The president of an Ivy League school found herself in hot water yesterday after a snapshot surfaced showing her posing gleefully with a student masquerading as a suicide bomber.
The University of Pennsylvania's Amy Gutmann said in a lengthy statement that she noticed the toy machine gun held by engineering student Saad Saadi - and not the red phony dynamite strapped to his body - only when she mugged for the camera by his side.
She characterized the controversial photo as one taken on whim amid the commotion of an annual Halloween bash that drew more than 700 students in costume to her campus home. Gutmann dressed as Glinda the Good Witch from "The Wizard of Oz."
"They all crowd around to have their picture taken with me in costume," Gutmann said. "This year, one student who had a toy gun in his hand had his picture taken with me before it was obvious to me that he was dressed as a suicide bomber."
She later added, "The costume is clearly offensive and I was offended by it. As soon as I realized what his costume was, I refused to take any more pictures with him, as he requested."
Gutmann was not the only university official to pose with Saadi. The university's chaplain, William Gipson, was also photographed with him.
Saadi did not return a message left for him at the campus lab where he works. But he told the student-run newspaper that Gutmann got a kick out of his getup, which included camouflage pants and a keffiyeh headband - a symbol of Palestinian nationalism.
"How did they let you through security?" the university president jokingly told him at her party, Saadi told The Daily Pennsylvanian.
Saadi posted his photo with Gutmann on his Facebook.com profile in an album that included pictures of him and another friend masquerading as a "freedom fighter" preparing to execute victims as the other recites verses from the Koran.
A posting on Saadi's profile yesterday apologized for the costumes, saying they were meant to "portray scary characters much like many other costumes on Halloween."
"We wish to make it clear that we do not support terrorism, violence or anything that is against society," the posting said. "There is no agenda or statement associated with our behavior shown in these pictures."
The photos showed up on watchdog Web sites democracy-project.com [Ed: and Campus Watch] and ivygateblog.com, drawing the attention of the campus media as well as irate alumni, students and parents of prospective students.
"How much more offensive can you get before someone in the administration will disown glorifying homicide bombers?" one person identified as "Philly Alum" wrote on The Daily Pennsylvanian blog, which received scores of responses to the story.
Some called for Gutmann's resignation.
One post said, "What a despicable picture! Gutmann should apologize, and the trustees should start looking for a new president."
Someone claiming to be the father of a prospective student wrote the newspaper that "the University of Pennsylvania is now off the list. The leadership's lack of moral clarity . . . is telling."
But for all the outrage, there was also indifference.
"Over a Halloween costume? Are you kidding me? Is there nothing more important going on at Penn?" wrote one person.
Another wrote simply: "Mountain. Molehill."
The university's Hillel organization released a statement saying student leaders met with an aide to Gutmann and the chaplain and that the group is "satisfied" that the officials understand why the pictures were offensive to many on campus.