COLLEGE
12/12/2014 12:28 pm ET Updated Dec 12, 2014

UPenn President Criticized For Joining Protesters' 'Die-In'

University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann has upset members of her own university police department over her joining a brief "die-in" demonstration with students.

Gutmann was hosting her annual student Holiday Party at her home on Dec. 9, when about 50 protesters from the Students Organizing for Unity and Student Labor Action Project came in demanding the president pay $6.6 million to the Philadelphia school district, a primarily black district.

"Gutmann attempted to respond to the protesters by using a microphone and they continued to shout her down," wrote Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush in a letter to the campus police force. The students then performed a "die-in," where they lay down to symbolize the death of someone, in this case Michael Brown, and Gutmann joined them:

Eric Rohrback, president of the UPenn police officers' union, called Gutmann's action a "slap in the face to every person that wears this uniform and serves this university."

Rohrback wrote in a guest column to the The Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper:

As president of the Penn Police Association/University of Penn Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #113, I am appalled that the President of this fine University would give in to the pressures of the uninformed mob mentality surrounding the Michael Brown case and participate in a "die-in."

No one condones police brutality. Nevertheless, conveniently glossed over by the protestors and many media accounts are these facts: The grand jury report disputed all eyewitness testimony and fully exonerated the officer.

Our President is fond of calling us "her" officers, and publicly states that she will always support us. To have her participate in such a disrespectful act is not, in any way, "support," and proves that she does not have the backs of "her " officers. It is a slap in the face to every person that wears this uniform and serves this University.

In Rush' letter, published in the DP, she attempted to convey that Gutmann has nothing but respect for the Penn police force, some of whom were in attendance at the holiday party:

I know that some of you are upset with the President’s gesture. I understand why you are upset.
...
I want you to know that President Amy Gutmann has given us her unwavering moral support over her ten year tenure. Today, in the midst of a packed day of meeting, Amy sent me a wonderful email thanking all of our team who assisted her last night at the demonstration. She went on to thank us more generally. I want to share one point with you. Amy wrote:

“ Please convey my deepest appreciation to all of your officers and team, and more generally convey my support for all of their expert and caring protection and policing of our community.”

During the protest, Gutmann responded to the protesters saying, "Black lives matter -- all lives matter."

"Black lives have not been served the way I and others would like them to be served," Gutmann said, according to the DP, before adding to cheers, "Let me say that again: Black lives matter."

CONVERSATIONS