Sad news at Penn today. Sheldon Hackney, president of the University from 1981-1993, died at his home in Martha’s Vineyard this week at the age of 79. He was diagnosed with Lou Gherig’s disease. He is remembered by many as presiding over the controversial “Water Buffalo Incident” in which a Jewish student was accused of violating the school’s racial harrassment policy for yelling “Shut up you water buffaloes” to a group of black females. It became pretty clear after a while that the student had basically uttered a poorly translated version of Hebrew slang for noisy people, not a racial insult. But the university, under Hackney, pressed on against him for a while before finally backing down under media pressure.
Hackney, as the DP notes, did other things too.
Born in Alabama, Hackney worked to increase minority presence on campus and focused on undergraduate education, student financial aid and research funding. His focus in particular on undergraduate education resulted in the creation of new dual-degree programs in cognitive science, international area studies and public and urban policy, along with many other areas.
Before Penn, Hackney had high-ranking administrative positions at Tulane and Princeton. [DP]