The University of Pennsylvania’s president has resigned amid pressure from donors and criticism over testimony at a congressional hearing where she was unable to say under repeated questioning that calls on campus for the genocide of Jews would violate the school’s conduct policy.
The departure of Liz Magill, in her second year as president of the Ivy League school, was announced late Saturday afternoon by the president of the school’s board of trustees, Scott Bok. The statement said Magill “voluntarily tendered her resignation” and will remain a tenured faculty member at the university’s Carey Law School. She has agreed to keep serving as Penn’s leader until the university names an interim president.
“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,” Magill said in the statement.
Shortly after the statement was issued, Bok announced that he too was stepping down, effective immediately, while defending Magill and suggesting the school was not sufficiently supportive of her.
“The world should know that Liz Magill is a very good person and a talented leader who was beloved by her team. She is not the slightest bit antisemitic,” Bok said in a separate statement published by the school paper. “Worn down by months of relentless external attacks, she was not herself last Tuesday. 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.”
He continued: “I believe that in the fullness of time people will come to view the story of her presidency at Penn very differently than they do today. I hope that some fine university will in due course be wise enough to give her a second chance, in a more supportive community, to lead. I equally hope that, after a well deserved break, she wants that role.”
Board vice chair Julie Platt will replace Bok temporarily, the executive committee announced Saturday night.
Platt is the chair of the Board of Trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America.
Calls for Magill’s resignation exploded after Tuesday’s testimony in a US House committee on antisemitism on college campuses, where she appeared with the presidents of Harvard University and MIT.
Universities across the US have been accused of failing to protect Jewish students amid rising fears of antisemitism worldwide since deadly the October 7 onslaught on Israel by Hamas terrorists and the ensuing war in Gaza.
The three presidents were called before the committee to answer those accusations. But their lawyerly answers drew renewed blowback from opponents, focused particularly on a line of questioning from Republican Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, who repeatedly asked whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” would violate Penn’s code of conduct.
“If the speech turns into conduct it can be harassment, yes,” Magill said. Pressed further, Magill told Stefanik, “It is a context-dependent decision, congresswoman.”
Criticism rained down from the White House, Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro, members of Congress and donors. One donor, Ross Stevens, threatened to withdraw a $100 million gift because of the university’s “stance on antisemitism on campus” unless Magill was replaced.
A day later, 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, claiming they have long been guided by the US Constitution but need to be “clarified and evaluated.”
In a statement Saturday, Stefanik said Magill’s “forced resignation” is the “bare minimum of what is required” and said Harvard and MIT should follow suit.
“This is only the very beginning of addressing the pervasive rot of antisemitism that has destroyed the most ‘prestigious’ higher education institutions in America,” Stefanik said.
US Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat up for reelection in 2024, said Magill’s resignation allows Penn to “chart a new course in addressing antisemitism on campus.”
Even before Tuesday’s hearing, Magill had been under fire from some donors and alumni this fall. Some also had called for the resignation of Bok, who had defended Magill amid criticism over the university’s handling of various perceived acts of antisemitism.
That included allowing a Palestinian literary arts festival to be held on its campus in September featuring speakers whose past statements about Israel had drawn accusations of antisemitism.
A former US Supreme Court law clerk, Magill, 57, is the daughter of a retired federal judge and was dean of Stanford University’s law school and a top administrator at the University of Virginia before Penn hired her as its ninth president last year.
Bok is chairman and CEO of investment bank Greenhill & Co.
Earlier Saturday, New York’s governor called on the state’s colleges and universities to swiftly address cases of antisemitism and what she described as any “calls for genocide” on campus.
In a letter to college and university presidents, Governor Kathy Hochul said her administration would enforce violations of the state’s Human Rights Law and refer any violations of federal civil rights law to US officials.
Hochul said she has spoken to chancellors of the State University of New York and City University of New York public college systems who she said confirmed “that calling for genocide of any group” or tolerating antisemitism violates codes of conduct on their campuses “and would lead to swift disciplinary action.”
The governor’s letter doesn’t address any specific incidents. Her office didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.