Why UPenn President Liz Magill Faces More Pressure Than Other University Presidents Over Anti-Semitism

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Multiple college presidents have faced criticism over their responses to anti-Semitism on their campuses. But none more so than University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill.

Some have called for the resignations of Harvard University President Claudine Gay and MIT President Sally Kornbluth after they testified with Magill before a House committee on campus anti-Semitism on Tuesday, and the presidents did not specifically say that calling for the genocide of Jews would necessarily violate their code of conduct for abuse or harassment. Instead, school leaders explained that it would depend on circumstances and behaviour.

But Magill appears to be the university president most imminently at risk of losing his job, as Penn’s campus has been roiled by controversy over Middle East conflicts longer than other schools — and Magill’s many failed attempts to satisfy critics led to an uproar from donors and an uproar within the school board.

The University of Pennsylvania Board of Trustees met Thursday to consider her status. But a university spokesperson told CNN officially that “there is no board plan for an imminent leadership change.”

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Harvard University President Claudine Gay, University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill, University of Pennsylvania President Pamela Nadel Professor of History and Jewish Studies at American University and MIT President Sally Kornbluth testify before the House Education Committee hearing the agents to investigate anti-Semitism on university campuses.

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.”

02:14 – Source: CNN

Pennsylvania’s president struggles to answer the question of whether calling for the genocide of Jews violates the school’s code of conduct

But this desire to keep both sides of the argument happy is what gets her into so much trouble. And her testimony this week before a House committee hearing on anti-Semitism on college campuses.

When Republican Elise Stefanik asked Magill whether calling for the genocide of the Jews would violate Penn’s code of conduct, Magill replied, “That’s a context-dependent decision.”

That prompted new calls for her resignation, including from Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro. Despite its name, the University of Pennsylvania is a private school, not a public school.

In a short video released Wednesday night, Magill said the university would immediately review and clarify its hate speech policies.

“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 noted that anti-Semitic speech was designed to threaten and terrify Jews and remind them of the Holocaust, pogroms and other recent acts of violence against them.

“As president, I am committed to a safe, secure and supportive environment so that all members of our community can thrive,” Magill added. “We can – and we will do it right.”

But so far, few of her critics believe she got it right, and calls for her removal are growing louder.

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