University of Pennsylvania president resigns amid outrage over response to antisemitism

WASHINGTON – University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill has resigned amid an uproar over her recent congressional testimony that raised questions from the White House, donors and alumni about how the elite school handles antisemitism on campus.

In a campus email Saturday afternoon, Scott Bok, chair of Penn’s board of trustees, announced Magill, Penn’s ninth president, voluntarily submitted her resignation. Magill will stay on as president until an interim president is appointed, and she will remain a tenured faculty member at Penn Carey Law, Bok wrote.

Bok also resigned his position as chair, he confirmed to USA TODAY on Saturday.

"While I was asked to remain in that role for the remainder of my term in order to help with the presidential transition, I concluded that, for me, now was the right time to depart," he wrote in an email.

In a statement shared by Bok, Magill said, “It has been my privilege to serve as President of this remarkable institution. It has been an honor to work with our faculty, students, staff, alumni, and community members to advance Penn’s vital missions.”

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University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill's testimony before a congressional panel sparked calls for her resignation. Critics said her vague response to lawmakers' questions raised doubts about how the college is dealing with antisemitism on campus.
University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill's testimony before a congressional panel sparked calls for her resignation. Critics said her vague response to lawmakers' questions raised doubts about how the college is dealing with antisemitism on campus.

Magill and the presidents of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have all faced a fierce backlash over their testimony on Tuesday before the Republican-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which is examining the rise of antisemitism as campuses have become hotbeds for protests, anti-Jewish graffiti and harassment of students.

The furor directed at the three college leaders was triggered partly by their response to questions about whether calling for the genocide of Jews violates their schools’ code of conduct against bullying and harassment which has touched off a firestorm.

Magill and the other two presidents – Harvard’s Claudine Gay and MIT’s Sally Kornbluth – gave carefully worded responses that danced around the question despite repeated attempts by Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., to get them to answer.

“If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment. Yes,” Magill said.

Stefanik, who asked Magill, Gay and Kornbluth some of the most pointed questions at Tuesday's congressional hearing and has opened her own investigation of their respective institutions, posted "One down. Two to go," on X.

"This is only the very beginning of addressing the pervasive rot of antisemitism that has destroyed the most 'prestigious' higher education institutions in America. This forced resignation of the President of @Penn  is the bare minimum of what is required," wrote Stefanik, a graduate of Harvard.

Virginia Foxx, chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, also took a victory lap: "I welcome her departure from UPenn," she said in an emailed statement.

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Critics argued the vague response suggested the university would not adequately stand up to antisemitism. Even the White House weighed in, with President Joe Biden’s press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, saying calls for genocide are “counter to everything this country stands for.”

But Bok, the now-former chair of the board, said in his resignation statement Saturday that Magill's prestigious career was unfairly reduced to a sound bite. In fact, she is "not the slightest bit antisemitic," he said.

"Worn down by months of relentless external attacks, she was not herself last Tuesday," Bok wrote. "Over prepared and over lawyered given the hostile forum and high stakes, she provided a legalistic answer to a moral question, and that made for a dreadful 30-second sound bite in what was more than five hours of testimony."

Two days after the hearing, the House panel announced it would investigate the policies and disciplinary procedures at Penn, Harvard and MIT.

Magill walked back some of her comments, saying a call for the genocide of Jewish people would be considered harassment or intimidation. She also called for a review of Penn’s policies, saying they have long been guided by the U.S. Constitution but need to be “clarified and evaluated.”

But pressure for her to resign ramped up after a major donor, Ross Stevens, a Penn alum and chief executive officer of Stone Ridge Holdings, threatened to withdraw a gift valued at $100 million to the university unless Magill was replaced.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, also called Magill’s testimony “unacceptable” and urged trustees there to consider Magill’s job. He later joined Jewish students at Penn to mark the start of Hanukkah with a menorah lighting on campus.

Harvard’s Gay apologized for her testimony, telling The Crimson newspaper that she got caught up in a combative exchange about policies and procedures and failed to properly denounce threats of violence against Jewish students.

“What I should have had the presence of mind to do in that moment was return to my guiding truth, which is that calls for violence against our Jewish community — threats to our Jewish students — have no place at Harvard, and will never go unchallenged,” Gay said.

Magill became UPenn's ninth president in 2022, after working to improve the depth and impact of research at the University of Virginia, where she also helped diversify its deans, and Stanford, where she was dean of the school of law.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: University of Penn president resigns over response to antisemitism