newsSchools & Higher Education

Embattled Penn president resigns, board chair follows ‘minutes’ later

Liz Magill had testified before a House committee that it wouldn't necessarily violate the Ivy League school's policies to call for genocide against all Jews.

Liz Magill, president of University of Pennsylvania, testifies before a House committee on antisemitism on campus on Dec. 5, 2023. Source: C-SPAN.
Liz Magill, president of University of Pennsylvania, testifies before a House committee on antisemitism on campus on Dec. 5, 2023. Source: C-SPAN.

The homepage of the University of Pennsylvania website on Saturday all but flew the Ivy League university’s coat of arms upside down.

A dull-blue banner atop the page declared “Supporting our community in times of crisis” and linked to another page quoting Penn president Liz Magill: “We are all members of the Penn community, and we all deserve to be heard and respected. But hateful speech has no place at Penn.”

That page also included university messages, a fact sheet, frequently asked questions (FAQs) about free speech, community resources and a large red box containing “Penn’s action plan to combat antisemitism.”

Beneath the banner on the university homepage, a news section contained “a message to the Penn community” dated Dec. 9 announcing, from Penn board of trustees chair Scott Bok, that Magill “has voluntarily tendered her resignation as president of the University of Pennsylvania,” where she will remain as a tenured law professor.

Beside that message on the Penn homepage, a “message from Penn’s board of trustees executive committee,” also dated Dec. 9, announced that Julie Platt, who was previously vice chair of the Penn board of trustees, has been named interim chair of the board. “Due to her current commitment as board chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, Julie will only serve until a successor is appointed,” it added.

“We share your commitment to this extraordinary university, and while this is a challenging time, the Penn community is strong and resilient, and together, we will move forward,” the executive committee of the board wrote.

The message didn’t specify why Platt received the temporary promotion, but The Daily Pennsylvanian, the university’s student paper, reported that Bok stepped down as board chair “minutes” after Magill resigned.

“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, per the 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 wrote that Magill was “over-prepared and over-lawyered given the hostile forum and high stakes” and “provided a legalistic answer to a moral question, and that was wrong,” per the student paper. “It made for a dreadful 30-second sound bite in what was more than five hours of testimony.”

The Pennsylvanian added that Magill’s resignation “comes after months of criticism of Magill and Bok over the university’s response to the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, the Israel-Hamas War and antisemitism on campus—along with Magill’s recent statements at the congressional hearing.”

Last week, Magill testified during a House committee hearing on antisemitism on campus alongside the presidents of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her testimony, the Penn president said that it wouldn’t necessarily violate Penn’s policies to call for genocide against all Jews. She subsequently sought to clarify her remarks, as did Harvard with its president’s testimony.

On Thursday, Claudine Gay, president of Harvard, apologized in an interview with the Crimson, the university’s student publication.

Last week, a donor said he would pull a $100 million donation from Penn, and he would only discuss the matter further after Magill was replaced.

A nearly 285-year-old institution, Penn ranks sixth overall in the most recent U.S. News & World Report rankings of national universities. Its business school, Wharton, is first overall in the U.S. News rankings. As of June 30, the Philadelphia-based university’s endowment is $21 billion.

‘One down, two to go’

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who asked the three university presidents during the House committee hearing about whether calling for genocide against Jews violated their school policies, wrote that the “forced resignation” of Magill is “the bare minimum of what is required.”

“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,” Stefanik wrote.

“These universities can anticipate a robust and comprehensive congressional investigation of all facets of their institutions’ negligent perpetration of antisemitism including administrative, faculty and overall leadership and governance,” she added. “Harvard and MIT, do the right thing. The world is watching.”

Rep. Michelle Steel (R-Calif.) wrote that “no ‘context’ can justify calls for genocide.”

“Penn president Magill’s resignation is a good start, but Harvard president Gay and MIT president Kornbluth should also resign,” she wrote. “Antisemitism has no place in America.”

“Elizabeth Magill, the president of Penn, resigns after failing to denounce genocidal rhetoric against Jews as harassment. Good riddance,” wrote Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), a vocal advocate for Israel. “America urgently needs college and university presidents able and willing to take a morally clear stand against antisemitism.”

Rep. Carlos Giménez (R-Fla.) also welcomed the resignation. “Former president Magill should take Harvard’s Claudine Gay and MIT’s Sally Kornbluth along with her,” he wrote. “Their failure to condemn genocide is beyond disgraceful.”

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) wrote that he is glad that Magill is resigning. “I’ve called for the presidents of Penn, Harvard and MIT to step aside. None of them answered if calling for the genocide of Jews violated their schools’ codes of conduct,” he said. “Penn president Magill has also allowed antisemites to speak at Penn.”

‘The road ahead’

The American Jewish Committee stated that it “respects president Magill’s decision to step down from her role.”

“The road ahead for Penn will require a clear moral vision and plan of action for combating campus antisemitism that begins with saying ‘no’ to calls for normalizing violence and genocide against Jews,” the AJC stated. “As Tuesday’s congressional hearing made clear, far too many university administrators have failed their Jewish communities, as antisemitism has surged not just on college campuses but across the country and around the world.”

“Universities are spaces that require free speech, and in order to maintain their commitment to the pursuit of truth, university leaders must do more to cultivate real conversations and disrupt anti-Zionist echo chambers,” it added.

Phil McGraw, the television personality known as “Dr. Phil,” wrote that he is relieved that Magill resigned.

“This week, I viewed a highly restricted IDF video of the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre. I was sickened by video images I can never ‘unsee’ and appalled by university presidents, like Liz Magill, who are OK with calls for Jewish genocide on their campuses,” he wrote.

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