UPenn President Liz Magill, board chair each resign following backlash over congressional antisemitism testimony

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill testifies before a House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing titled “Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., on Dec. 5, 2023.

Ken Cedeno | Reuters

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill has resigned after receiving criticism for her testimony at a congressional hearing on campus antisemitism where she struggled to answer a question about whether calling for the genocide of Jews violated the college’s rules.

UPenn Board of Trustees Chairman Scott Bok also said he would step down following the announcement of Magill’s resignation.

Magill decided to “voluntarily” tender her resignation but will remain a tenured faculty member at the university’s law school, according to a UPenn statement.

Magill and Penn’s Board of Trustees did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Magill has faced mounting pressure to resign over the past few days after she wavered on whether calls for the genocide of Jews would violate Penn’s code of conduct at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing.

Over 70 lawmakers signed a bipartisan letter on Friday calling for the resignation of Magill, along with Harvard University President Claudine Gay and Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth, who similarly floundered on the question.

“One down. Two to go,” said House Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-NY, the congressmember who posed the question at Tuesday’s hearing. “This is only the very beginning of addressing the pervasive rot of antisemitism that has destroyed the most ‘prestigious’ higher education institutions in America.”

The House committee has also launched an investigation into the three colleges due to the presidents’ responses.

At the hearing, Stefanik asked the three presidents for a “yes or no” answer about whether calling for the genocide of Jews violated the rules of their respective universities.

“If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment,” Magill testified. “It is a context-dependent decision, congresswoman.”

Kornbluth and Gay similarly responded that whether those calls qualify as rule violations would depend on the context.

Major donors and alumni of the colleges have since spoken out against the leaders.

Hedge fund executive and Harvard alumnus Bill Ackman said in a social media post that the presidents’ testimonies reflect the “moral and ethical failures” of elite institutions of higher education.

“They must all resign in disgrace,” Ackman added.

The White House also condemned the university leaders, though at a briefing Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre would not call for their resignation because the schools are private institutions.

In a brief exit statement, Magill said it had been a “privilege” to serve as Penn’s president. Her resignation comes just over a year at the helm. She had previously served as provost at the University of Virginia.

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