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Penn in disarray after university president, board of trustees chair resign after House hearing on antisemitism

Tensions heated up after three university presidents refused to say that the genocide of Jews would violate their university code of conduct

University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania | Shutterstock

December 9, 2023 11:19pm

Updated: December 10, 2023 10:17am

The University of Pennsylvania’s top two officials resigned under pressure on Saturday after their comments about antisemitism on campus created a controversy last week.

Tensions heated up after President Liz Magill testified before a U.S. Congressional House committee and downplayed the dangers of antisemitism.

Scott L. Bok, chairman of the Penn Board of Trustees, told the press Saturday that Ms. Magill has “voluntarily tendered her resignation,” but will remain on the law school faculty.

He said that “President Magill has agreed to stay on until an interim president is appointed,” adding that the university “will be in touch in the coming days to share plans for interim leadership of Penn.”

Bok’s comments were verified by an email that was sent out to the Penn community around 4:30 p.m. 

Less than an hours after Magill announced her resignation, the Daily Pennsylvanian reported that Mr. Bok also resigned as board chair “effectively immediately,” a report that was confirmed by the university.

“It has been my privilege to serve as President of this remarkable institution," Magill said in a statement, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian.

Magill faced mounting pressure to step down after her testimony at Congress. Her departure has already been championed as a victory by Republicans and critics of rising antisemitism throughout the nation.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, tweeted the following statement:

“One down. Two to go. This is only the very beginning of addressing the pervasive rot of antisemitism that has destroyed the most ‘prestigious’ higher education institutions in America. This forced resignation of the President of @Penn is the bare minimum of what is required.

“These universities can anticipate a robust and comprehensive Congressional investigation of all facets of their institutions negligent perpetration of antisemitism including administrative, faculty, and overall leadership and governance. @Harvard and @MIT, do the right thing. The world is watching.

“In the case of @Harvard, President Gay was asked by me 17x whether calling for the genocide of Jews violates Harvard’s code of conduct. She spoke her truth 17x. And the world heard. In the case of @MIT Dr. Kornbluth answered the question. “If targeted at individuals” ie dehumanizing the Jewish people in her answer.”

The New York congresswoman's comments were in reference to Magill and MIT President Sally Kornbluth, Harvard President Claudine Gay and Penn President Liz, all of whom testified before the House Education and Workforce Committee on Tuesday.

The trio’s testimony raised concerns and sparked a fury throughout the country, and even prompted one major donor to temporarily withholds financial donations to Penn.

The criticism about the school presidents' is that their answers to committee congressional representatives’ questions on whether calling for the genocide of Jews violates their school’s code of conduct on bullying or harassment.

None of the presidents were willing to say that calling for the genocide of Jews would violate their university code of conduct, and instead said it would depend on the circumstances and conduct.

Magill said she was honored to serve as president of the university during her tenure.

“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,” she said.