Penn President Liz Magill Resigns After Testimony on Antisemitism

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill resigned less than a week after testifying about antisemitism during a U.S. House committee hearing. Here's a timeline of the events that shook the Ivy League institution.
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Published on December 12, 2023
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  • University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill resigned Dec. 9.
  • Donor Ross Stevens had pulled a $100 million donation from the university following her testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
  • Kasowitz Benson Torres filed a lawsuit Dec. 5 on behalf of two Jewish Penn students, alleging the university has violated the students' civil rights by allowing a hostile antisemitic educational environment.
  • Penn revealed an "Action Plan to Combat Antisemitism" in November that includes trainings on antisemitism awareness and increased protections at religious centers.

University of Pennsylvania (Penn) President Liz Magill has resigned from that post after donor, alum, and student uproar over her handling of antisemitism on the Ivy League institution's campus.

Her resignation was announced four days after her appearance before the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce to discuss Penn's plan to combat antisemitism. Within the week, Penn was accused in a lawsuit of having an "antisemitic hostile educational environment," and a Penn donor withdrew a $100 million donation.

Here's a timeline of the events that led to Magill's resignation.

Late September: Alums and Donors Write Open Letter Concerned About Palestine Writes Literature Festival Hosted on Campus

Over 2,000 Penn alums, including significant donors, signed a letter to Magill over concerns about the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, which hosted speakers with histories of making antisemitic statements, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian.

"The University of Pennsylvania should be doing all within its power to distance itself from the event's antisemitic speakers, make clear that such antisemitism is wholly at odds with the university's values, and take proactive steps to ensure that Jewish students, faculty, and staff are safe and welcome at Penn," said the letter to Magill.

The university released a statement about the festival Sept. 12, stating its commitment to free speech and condemnation of antisemitism.

"While the Festival will feature more than 100 speakers, many have raised deep concerns about several speakers who have a documented and troubling history of engaging in antisemitism by speaking and acting in ways that denigrate Jewish people," the statement said. "We unequivocally — and emphatically — condemn antisemitism as antithetical to our institutional values.

"As a university, we also fiercely support the free exchange of ideas as central to our educational mission. This includes the expression of views that are controversial and even those that are incompatible with our institutional values."

Oct. 7: Hamas Attacks Israel

War erupted between Israel and the militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip following an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israeli civilians, sparking protests in the U.S., including on college campuses, and raising fears of increased antisemitism and Islamophobia.

In the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack, several prominent donors ramped up their calls for change at Penn.

Marc Rowan, a Wall Street CEO worth roughly $6 billion and one of Penn's largest donors, called for the resignation of Magill and Scott Bok, chair of the university's trustees board. Joining Rowan was Vahan Gureghian, a charter school magnate and former Penn trustee, and Jonathon Jacobson, a private investor who criticized the university for its lack of "moral courage."

November: Magill Unveils New Plan to Combat Antisemitism at Penn

Magill introduced a new plan to combat antisemitism last month after alums, students, and donors expressed increased concerns about antisemitism on campus. The new "Action Plan to Combat Antisemitism" is built on safety and security, engagement, and education cornerstones.

Penn plans on ensuring that antisemitism awareness, prevention, and response, and training on the "interconnectedness of other forms of hate, including Islamophobia," are part of equity and inclusion programs for faculty, staff, and students.

Dec. 5: Penn Sued on Behalf of 2 Jewish Students Who Allege the University Allows an 'Antisemitic Hostile Educational Environment'

On Dec. 5, Penn became the third university to be sued by students claiming a failure to combat antisemitism on college campuses.

Kasowitz Benson Torres filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Jewish Penn students, alleging the university has violated the students' civil rights by allowing a hostile antisemitic educational environment.

Penn is the third university to be a defendant in a lawsuit alleging antisemitism, following New York University and the University of California, Berkeley.

"Penn, the historic 300-year-old Ivy League university, has transformed itself into an incubation lab for virulent anti-Jewish hatred, harassment, and discrimination," the lawsuit alleges.

