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University of Pennsylvania president and board chair resign as antisemitism testimony draws backlash

Head and shoulders photo of Liz Magill.
University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill listens during a hearing of the House Education Committee on Dec. 5.
(Mark Schiefelbein / Associated Press)
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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 chairman of the Ivy League school’s board of trustees, Scott Bok, also resigned, the university said Saturday evening, just hours after Bok announced Liz Magill’s departure as president in just her second year.

The university said Magill will remain a tenured faculty member at the university’s Carey Law School.

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Calls for Magill’s resignation exploded after Tuesday’s testimony in a U.S. House committee on antisemitism on college campuses, where she appeared with the presidents of Harvard University and MIT.

Universities across the U.S. have been accused of failing to protect Jewish students amid rising fears of antisemitism worldwide and fallout from Israel’s intensifying war in Gaza, which faces heightened criticism for the mounting Palestinian death toll.

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 Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), 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, she told Stefanik, “It is a context-dependent decision, congresswoman.”

After seven weeks held hostage in the tunnels of Gaza, they are finally free to laugh and chat and play.

Dec. 9, 2023

Criticism rained down from the White House, Pennsylvania Gov. 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.

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A day later, Magill addressed the criticism, saying in a video that she would consider a call for the genocide of Jewish people to be harassment or intimidation and that Penn’s policies need to be “clarified and evaluated.”

Even before Tuesday’s hearing, Magill had been under fire from some donors and alumni this fall 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 U.S. 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, Gov. Kathy Hochul said her administration would enforce the state’s Human Rights Law and refer any violations of federal civil rights law to U.S. officials.

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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.

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