UPenn president resigns amid uproar over inaction against antisemitism

Elizabeth Magill’s resignation comes four days after widely-criticized testimony on Capitol Hill

Liz Magill, president of University of Pennsylvania, testifies before the House Education and Workforce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building on December 5, 2023 ,in Washington, D.C.

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Liz Magill, president of University of Pennsylvania, testifies before the House Education and Workforce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building on December 5, 2023 ,in Washington, D.C.

Facing mounting criticism of inaction against growing antisemitism on campus, University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill resigned on Saturday. Her resignation comes four days after she evaded questioning on Capitol Hill over whether students who called for the genocide of Jews violated the school’s code of conduct.

The news was announced in an email from Scott Bok, the chairman of the board of trustees of the University of Pennsylvania.  Bok, who had been a defender of Magill amid the rising criticism, announced his own resignation in a separate statement later on Saturday.

”I write to share that President Liz Magill has voluntarily tendered her resignation as President of the University of Pennsylvania,” Bok wrote in a statement. The email did not mention antisemitism or this week’s hearing, nor did it offer a reason for her resignation.

Magill will remain as president until an interim leader is chosen. She will also maintain her role as a tenured law professor at the university’s law school.

“It has been my privilege to serve as president of this remarkable institution,” Magill wrote. “It has been an honor to work with our faculty, students, staff, alumni and community members to advance Penn’s vital missions.”

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) said in a statement that Magill’s resignation, “allows the University of Pennsylvania to chart a new course in addressing antisemitism on campus.” Penn’s board and campus leaders, he continued, “must ensure that Penn’s campus is a safe environment, not a hostile environment, for all students to learn without the specter of antisemitism, Islamophobia, or racism of any kind.”

David McCormick, Casey’s GOP challenger in the Pennsylvania Senate race, was one of the first politicians to call for Magill resignation. “Leadership requires moral clarity, and a willingness to call out and act against evil.  It’s the tip of the iceberg — we must overcome the progressive ideology and double standards infecting our institutions of higher learning,” he wrote in a statement on X.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro told Jewish Insider on Wednesday that UPenn’s leadership stood out among Pennsylvania universities for its inability to speak out against antisemitism on its campus. In an interview this week, he praised the leadership of other Pennsylvania universities, including Carnegie Mellon and Penn State, calling Magill “the exception.” 

Magill, who has led the university since July 2022, has come under relentless criticism for her handling of rising antisemitism on the Philadelphia campus.  She has been under fire since giving testimony to a House Education and the Workforce Committee Tuesday, where she struggled to answer whether calling for the genocide of Jews constituted bullying or harassment.

“If it is directed and severe, pervasive, it is harassment,” Magill answered under withering questioning from Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY).

Stefanik then responded: “So the answer is yes.”

“It is a context-dependent decision, congresswoman,” Magill replied, with a smirk.

Stefanik said in an X post on Saturday: “One down. Two to go. This is only the very beginning of addressing the pervasive rot of antisemitism that has destroyed the most ‘prestigious’ higher education institutions in America,” calling Magill’s resignation “the bare minimum of what is required.”

“Over prepared and over-lawyered given the hostile forum and high stakes, she provided a legalistic answer to a moral question, and that was wrong. It made for a dreadful 30-second sound bite in what was more than five hours of testimony,” Bok wrote about Magill’s testimony in a separate statement.

After a Palestinian Writes literature conference in September featured a lineup of antisemitic speakers, she declined to criticize the event or its decision to invite the guests. A month later, Magill acknowledged she should have “moved faster” to condemn antisemitism at the event.

Many of the university’s top alumni and trustees, frustrated by Magill’s lack of leadership against antisemitism, pulled or withheld donations from the Ivy League school. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and Apollo Global Management’s Marc Rowan were among the most prominent backers who cut their giving to the school.

Ross Stevens, the founder and chief executive of Stone Ridge Asset Management, said in a letter Thursday that he had grounds to rescind $100 million in shares donated to Penn.

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