" … Among other things, Penn enforces its own rules of conduct selectively to avoid protecting Jewish students from hatred and harassment, hires rabidly antisemitic professors who call for anti-Jewish violence and spread terrorist propaganda, and ignores Jewish students' pleas for protection. In doing so, Penn has placed plaintiffs and other Jewish and Israeli students at severe emotional and physical risk."

The lawsuit alleges that Penn has violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to remedy a hostile antisemitic environment that includes people chanting antisemitic slurs and putting antisemitic graffiti on campus buildings.

Alongside compensatory and punitive damages, the plaintiffs want the court to prevent the university from upholding any policies, practices, procedures, or protocols that penalize or discriminate against Jewish students.

The plaintiffs want the university to take remedial and preventive measures by:

  • Terminating administration, faculty, and employees responsible for "the antisemitic abuse permeating the school" by engagement or permittance
  • Suspending or expelling students engaging in antisemitic acts
  • Requiring antisemitism training for university community members that includes the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism

A university spokesman for the university said, "We are aware that a complaint was filed but have not had an opportunity to review it. We don't comment on pending litigation."

Dec. 5: Penn, Harvard, and MIT Presidents Testify Before Congress About Antisemitism on Campus

On the same day the lawsuit was released, Magill spoke before the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce — alongside Harvard University President Claudine Gay and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) President Sally Kornbluth — on combating antisemitism on college campuses.

"I have condemned antisemitism publicly, regularly, and in the strongest possible terms. And today, let me reiterate my and Penn's unyielding commitment to combating it," Magill said to the committee. "We immediately investigate any hateful act, cooperating with both law enforcement and the FBI, where we have identified individuals who have committed these acts in violation of either policy or law, we initiate disciplinary proceedings and engage law enforcement."

"I am proud of this tradition, and deeply troubled when members of our Jewish community share that their sense of belonging has been shaken. Under my leadership, we will never, ever shrink from our moral responsibility to combat antisemitism and educate all to recognize and reject hate. We will remain vigilant."

Dec. 6: Magill Apologizes for Statement Made During Congressional Hearing

Magill released an apology video for a statement she made during the hearing.

New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik asked Magill if people who call for the genocide of Jewish people violate the university's policies or code of conduct.

"If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment," Magill responded. "It is a context-dependent decision."

After more questioning, Magill doubled down on her response that it "can be harassment."

"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," Magill said in the apology video. "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."

Dec. 8: Penn Donor Withdraws $100M Donation

Magill's testimony to the committee led Ross Stevens, CEO of Stone Ridge Asset Management and founder of Penn's Wharton's Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance, to pull a $100 million donation, according to the BBC.

"I have clear grounds to rescind Penn's $100 million of Stone Ridge shares due to the conduct of President Magill," Stevens said, according to a message seen by the BBC.

According to the BBC, he said the university's "permissive approach" to those calling for violence against Jewish people "would violate any policies or rules that prohibit harassment and discrimination based on religion, including those of Stone Ridge."

Dec. 9: Magill Resigns

Penn Board of Trustees Chair Scott L. Bok announced Magill's resignation as president but added that she will continue to be a tenured faculty member at Penn Carey Law.

"It has been my privilege to serve as President of this remarkable institution," Magill said in the statement. "It has been an honor to work with our faculty, students, staff, alumni, and community members to advance Penn's vital missions."

Bok then announced his resignation as board of trustees chair, minutes after announcing Magill's, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn's student newspaper.

The board of trustees named Julie Platt, vice chair for the board of trustees and board chair of Jewish Federations of North America, as interim chair until a successor can be found.

"The Board's Nominating Committee will immediately undertake an expeditious process, including consultation with the full Board of Trustees, and will make a recommendation for the next Chair to the Executive Committee prior to the start of the spring term," the board of trustees executive committee said in the statement.

"We share your commitment to this extraordinary University, and while this is a challenging time, the Penn community is strong and resilient, and together, we will move forward."