University of Pennsylvania President, Board Chair Resign After Calls for Firing

Elizabeth Magill and Scott Bok have stepped down, according to the university.
University of Pennsylvania President, Board Chair Resign After Calls for Firing
Elizabeth Magill, president of the University of Pennsylvania, testifies before the House Education and Workforce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington on Dec. 5, 2023. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

Elizabeth Magill has stepped down as president of the University of Pennsylvania, the university announced on Dec. 9.

“[She] has voluntarily tendered her resignation,” the school stated.

Calls for Ms. Magill’s termination increased after she and other college presidents downplayed the anti-Semitism that has been seen on their campuses following the Hamas invasion of Israel in October. Ms. Magill said during a hearing before a U.S. House of Representatives committee on Dec. 5 that calling for the genocide of Jews in some situations didn’t violate the university’s rules or code of conduct.

A day later, she changed her position.

“In that moment, I was focused on our university’s long-standing policies, aligned with the U.S. Constitution, which says that speech alone is not punishable. 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. It’s evil, plain and simple,” Ms. Magill said in a video statement.

“In my view, it would be harassment or intimidation.”

The testimony came as protests over Israel’s actions have taken place on major campuses, with some protesters using words such as “intifada” during the events.

“The use of the term ‘intifada’ in the context of the Israeli–Arab conflict is indeed a call for violent armed resistance against the State of Israel, including violence against civilians and the genocide of Jews,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) said during the hearing.

Following the testimony from the university presidents, a major donor cut off a $100 million donation to the University of Pennsylvania. Ross Stevens, an investor, said through lawyers that he was “appalled by the university’s stance on anti-Semitism on campus.”

Ms. Stefanik had said that federal funding to the schools should be stopped in light of what happened.

U.S. Reps. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.), Dan Meuser (R-Pa.), Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), John Joyce (R-Pa.), Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) asked the university’s board of trustees to fire Ms. Magill.

“President Magill’s testimony is a clear reflection of the pervasive moral and educational failures prevalent at your university and other premier universities across the country,” they said in a letter. “Sadly, she has shown the university and the entire world that she is either incapable or unwilling to combat anti-Semitism on the university’s campus and take care of its student body.”

Ms. Magill couldn’t be reached for comment on her resignation.

In a brief written statement released by the school, she said: “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.”

Ms. Magill will still be employed by the university as a tenured faculty member at Penn Carey Law School, Scott Bok, chair of the university’s board of trustees, said in a statement.

“On behalf of the entire Penn community, I want to thank President Magill for her service in the university as president, and I wish her well,” he said.

Mr. Bok later told the school newspaper that he was also resigning. He told the paper that Ms. Magill made what he described as an “unfortunate misstep” during the congressional hearing and that her remaining as president was “untenable.” He also said that she “is not the slightest bit anti-Semitic.”

Vahan Gureghian, a longtime trustee at the school, recently told The Epoch Times that he had resigned earlier this year because of the rhetoric offered at a festival hosted on campus.

“I was appalled by the way that the chairman and the president, Magill, treated the whole Palestine festival, and then the subsequent response to the attacking by Hamas,” he said.

Ms. Magill became the president of the University of Pennsylvania in 2022. She succeeded Amy Gutmann, who had been in place since 2004.

At the time, Mr. Bok said Ms. Magill was “an extraordinarily accomplished academic leader.” She had been serving as executive vice president and provost of the University of Virginia.