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Penn president, board of trustees chair resign after antisemitism hearing

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill listens during a hearing of the House Committee on Education on Capitol Hill on Dec. 5.
Mark Schiefelbein
/
AP
University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill listens during a hearing of the House Committee on Education on Capitol Hill on Dec. 5.

Updated December 9, 2023 at 10:14 PM ET

Liz Magill, the president of the University of Pennsylvania, resigned on Saturday — just days after her congressional testimony on antisemitism drew fierce backlash from students, faculty and donors.

Scott Bok, the chair of the university's board of trustees, announced the decision in a letter to the school community. Bok also submitted his resignation, and Julie Platt, the vice chair of the board of trustees, was named interim chair by the board's executive committee.

"It has been my privilege to serve as President of this remarkable institution. It has been an honor to work with our faculty, students, staff, alumni, and community members to advance Penn's vital missions," Magill said in a statement, according to Bok's letter.

Magill will stay on as interim president until a new person is appointed, according to Bok. Magill will also remain a tenured faculty member at the Penn Carey Law School. The university will share details about interim leadership "in the coming days," Bok said.

Magill's resignation comes less than a year and a half after she was appointedas president.

On Tuesday, Magill and the presidents of Harvard and MIT testified before Congress about how they are protecting students from antisemitism on their campuses. Criticism quickly followed around how the university presidents answered the question of whether "calling for the genocide of Jews" would violate the university's code of conduct.

After Magill's comments, six members of Congress from Pennsylvania sent a letter to the school's board of trustees calling for Magill's resignation. Ross Stevens, a hedge fund manager, threatened to pull a $100 million donation from the University of Pennsylvania.

Concerns over Magill's leadership has been mounting for months — even before the war between Israel and Hamas broke out. In September, Magill was criticizedfor an event on campus which had invited speakers with a history of antisemitic comments and behavior. The event, which focused on celebrating Palestinian culture, was also scheduled to end just before the beginning of Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday.

On Sunday, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who posed the question around the schools' code of conduct, called Magill's resignation "the bare minimum" of consequences for Magill and the two other university presidents who testified on Tuesday.

"One down," she wrote on X. "Two to go."

Stefanik added that Penn, Harvard and MIT should still anticipate a congressional investigation into how the schools failed to fight antisemitism on their campus.

Magill's resignation draws mixed response

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., who heads the House Education Committee which led the hearing, said she also approved of Magill's resignation.

"President Magill had three chances to set the record straight when asked if calling for the genocide of Jews violated UPenn's code of conduct during our hearing on antisemitism. Instead of giving a resounding yes to the question, she chose to equivocate," Foxx said on Saturday.

On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., similarly applauded Magill's leave.

"Good Riddance!" He wrote on X. "America urgently needs college and university presidents able and willing to take a morally clear stand against antisemitism."

Penn's chapter of the American Association of University Professors did not directly comment on Magill's resignation but said in a statement on Saturday, that Penn faculty and students have been repeatedly misrepresented as being Hamas sympathizers.

"These distortions and attacks on our colleagues have not addressed the scourge of antisemitism—a real and grave problem," the group said. "The next president must defend the principles of shared governance and academic freedom, which protect the educational mission of the university."

Former Penn board of trustees chair says he stands by Magill

On Saturday, Bok submitted his own resignation letter, writing: "While I was asked to remain in that role for the remainder of my term in order to help with the presidential transition, I concluded that, for me, now was the right time to depart."

Bok added that he stands with Magill, who he described as a "good person" and "not the slightest bit antisemitic."

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

He added that, he and Magill "concurrently" decided it was her time to step down.

NPR's Sequoia Carrillo contributed reporting.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.

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