UPenn President Liz Magill and Board Chair Scott Bock Resign After Disastrous Anti-Semitism Hearing

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In a stunning fall as the leader of one of the world’s most prestigious universities, Liz Magill, president of the University of Pennsylvania, voluntarily stepped down from the helm of the Ivy League school on Saturday after a barrage of criticism for her anti-Semitism testimony on Capitol Hill Tuesday. Board Chairman Scott Bock also resigned Saturday.

“It has been a privilege to serve as president of this remarkable institution,” Magill said in a statement. “It has been an honor to work with our faculty, students, staff, alumni and community members to advance Penn’s vital missions.”

Magill will remain on the Penn faculty as a tenured professor at the Penn Carey School of Law.

“On behalf of the entire Penn community, I want to thank President Magill for her service to the university as president and wish her well,” Bock said in a statement. “Magill last week made a very embarrassing mistake — consistent with that of two equal university leaders sitting next to her — after five hours of aggressive questioning before a congressional committee. After that, it became clear that her position was no longer tenable, and she and I decided at the same time that it was time for her to leave.

Magill will remain as interim president until a new interim leader is appointed. Penn has not had a succession plan in place despite the outpouring of calls for Magill’s resignation this week, a source told CNN.

The resignation marks a sudden and surprising downfall for the longtime academic. Although Magill has been under fire for months for her handling of anti-Semitism on campus, the final straw was her disastrous congressional testimony on Tuesday.

Magill struggled to answer questions about whether calling for genocide against Jews would violate UPenn’s code of conduct. She and other university presidents have failed to explicitly state that calls for the genocide of the Jewish people constitute harassment and bullying on campus. The exchange went viral and prompted a wave of business leaders, donors and politicians to call for Magill to step down.

“It was time for President Magill to resign,” said Vahan Guregian, a former Penn trustee who resigned in October in protest at the school’s handling of a controversial Palestinian literature festival held on campus. “The opportunity to demonstrate leadership was two months ago.”

On Saturday, Guregyan also called on Bock to resign, noting that he was “where the buck stops.”

The resignations of Magill and Bock come a day before the University of Pennsylvania’s board of trustees plans to meet literally Sunday, according to two people familiar with the matter. The Penn student newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian and the Philadelphia Inquirer previously reported the news of the special board meeting, which was scheduled to take place at 5:00 PM ET on Sunday.

It was not clear whether Magill’s future would be discussed at that meeting, but given the barrage of criticism, it is hard to imagine that Magill’s future was not made a central focus.

Bock said he was asked to stay on in his role to help with the president’s transition, but believes “now is the right time to leave.” Penn on Saturday night named Julie Platt, vice chair of the University of Pennsylvania’s board of trustees, as interim board chair.

Bock called Magill “a very good man and a talented leader” and “not the least bit anti-Semitic”.

A bipartisan group of more than 70 members of Congress sent a letter to Penn, Harvard and MIT board members on Friday demanding that Magill and her colleagues be removed.

“Given this moment of crisis, we demand that your boards immediately remove each of these presidents from their positions and provide an actionable plan to ensure that Jewish and Israeli students, teachers and faculty are safe on your campuses.” , the legislators write. “University presidents’ responses to questions aimed at addressing the growing trend of anti-Semitism on college and university campuses were appalling.”

It echoed calls from the powerful Wharton Advisory Board and former US ambassador John Huntsman, who exclusively told CNN that removing Magill was “not even controversial”.

One mega-donor, Ross Stevens, has threatened to rescind a huge gift, now valued at about $100 million in stock, if Magill doesn’t leave.

Magill, along with the presidents of Harvard and MIT, faced widespread condemnation for their testimony to Congress this week.

Bock had a different view: Magill was exhausted and made a wrong move – but she was treated unfairly.

“Exhausted by months of relentless external attacks, she was not herself last Tuesday,” Bock said. “Overprepared and over-lawyered, given the adversarial forum and the high stakes, she gave a legalistic answer to a moral question, and that was wrong.” That led to a harrowing 30-second soundbite in what was more than five hours of testimony.

