from diverse faculties at UPenn, senior executives who are Wharton alumni, and other CEOs with track records in the US economy.  We well understand these fine points of law behind which the UPenn administration would now like to hide.  Your vice president’s pious handwashing a la Pontius Pilate insults our intelligence and yours as well, if he thinks we do not understand these differences.  It is condescending and it is offensive.  For one thing, the student association uses the Wharton name.  Would they get the kind of entrée that they have without the Wharton name???


President Gutmann we are not children and nor are you jejune.  There is the letter of the law and the spirit of its application.  There are ways to handle such things in an equitable manner.  We would not similarly insult your intelligence about not knowing that or how.

As one of your own named chairs in the school of arts and sciences has written to you so cuttingly yet so correctly and eloquently on this matter:

The real questions are Speech or imposed silence?  Debate or selective censorship? The right of Penn students to hear whom they choose, or the coercive authority of others to deny them that right? If a professor invites a student on a date, everyone cries, “Power imbalance!” What is it when professors demand that students rescind an invitation?

Dr. Alan Charles Kors
Henry Charles Lea Professor of History

Would your English and Social Work departments stand up and be counted in answer to this acid observation from one of your most distinguished SAS professors?

Last but not least, by this politically motivated railroading masquerading as high principle your three SAS professors have interjected your administration into the political process in India.  We find this inexcusable and absolutely intolerable.  What would your response be, Dr. Guttman, if a rising India with long memories does the same thing to the US in 40 years time?  The 21st century is the century of China and India with the US to be a distant third over the next 30 years.  The United States, both academia and government, has a long history of meddling in the politics of other countries all over the world in the name of high principle – whether it is Salvator Allende in Chile in 1973, or Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran in 1953.  Sadly UPenn is perpetuating this syndrome.

Of course, the US has been the shining city on the hill top for so many of us émigrés and that for decades.  That is why we all came here in the first instance and we are now proud to call ourselves US citizens.  Sadly, the golden shine accumulates a lot of tarnish by the type of recent action at UPenn.  The very fact that we are able to rise up and challenge you is a tribute to what the US was and is becoming rapidly not so.

Coming now to The Wharton School’s role, rather lack of it, in this whole sorry episode.  Dean Robertson, you are the holder of the Reliance Chair in Marketing.  I am assuming that it is Reliance Industries from India, which has endowed this chair, and I believe Anil Ambani is an Overseer of The Wharton School.  You are noted rightly for having almost doubled the endowment at Emory where you were also dean.  Business school is always considered rather dirt under the fingernails in the Ivy League.  However, it brings in a good chunk of the money, which pays for the English and Social Work, and other such laudable educational loss leaders.  They always seem to make the most purposeless noise but seek to be kept on pedestals.  We are speaking to you not on matters of high principle here but of the golden rule – the man with the gold maketh the rule.  Much protestation to the contrary notwithstanding, President Gutmann knows this well.  Again, I will not insult the intelligence of such distinguished senior professors, and eminent academics with worldly experience, so please do not bother to deny this.

You might want to reflect on whether your craven lack of action in this wretched fiasco has helped or hindered your fund raising plans for Wharton directly and UPenn indirectly, from India or world multinationals where people of Indic origin are CEOs – the list grows longer by the day.  They have long memories.  To a person from Ratan Tata through Indra Nooyi, these CEOs admire Narendra Modi and have given him their imprimatur.  So have a galaxy of non Indic Fortune 100 CEOs.  Both the Ambani brothers are totally beholden to Sri Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat and most likely the next Prime Minister of India.  The main reason why all of Europe and even our own State Department is having kittens and doing backflips over having treated him like a pariah.  Already some of the major Wharton corporate donors have pulled out.  Let us assure you Dean Robertson there will be more and we will make sure of this.

Ye will note that in all this peroration we have not said one word about Sri Narendra Modi’s so-called sins of omission and commission in relation to human rights violations in Gujarat State.  This is deliberate.  We are arguing this matter on the ground of free speech and right to dissent as a matter of principle – not on the worthiness or otherwise of Sri Narendra Modi.  There are plenty of other grounds as well.

Ye are all eminent academicians, named chairs, of great intellect and wide reading.  How do they say it in this country, “You don’t teach grandmother to suck eggs”?  Ye are trained to be objective and assess things correctly and rapidly – all the more astonishing that ye allowed this situation to get so out of hand.

Narendra Modi has been exonerated by the very activist Supreme Court of India on all the baseless charges by a few people with an axe to grind.  Your three professors of Indic origin whose mendacity and “never let the facts get in the way of our opinions” attitude are a prime example of such people. Incidentally, the Supreme Court of India (along with those of Canada, New Zealand and South Africa) are amongst the most respected in the world today.  Their judgments are widely read, respected and cited – long article in The New York Times.  For decades the Supreme Court of the US held this position – no more.

