Penn president resigns in wake of disastrous testimony on campus antisemitism

December 10, 2023

Days after her disastrous testimony before Congress regarding campus antisemitism, Liz Magill resigned her position as president of the University of Pennsylvania on Saturday, as NBC News reports.

Of particular criticism was Magill's unwillingness, under intense questioning from Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), to declare that calls from student groups and others for “the genocide of Jews” -- which have escalated in the wake of the conflict between Israel and Hamas -- constitute harassment in violation of the university's code of conduct.

Magill, much like the presidents of Harvard University and MIT, who also appeared at the hearing, stated merely that statements of that nature could potentially run afoul of campus conduct rules “depending on the context.”

Amid growing pressure from angry donors as well as from internal constituents at the university, Magill decided to step down, a move announced by the school's Board of Trustees, which was then chaired by Scott Bok.

“I write to share that President Liz Magill has voluntarily tendered her resignation as President of the University of Pennsylvania,” Bok wrote, noting that she would “remain a tenured faculty member at Penn Carey Law.”

Not long after he made that announcement, Bok also declared that he would be leaving his role, saying, “I concluded that, for me, now was the right time to depart.”

By way of explanation for what led to the controversy, Bok said in a formal statement that Magill had simply “made a very unfortunate misstep” while testifying before Congress but suggested that her leadership abilities were never in doubt.

Declaring Magill to be “not the slightest bit antisemitic,” Bok argued that she had simply been “worn down by months of relentless external attacks,” and that fact led her to offer “a legalistic answer to a moral question,” resulting in a “dreadful 30-second sound bite.”

Prior to her resignation, Magill herself had attempted to stop the metaphorical bleeding that began after her testimony, posting a video message to X in which she apologized for the answer she gave Stefanik.

“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. It's evil, plain and simple,” she said.”

In the end, however, the mea cupla was not enough, and the pressure to step down became too much for Magill to withstand.

As NBC 10 in Boston noted, speculation has now turned to whether the two other university presidents who had such difficulty denouncing calls for genocide will travel a similar path to Magill and relinquish their posts as well.

Pressure is undoubtedly mounting on Harvard University head Claudine Gay and Sally Kornbluth of MIT, but thus far, they both remain in their positions.

However, now that a bipartisan group of over 70 lawmakers have formally asked for their resignations, and Stefanik herself publicly quipped, “One down. Two to do,” whether the two women can endure the current firestorm and stay in place is something that remains to be seen.