UPenn President Resigns Days After Backlash Over Comments About Antisemitism

Liz Magill, along with other academic leaders, came under fire for comments made at a congressional hearing earlier this week about antisemitism.

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill resigned from her position Saturday, following comments she made about antisemitism earlier this week.

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

Her resignation comes just days after outrage over comments she and other academic leaders made at a congressional hearing focused on holding campus leaders accountable and addressing antisemitism on college campuses went viral.

During the hearing, Magill and other university presidents discussed whether calls for the genocide of Jewish people would violate student conduct codes. This conversation arose from a divide on whether certain pro-Palestine phrases such as “intifada” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is equivalent to calling for the genocide of Jewish people.

When asked whether such chants would qualify as bullying or harassment, the presidents of Harvard University, UPenn and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said that it would depend on the context of the language and whether or not it was targeted.

The college leaders repeatedly condemned antisemitism in their remarks, but outrage was still sparked online.

“The board at Penn has a serious decision they need to make, and that is does the testimony under oath of their president in front of Congress represent the values of the University of Pennsylvania and the views of the board,” Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) said in a press conference on Wednesday, referring to Magill’s testimony as a failure of leadership.

In a statement on Wednesday following the backlash, Magill clarified her comments: “There was a moment during yesterday’s congressional hearing on antisemitism when I was asked if a call for the genocide of Jewish people on our campus would violate our policies.”

She continued, “In that moment, I was focused on our University’s longstanding policies aligned with the U.S. Constitution, which say that speech alone is not punishable. 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.”

The hearing followed weeks after the Department of Justice launched an investigation into the three universities, along with several others, over the rise of antisemitic and Islamaphobic reports since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on Oct. 7.

In recent weeks, UPenn, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have established initiatives to combat antisemitism on their respective campuses.

Magill did not specifically mention the backlash or hearing in her resignation statement, sent in an email to the UPenn community from Scott Bok, who resigned as chair of the board of trustees shortly after Magill’s resignation was announced, the Daily Pennsylvanian reported on Saturday.

The email stated that Magill will remain president of the university until an interim president is appointed, after which she will remain a tenured faculty member of Penn Carey Law.

“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 wrote in his resignation letter obtained by the Daily Pennsylvanian.

“Working with her was one of the great pleasures of my life. Worn down by months of relentless external attacks, she was not herself last Tuesday,” he continued, explaining that Magill made an “unfortunate misstep” during the hearing on Tuesday and that the two of them “concurrently” decided that it was time for her to step down as president.

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