Sometimes, apologizing just doesn’t seem to be enough.
A vocal group of alumni and academics continues to voice outrage at Penn President Amy Gutmann for posing in a picture with a student dressed as a suicide bomber.
And although the frenzy is dying down after a week of controversy about Engineering senior Saad Saadi’s infamous Halloween costume, some critics think Gutmann still hasn’t done all she needs to do.
Since the photograph surfaced on the Internet last week, Gutmann has issued two separate public statements addressing the matter. She is refusing to comment further.
But these critics have a range of instructions for Gutmann on how to handle the costume controversy.
Various proposals call for Gutmann to institute courses on the history and contemporary issues of suicide bombers, publicly take a harder stance on terrorism or impose a dress code for next year’s Halloween party.
“I am glad to learn that President Gutmann was offended by a student’s choice of costume … but … she did not do what should have been done,” 1967 Penn alumnus Philip Zwick said.
Zwick suggested that Saadi – who is a Daily Pennsylvanian photographer – be suspended for a semester.
“I’d like to see some repercussions for this student,” he said.
And even some with no connection to Penn at all are speaking out.
“It is [Gutmann’s] responsibility … to show that free speech can be offensive and damaging” Michigan doctor Isaac Barr said in an interview.
Barr, who is unaffiliated with the University, wrote a letter to The Daily Pennsylvanian expressing his opinion about Gutmann’s response.
“Penn should be teaching … what free speech is,” said Barr, adding that Gutmann should “tell the people that want free speech that they cannot offend other people while doing so.”
Barr is not the only one to say that teaching relevant lessons would be a suitable reaction.
Laura Gutman, a Duke professor emerita who also wrote a letter to the DP, said in an interview that Penn should bring in Middle East experts to teach about terrorism and its political history.
Beyond a revamped course catalogue, she – and others – are condemning President Gutmann’s approach to the issue in general, specifically her statements that Saadi “had the right to wear the costume” and that she personally was offended by it.
“The fact that [Gutmann] brings this up as a legal issue indicates that there’s no thought given whatsoever to the issue of maintaining standards of behavior which will lead to an ethical and peaceable society,” Laura Gutman said. “I view this as dumbing down the egregious nature of these acts.”
And several academic groups are echoing these sentiments.
“There’s no real statement of [Gutmann’s] understanding the impact of the message that was sent out” by Saadi’s costume, said Edward Beck, president of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, a pro-Israel group that focuses on current events in the Middle East.
“This was an official function in her house on University property, [and Gutmann] either acted independently incompetent or was surrounded by some incompetency,” he said.
Others are less concerned with Gutmann’s administrative actions and are more focused on Saadi – and what they see as the implications of his actions.
Gutmann’s “rebuke of [Saadi’s] wearing that costume should be stronger than her saying she’s offended,” said Barry Morrison, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that monitors international anti-Semitism.
“This subject can only be dealt with in a serious vein,” Morrison added, urging the University to educate Saadi about terrorism and further investigate why he thought the costume was funny.
In the meantime, many remain content with Gutmann’s responses thus far and say that further action is unnecessary.
“There is no other thing for [Gutmann] to do,” said Penn alumnus Philip Darivoff. “Because of her strong credentials in the area, she does not have to establish herself as a defender of democracy or a supporter of Israel.”