University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill, board head Scott Bok resign amid backlash over genocide chants on campus

Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Magill

PENNSYLVANIA- Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Magill, president of the University of Pennsylvania, stepped down from office on Saturday evening after facing bipartisan backlash for her failure to say whether or not calling for the genocide of Jews violated the school’s policy against harassment.

Ms Magill also faced backlash from billionaire Ross Stevens and other deep-pocketed donors to the university, who threatened to cut ties to the school if she didn’t resign as the president of one of the world’s most prestigious learning institutions. Her exit after barely one year since her inauguration over criticism of her response to antisemitism on campus makes her tenure the shortest in Penn’s history.

“It has been my privilege to serve as President of this remarkable institution,” Ms Magil, who assumed office in July 2022 and was inaugurated in October 2022, said in a statement shared by the school’s trustee chair Scott Bok, who also resigned at the same meeting. “It has been an honour to work with our faculty, students, staff, alumni, and community members to advance Penn’s vital missions.”

“Today, following the resignation of the University of Pennsylvania’s President and related Board of Trustee meetings, I submitted my resignation as Chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, effective immediately,” Mr Bok said of his own resignation. “While I was asked to remain in that role for the remainder of my term in order to help with the presidential transition, I concluded that, for me, now was the right time to depart.”

“We will be in touch in the coming days to share plans for interim leadership of Penn. President Magill has agreed to stay on until an interim president is appointed,” Mr Bok himself said in a statement posted online by the school.

Asked on December 5 by members of the U.S. congressional committee on education if calling for the genocide of Jewish people would be considered inappropriate under Penn’s code of conduct, Ms Magill, 57, a legal scholar and former University of Virginia provost, responded that “It is a context-dependent decision.” 

Whereas she later walked that back in a video posted by the school on December 6, saying she does view it as harassment or intimidation and vowed to review Penn’s policies, it was widely deemed as too late and only done to save her job. 

Critics like billionaire businessman Bill Ackman are now shifting their focus on the two other presidents who also failed to categorically say calling for the genocide of Jews was harassment and against free speech rights. 

Presidents Claudine Gay of Harvard University and Sally Kornbluth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are both facing severe pressure to step down, as threats intensify from alumni, donors and politicians across the country.

The development is part of a raging backlash over the ongoing war in Gaza, which came following the terror attacks on Israelis by Hamas fighters on October 7.

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