Penn president, board of trustees head resign after backlash over antisemitism hearing

By Juliana Kim (NPR)
Dec. 10, 2023 4:30 p.m.
University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill listens during a hearing of the House Committee on Education on Capitol Hill on Dec. 5.

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

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.

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.

Related: Biden administration says colleges must fight ‘alarming rise’ in antisemitism and Islamophobia

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


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 since she was appointed as 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.

Related: Reports of antisemitism up 63% in the Pacific Northwest in 2022; resistance is up too

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.

In a statement, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., who heads the House Education Committee which led the hearing, said she 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.

Concerns over Magill's leadership has been mounting for months — even before the war between Israel and Hamas broke out. In September, Magill was criticized for 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.

Related: Oregon bill aims to counter antisemitism by educating students about Jewish culture

NPR's Sequoia Carrillo contributed reporting.

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