University of Pennsylvania president Elizabeth Magill resigned on Saturday, just four days after coming under fire for her testimony in Congress about antisemitism on college campuses. Her resignation was announced by Scott L. Bok, chairman of the board of trustees, who then announced his own resignation minutes later.
The president appeared alongside the leaders of Harvard and M.I.T. on Tuesday during a hearing about rising antisemitism on college campuses. The legalistic and wishy washy responses of all three presidents to the question of whether calling for the genocide of Jews constituted a violation of the universities’ codes of conduct, set off a bipartisan uproar from politicians, university donors and even the White House.
“It’s unbelievable that this needs to be said: calls for genocide are monstrous and antithetical to everything we represent as a country,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said on Wednesday in response the their testimony. “Any statements that advocate for the systematic murder of Jews are dangerous and revolting — and we should all stand firmly against them, on the side of human dignity and the most basic values that unite us as Americans.”
When directly asked if calling for the genocide of Jews violated Penn’s rules of conduct, Magill declined to explicitly state yes or no, instead saying, “If the speech turns to conduct, it can be considered harassment.” When pressed in follow-up questions, Magill offered similar responses.
Magill, who took the post as Penn president in July 2022 and previously served as the dean of Stanford Law School, walked back her comments in a new statement released on Wednesday.
“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,” she said. “It’s evil, plain and simple.”
But the damage was done. Magill offered a brief statement in the wake of her departure on Saturday.
“It has been my privilege to serve as President of this remarkable institution,” she said. “It has been an honor to work with our faculty, students, staff, alumni, and community members to advance Penn’s vital missions.”
In his own statement announcing his departure, Bok said he concluded that “now was the right time to depart.”
“Former President Liz Magill last week made a very unfortunate misstep-consistent with that of two peer university leaders sitting alongside her-after five hours of aggressive questioning before a Congressional committee,” Bok said. “Following that, it became clear that her position was no longer tenable, and she and I concurrently decided that it was time for her to exit.”
Bok acknowledged the backlash over Magill’s testimony, but said he wants everyone to know she’s “not the slightest bit antisemitic.”
“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. 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. 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.”
Bok added, “I hope that some fine university will in due course be wise enough to give her a second chance, in a more supportive community, to lead.”
It remained to be seen what action would ensue at Harvard and MIT.