UPenn President Forced To Step Down After Testimony

 December 9, 2023

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill resigned amidst a whirlwind of controversy.

Liz Magill's resignation came after a controversial Congressional testimony about antisemitism on the university campus, leading to various responses. This included a major donor retracting a large donation and influential figures demanding her resignation.

Since 2014, Magill has led the esteemed university but encountered significant challenges after her recent testimony in Congress. She was rigorously questioned about how the university dealt with antisemitism. Her answers, especially regarding whether this speech breached the university's conduct code, received broad condemnation.

Major Donor Withdraws Support in Wake of Testimony

Ross Stevens, a major donor to the University of Pennsylvania, rescinded his pledged $100 million donation after Magill's testimony. This action underscores the significant financial implications of the controversy.

The repercussions of Magill's testimony were immediate and severe. Not only did Stevens withdraw his donation, but the board of the Wharton Business School, one of Penn's most prominent and respected divisions, also called for Magill's resignation.

Magill's comments, particularly her hesitance to unequivocally state that antisemitic speech and calls for violence violate the university's conduct code, were met with widespread disapproval. This reaction was evident not only among the university's stakeholders but also among the wider public.

Emergency Meeting Leads to Resignation

Following these events, the University of Pennsylvania's board of trustees convened an emergency meeting on Thursday. The meeting's outcome was Magill's announcement of her resignation as the university's president.

Despite her resignation, Magill will continue her association with the university as a tenured professor at Penn's law school. This move suggests a continued respect for her academic contributions despite the controversy surrounding her administrative role.

Magill's statement following her resignation was reflective and respectful. She expressed her privilege as the university president and highlighted her work with various stakeholders to advance Penn’s vital missions.

Contentious Testimony Draws Criticism

During her Congressional testimony on December 5, 2023, Magill was questioned about the university's stance on antisemitism. Her responses, particularly regarding the university's conduct code, drew immediate criticism.

When asked whether calls for the genocide of Jews violate Penn's code of conduct related to bullying and harassment, Magill's response was seen as evasive by many. She stated, "If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment. Yes," and described the decision as "context-dependent."

In response to Magill's answers, Rep. Stefanik expressed visible astonishment and allowed Magill to clarify her stance. However, Magill's reply that such actions "can be harassment" did little to quell the growing unease.

Magill's Clarification and Subsequent Fallout

Following the backlash, Magill sought to clarify her remarks.

"There was a moment during yesterday's congressional hearing on antisemitism when I was asked if a call for the genocide of Jewish people on our campus would violate our policies. 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, on 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."

Despite this clarification, the damage had been done. The university, its board, and stakeholders were already in the throes of reacting to the initial fallout from her Congressional testimony.

Reflections on Leadership and Accountability

The events surrounding Magill's resignation highlight the complex nature of leadership roles in higher education, especially in dealing with sensitive and controversial issues such as antisemitism. Magill's tenure as president of the University of Pennsylvania, marked by various achievements, has ended abruptly, illustrating the weight and consequences of public statements and positions taken by university leaders.

  • Liz Magill resigned as President of the University of Pennsylvania following a controversial Congressional testimony about antisemitism on campus.
  • Major donor Ross Stevens withdrew a $100 million donation, and the Wharton Business School board requested her resignation.
  • Magill will remain a tenured professor at Penn's Law School, continuing her academic contributions despite stepping down from her administrative role.

About Victor Winston

Victor is a freelance writer and researcher who focuses on national politics, geopolitics, and economics.

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