But Yale School of Management professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld said it wasn’t misspoke: Magill and other university presidents missed the forest for the trees by upholding the right to free speech over student safety.

“University leaders have a heightened obligation to uphold the truth and protect their campus communities from hate, threats and violence,” Sonnenfeld said in a statement. “Freedom of expression is NOT an absolute right anywhere in society. Hate speech is different from speech.

The House committee hearing focused on anti-Semitism on campus. Presidents have been criticized before for not doing enough to ensure the safety of Jewish students and others at their respective schools.

But criticism from donors, politicians, alumni and business leaders was mostly reserved for Magill, even after she tried to clarify her remarks Wednesday.

“I wasn’t focused on—but I should have been—the irrefutable fact that calling for the genocide of the Jewish people is calling for some of the most horrific acts of violence that human beings can commit. This is evil. Plain and simple,” Magill said in a video posted on X. “I want to be clear: calling for the genocide of the Jewish people … would be harassment or intimidation.”

Magill never apologized for his testimony.

Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, whose questioning of Magill sparked the outrage, said Magill’s suspension was “the bare minimum.”

“One down. There are two left,” Stefanik wrote in a post on X. “This is just the beginning of addressing the widespread rot of anti-Semitism that has decimated America’s most prestigious” institutions of higher education.

Magill faces a battle and leads Penn through a crisis for several months.

In September, weeks before the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, the University of Pennsylvania allowed speakers who Penn’s administration acknowledged had made anti-Semitic remarks to participate in a “Palestine Writes Literary Festival” on campus.

In response to criticism of the university’s decision to admit the controversial speakers, Magill and other top university administrators issued a statement that sought to appease both sides of the dispute but ended up angering both pro-Israel and Palestinian supporters.

“We unequivocally – and categorically – condemn anti-Semitism as antithetical to our institutional values,” the statement said. But it added that “as a university, we also strongly support the free exchange of ideas as central to our educational mission. This includes expressing views that are controversial and even those that are inconsistent with our institutional values.”

In response, 36 faculty members at the school, before the festival took place, signed a letter criticizing the statement and Magill.

“It is equally important for us as educators to declare our support for Palestinian artists and writers by stating clearly that we condemn anti-Semitism as well as Islamophobia and the oppression of Palestinians,” the letter said. “We ask that you, as leaders of the Penn community, immediately amend your statement so that it clearly supports the diversity of views and the diversity of religious, racial and cultural communities on campus.”

Many donors also reached out to Magill and the school about the festival and Penn’s lukewarm response. Weeks later, when Hamas attacked Israel and killed at least 1,200 people, that seething resentment turned to seething anger.

Some high-profile and wealthy donors announced they would end their support for the school if she stayed, Magill soon after issued another statement that tried to rally the parties, but it did little to quell the criticism.

“I strongly condemn hate speech that denigrates others as contrary to our values,” Magill said. “In this tragic moment, we must respect the pain of our classmates and colleagues and recognize that our speech and actions have the power to both harm and heal our community. We must choose healing, resist those who would divide us and instead respect and care for each other.”

When University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill was elected to the post just 20 months ago, she was billed as the “clear consensus” to lead the Ivy League university.

Magill had a gilded resume when she was chosen last year as the 27th leader of the nearly 300-year-old school.

She came to UPenn after serving as chancellor, the number two administrative post, at the University of Virginia, where she previously attended law school. She joined the law school there immediately after serving as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Before becoming chancellor at UVa, she was dean of Stanford Law.

But the honeymoon didn’t last.

Criticism of the “Palestine Writes” literary festival and the university’s response to it has grown since the Hamas attack on Israel. As incidents of anti-Semitism on campus have risen in recent months, she has struggled to stop hate speech.

Donors have been calling for her resignation for months. She also found herself attacked by people on campus who felt she was not doing enough to protect academic freedom in the face of attacks on the festival.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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