A half-century after they graduated, several St. Joseph’s University alumni returned to campus Friday with signs and a message: They said they and others were willing to withhold possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations because of what they perceive as the school’s move toward the far left.
In a letter delivered to university leaders at an alumni luncheon, the six alumni, spanning the graduating classes of 1968 to 1973, cited “the creeping illness that seems to be taking over the college where we learned important Jesuit values of being men for others.”
They were particularly upset that the university removed Gregory Manco, a visiting assistant math professor and assistant baseball coach, from the classroom after his anonymous posts on social media in February against reparations for slavery and race and bias training. The university ultimately did not renew his contract, even though an investigation found there was insufficient evidence to conclude definitively that bias was shown.
Collectively, the withheld donations of the six alumni are in the six-figure range, said James A. Henwood, 72, a retired Philadelphia city police lieutenant who graduated from St. Joe’s in 1971. Henwood declined to say how much he was withholding, but said he was taking the university out of his estate plan.
“I think it’s taken a leftist turn,” the Philadelphia resident said. “St. Joe’s used to be someplace special. Now, it’s fallen in line with the rest of higher education.”
Henwood was among a group of alumni who protested Friday outside a 50th reunion luncheon on campus for the class of 1971. Henwood and others in the group who were part of the 50th reunion declined their induction into the Golden Hawk Society and said they will continue to withhold donations unless things change.
Out of its 73,000 living alumni, St. Joe’s has been contacted by a handful about the Manco matter, said university spokesperson Gail Benner.
St. Joe’s said the non-renewal of Manco’s contract was not related to the investigation over the social media posts, but based on departmental needs for visiting professors. The school received more than a dozen reports of alleged bias or discriminatory conduct in the classroom from current and former students, she said. Some of the reports had to do with the social media posts, but not all of them, she said. They spanned four years; Manco had worked at the university for 15. Manco, she said, was placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation, which was conducted by an independent third party.
She noted St. Joe’s hosts speakers with a variety of political view points.
“As an institution of higher education, St. Joseph’s will continue to prioritize fostering a safe learning environment and the exchange of ideas is integral to this effort,” she said. “We support the rights of our campus community to express their opinions in a respectful and responsible manner that furthers our commitment to a diverse and inclusive community, strengthened intellectually and socially by the range of knowledge, opinions, beliefs, perspectives, identities, and backgrounds of its members.”
Henwood said alumni were particularly upset that Manco put out the post as a private citizen but seems to have been punished for his beliefs.
“It looks like retribution and it looks like they are sending a message to the rest of the staff and students that if you go against the orthodoxy, you’ll be punished,” he said. “It’s bad optics at the very least.”
The group of alumni said they first wrote to the university in March after reading published reports of the Manco episode. The Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) also criticized St. Joseph’s and called on it to reinstate Manco.
In their letter, the alumni wrote: “There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of alumni who don’t subscribe to the left’s coercive suppression of dissent, and we, as loyal alumni, will register our displeasure in a clear and unambiguous way … .”
Others who signed the letter include Christopher M. Lehman, a retired governmental consultant from Great Falls, Va.; Jerry Daly, an Illinois doctor; and John W. Kowalski, an accountant from Doylestown, all from the class of 1971; Emile J. Henwood, ‘68, a retired businessman from Media, and John J. Kweder, ‘69, a retired stock market investor from California.
Their news release also included objections raised by other alumni.
Paul Beehler, a 1966 graduate who owns Midas of Las Vegas, flew from his home in Nevada to the university in July to inform the gifts office that he no longer planned to leave a gift in the upper six figures upon his death, according to the news release.
John Lehman, former secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan and a 1964 graduate, also wrote a letter of objection, according to the news release. He is Chris Lehman’s brother.
At the protest, Henwood, of Philadelphia, held a sign: “Rehire Manco and fire the wokesters.”
He said he never engaged in a protest as an undergraduate. He’s learning now.
“I’m coming to this very late in life,” he said.