University of Pennsylvania president steps down amid criticism of antisemitism testimony

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill resigned from her post Saturday after facing intense criticism from the White House, lawmakers and alumni for appearing to dodge a question at a congressional hearing on campus antisemitism.

“I write to share that President Liz Magill has voluntarily tendered her resignation as President of the University of Pennsylvania,” Scott L. Bok, the chair of the Penn Board of Trustees, wrote in a message to the Penn community Saturday. “She will remain a tenured faculty member at Penn Carey Law.”

Shortly after Bok announced Magill’s resignation, he announced he would also step down from his position, according to a statement published by the Daily Pennsylvanian student newspaper. “I concluded that, for me, now was the right time to depart,” Bok said in the statement.

A university spokesman confirmed Bok’s resignation.

In a five-hour House hearing Tuesday, Magill and her counterparts at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were grilled over how their institutions responded to the rise in anti-Jewish hate since Oct. 7.

In their testimonies, the three university leaders each condemned antisemitism. The outcry centered on a contentious exchange with Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who asked whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” would violate each school’s code of conduct.

Instead of directly replying to Stefanik’s yes-or-no question, Magill said that decision would be “context-dependent.”

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

Bok said in his statement that Magill “made a very unfortunate misstep” in her testimony but praised her leadership skills and insisted she was “not the slightest bit antisemitic.” He went on to say that Magill was “worn down by months of relentless external attacks” and “provided a legalistic answer to a moral question,” making for a “dreadful 30-second sound bite.”

Harvard President Claudine Gay responded to Stefanik’s line of questioning in similar terms. She testified that when “speech crosses into conduct, that violates our policies.”

MIT President Sally Kornbluth said she had not heard of students on her campus calling for the genocide of Jews, adding that such rhetoric would be “investigated as harassment if pervasive and severe.”

In a two-minute video message posted Wednesday night on the social media platform X, Magill elaborated on her answer and condemned calls for the genocide of Jewish people in more unequivocal terms.

“I was not focused on, but I should have been, the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate,” she said in the video.

“It’s evil, plain and simple,” Magill added.

Gay has apologized for her remarks. In an interview with the Harvard Crimson student newspaper, she said in part: “I got caught up in what had become at that point, an extended, combative exchange about policies and procedures.”

“I failed to convey what is my truth,” she added.

Following Bok’s resignation, the board’s vice chair, Julie Platt, was named interim chair. She will serve until a successor is appointed, the university said.

In a written statement, Platt, who also serves as the chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, said Penn’s change in leadership was “necessary.”

“As Vice Chair of the university’s board these past several months, I have worked hard from the inside to address the rising issues of antisemitism on campus. Unfortunately, we have not made all the progress that we should have and intend to accomplish,” she said.

“In my view, given the opportunity to choose between right and wrong, the three university presidents testifying in the United States House of Representatives failed,” she added. “The leadership change at the university was therefore necessary and appropriate.”

The national outcry

The university presidents’ exchanges with Stefanik went viral on social media and drew furious criticism from political leaders in both parties, as well as Jewish community advocates, alumni and donors.

In a statement Wednesday, White House spokesman Andrew Bates said: “It’s unbelievable that this needs to be said: Calls for genocide are monstrous and antithetical to everything we represent as a country.”

“Any statements that advocate for the systematic murder of Jews are dangerous and revolting — and we should all stand firmly against them, on the side of human dignity and the most basic values that unite us as Americans,” he added.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro told reporters Wednesday that Magill’s response was “unacceptable.”

“I’ve said many times, leaders have a responsibility to speak and act with moral clarity, and Liz Magill failed to meet that simple test,” Shapiro, a Democrat, said. “I think whether you’re talking about genocide against Jews, genocide against people of color, genocide against LGBTQ folks, it’s all in the wrong.”

The governor added that he believed the university’s board needed to make a “serious decision” about Magill’s leadership at the Ivy League university.

Ross Stevens, a Penn alumnus and the CEO of the financial firm Stone Ridge Holdings, sent a letter to the university Thursday threatening to pull $100 million worth of shares in his company that are held by the university unless Magill vacates her post.

In the letter, which was obtained by NBC News, Stevens cited Magill’s congressional testimony and said he is “appalled by the University’s stance on antisemitism on campus.”

Magill’s high-profile critics included the billionaire investor Bill Ackman, who repeatedly called for her ouster on X. “Now the focus turns to Presidents Gay and Kornbluth and the boards of @Harvard and @MIT,” he tweeted Saturday in the wake of Magill’s exit.

Stefanik announced Thursday that the House’s Education and Workforce Committee was launching a congressional investigation with “the full force of subpoena power” into Penn, MIT, Harvard and other unspecified universities.

“We will use our full Congressional authority to hold these schools accountable for their failure on the global stage,” Stefanik said in a statement.


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