Eyal Yakoby
Student at UPenn

Preserving University Brands

The Love Sign at UPenn. (courtesy)

While the distinction between a bag crafted from nylon and one fashioned from leather is readily discernible, the outcome of a university graduate’s journey often appears more subtle. It prompts us to question whether their education aligns with the institution’s articulated objectives or if it has eroded into a realm of misnomers and hate.

The University of Pennsylvania was headlined for pioneering the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, but now is described as a hotbed for anti-Semitism

Zara made an oversight on a pajama set that looked like what Jews were forced to wear during Nazi Germany, sparking international outrage. Similarly, universities putting out a product, such as a UPenn junior calling the October 7th massacre “glorious,” needs the same, if not more, outrage. 

Zara apologized for this tone-deaf product and this year they are expected to make over $50 billion. This is not the first time Zara has made a product that sparked controversy either. In fact, Zara has had 12 different controversies since 2006. 

The reason Zara has been able to rebound after controversies is through taking accountability for their mistakes and apologizing. While Zara, especially after countless, tone-deaf products should not be the paragon, their ability to take accountability, as well as create a product of value, are the reasons they continue to achieve record revenue year after year. 

What is happening at universities is not only a lack of accountability but the creation of products that major companies no longer trust. 

As a soon-to-graduate senior at the University of Pennsylvania, my peers and I are committed to upholding the university’s moral integrity and addressing concerns related to anti-Semitism to ensure our alma mater remains a source of pride.

Russell Rickford, a professor at Cornell University, found the October 7th massacre “exhilarating” in a speech given on Cornell’s campus. 

Cornell’s administration immediately condemned Rickford for his comments, placing him on leave. This public statement condemning Rickford is the exact response that a university not blinded by moral ambivalence should make. Cornell is protecting their brand, separating itself from Rickford. The Cornell president stated that Rickford, along with any other member of the community who supports Hamas “do not speak for Cornell; in fact, they speak in direct opposition to all we stand for at Cornell.”

If only other universities had the same moral integrity as the Cornell administration does. 

Columbia University, conversely, is aiding the destruction of its brand through its lack of separating itself from those within the Columbia community who stand with Hamas but instead appeasing those who do. 

While Columbia has yet to publicly condemn an Israeli student being beaten outside of its library, they are capable of commending the “perseverance” of students who have been accused of anti-Semitism for blaming the victims of the October 7th massacre for their murder.

While Columbia students are saying that they feel unsafe and are avoiding campus, the Columbia administration resorts to a task force to aid those who are creating such a hostile environment. 

By doing this, Columbia is hurting their brand, by entertaining those who are harassing their fellow peers. 

Harvard University too, through its inaction, is degrading its esteemed brand. Bill Ackman, billionaire hedge fund manager, along with major brands including Accenture and Adidas, “blacklisted” students who released a statement saying Israel was “entirely responsible” for the October 7th attack.

Harvard’s brand is significantly impacted when its product, students, espouse hateful rhetoric that directly goes against Harvard’s mission statement, “to advance new ideas and promote enduring knowledge.”

Universities, especially ones like Columbia and Harvard, have an exceptional brand that they are hurting through trying to play both sides. Universities must protect their brand and not have a foot in both camps. 

It does not seem too difficult. The arms of the University of Pennsylvania are “Laws without morals are useless.” This saying emphasizes not the law but morals. This is Penn’s brand. 

Yet, when googling “University of Pennsylvania” the articles that pop up are not those that look at Penn’s exemplary morals, the headlines read “Penn controversy raises moral questions.” Thus hurting Penn’s moral branding. 

Therefore, when threats of violence against the Hillel at Penn, the administration should recognize that this impacts their brand. Not to mention, student safety. The community was not even notified until eight hours after the threats were made; I, along with hundreds of other students were in and out of Hillel unknowing of a potential threat.

Everyone makes mistakes, companies such as Zara have made several, and it is how an organization or institution responds to such mistakes that matters. Catch-up is no way to address a systemic issue, there needs to be a clear stance and universities need to separate themselves from those within the community who contravene universities’ principles.

Alumni who once wore their school pride on their sleeves, now say they are ashamed to have attended. I am the biggest advocate of the University of Pennsylvania, the institution, the values, and the mission of the institution. I am terrified by how far members of the community have strayed away from the University and hurt its brand.

Universities need to realize that they have coveted brands that should not be tarnished as a result of moral ambiguity. As Natan Sharansky said “The primary challenge is finding the strength to confront evil. In the latter, the primary challenge is finding the moral clarity to see evil.”

About the Author
Eyal Yakoby is a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying political science and modern Middle East studies.
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