Sri Narendra Modi has been three times democratically elected as Chief Minister of Gujarat State.  Are 60 million Gujaratis all wild eyed parochial communalists?  He will very likely be Prime Minister of India in 2014, elected by 1.2 billion Indians.
The former dean of the most prestigious Islamic madrassah (seminary) in India has unequivocally said that Muslims have fared better in Gujarat under the Narendra Modi administration than in any other state in India.  He has no objection if Sri Modi is elected Prime Minister.  Did the three UPenn professors piously grandstanding about human rights, ever mention this when they were pressurizing the students to withdraw the invitation to Sri Narendra Modi?

In this rally on March 23, there were some of us who are passionate supporters of Narendra Modi and his inclusive, incorruptible, no nonsense, efficiency.  Many others are neutral.  All of us however are outraged and deeply offended at the mendacity and railroading tactics of your three English and Social Work professors and their cohorts.  Their egregious pressuring of students and their lynch mob tactics – I am referring to articles in The Daily Pennsylvanian – have boomeranged.  Many who find this abhorrent have joined this rally, who in the normal course never get involved in such activism.

We sorrowfully perceive that ye prate much that UPenn always moves by high principle on free speech and right of dissent, but this is not much evident in practice.  President Gutmann, the actions of your administration (whether of commission through action or omission through inaction, either way) speak louder than words.  They show that high principle is merely a pious aspiration.  It seems to go by the board to exigencies of circumstance and the degree of pressure and by who applies it.

UPenn and Wharton have covered themselves in ignominy in this fiasco.  It will take a very long time for ye to live this down, if ever.  We can assure you this will have a major negative impact on any future educational or other initiative or funding campaigns from India that UPenn or Wharton contemplate in India, for the forseeable future.  This is independent of which party wins the next national elections.  A normally docile but now utterly disgusted and enraged, extremely influential and articulate NRI community led by a galaxy of eminently credentialed intellectuals of standing will see to that.  We can assure you that the signatories to this memorandum are only a very small sample.  We have an outpouring of support from senior professors across the Ivy League and other equivalent first rank universities asking what they can do to help express our angst.

In closing, we understand everyone makes mistakes.  President Gutmann, you know a simple yes we made a mistake, we handled this poorly, and we will try to do better next time would have left UPenn with at least some credibility, standing and dignity, leading to productive dialogue.  Where did some of us learn that?  At the Annenberg School of Mass Communications at UPenn decades ago.  Your administration might want to talk to those professors.

A very good day to ye all.

Nagendra S. Rao
Wharton Alumnus
President, StratPlan Asso
Formerly Asia Pacific Mentor, e-Bus Global Strat Svcs, IBM Off of the Chairman
Dr. Jagan N. Kaul
Chairman, Diversity-USA
Rtd. Professor of Int’l Law & UN-UNEP Adviser
Roseburg, Oregon

Dr. Gautam Sen
Former Dir, London School of Econ & Political Science
President, World Association of Hindu Academicians

Dr. Narayanan Komerath
Senior Prof, Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engg
Georgia Inst of Tech, Atlanta

Dr. Dinesh Agrawal
Prof. of Engineering & Mechanics
Pennsylvania State Univ

Aditi Banerjee, JD
Yale Law, 2005
Vice Pres & Corp Counsel, Prudential Financial Group
Co-author, Invading The Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America

Dr. Rabinder K. Koul
Theoretical Physics, Syracuse University
Director & Head of US Markets Trading Credit Risk, Royal Bank of Canada

Dr. L.L. Jayaraman
Wharton, Operations Res
Retired Prof of Management
Montclair State Univ, NJ

Dr. Keshava P. Halemane
Dean & Senior Professor, Dept of Math & Comp Science
Natl Inst of Tech, Karnataka (NITK), India
Formerly Bell Labs Scientist
Dr. Svatantra K. Pidara, UPenn Alumnus, President, Bhavani Charitable Trust

Dr. Uma Jayaraman
Assistant Director, Curriculum Planning, School District of Philadelphia

Dr. Vidyasankar Sundaresan, PhD CalTech
Lead Technologist
GE Water, Prevost, PA

Dr. Vidyashankar Buravalla
Senior Research Scientist, Product Development, GE Tech Center, Bangalore, India

Dr. B.V.K. Sastry
Professor of Sanskrit, Hindu Univ of America, Florida

Narain Kataria
Indian American Intellectuals Forum (IAIF)
Prasad Yelamanchi
Global Hindu Heritage Foundation (GHHF)

Alka Tyle
Founder & Chair, STEM-204

Jagdish Sewhani
President, The American India Public Affairs Committee (AIPACom)

Ramachandra V. Kamath
CEO, VSoft Infoware, NJ

Yagnesh Choksi, PE
Pres, Republican Indian Committee, PA
School Board Dir, Bensalem

Arish Sahani
Vice President
Indian American Intellectuals Forum (IAIF)

Arvind Kumar
Writer & Libertarian Activist

Satya Dosapati
Community Activist, NJ
Bhavesh Dave
NAJC Chamber of Commerce

Devendra Patel
Indo-American Senior Citizens of Bucks County, PA

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