Penn president resigns amid backlash over congressional hearing comments

ByMeredith Deliso ABCNews logo
Sunday, December 10, 2023

University of Pennsylvania president Elizabeth Magill has voluntarily resigned, the school's board of trustees said on Saturday, following backlash over her response during a congressional hearing when asked how she said she would handle remarks in the university community calling for the "genocide of Jews."

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

Magill will remain a tenured faculty member at Penn Carey Law, the university's board said.

"On behalf of the entire Penn community, I want to thank President Magill for her service to the University as President and wish her well," Scott Bok, chair of the university's board of trustees, said in a letter to the school community on Saturday announcing Magill's resignation as president.

Magill will stay on until an interim president is appointed, Bok said.

A university spokesperson confirmed to ABC News that Bok has also resigned as chair. In a statement obtained by ABC News, Bok said he submitted his resignation Saturday, effective immediately.

"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," he said.

Magill's resignation as president comes days after she testified during a House Education Committee on how three university presidents have handled antisemitism on their campuses. Harvard President Claudine Gay and MIT President Sally Kornbluth also testified.

During Tuesday's hearing, Magill had a tense exchange with New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik.

Stefanik asked Magill to respond "yes or no" if calling for the "genocide of Jews" violated Penn's rules or code of conduct.

Magill replied, "If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment. Yes."

Stefanik followed up: "I am asking, specifically, calling for the genocide of Jews, does that constitute bullying or harassment?"

Magill responded that it was a "context-dependent decision."

"It's a context-dependent decision -- that's your testimony today?" Stefanik countered. "Calling for the genocide of Jews is depending upon the context?"

Several of Pennsylvania's elected leaders denounced Magill's comments, with some calling for her resignation.

Stefanik reacted to Magill's resignation, saying it is "the bare minimum of what is required."

"These universities can anticipate a robust and comprehensive Congressional investigation of all facets of their institutions negligent perpetration of antisemitism including administrative, faculty, and overall leadership and governance," Stefanik said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Hours after the hearing, amid bipartisan backlash, including from prominent Democrats, Magill apologized for her response in a video posted on the university's website.

"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," Magill said in the video.

In a reversal, using direct language, Magill said that type of language is "harassment or intimidation."

Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania bashed Magill's "absolutely shameful" comments in the back-and-forth with Stefanik.

"That was an unacceptable statement from the president of Penn," Shapiro, who is Jewish, said Wednesday. "Frankly, I thought her comments were absolutely shameful. It should not be hard to condemn genocide."

Shapiro said if calling for the genocide of Jews "doesn't violate the policies of Penn, well, there's something wrong with the policies of Penn that the board needs to get on, or there's a failure of leadership from the president, or both."

Shapiro is a nonvoting board member at the university.

A petition on demanding Magill's resignation had more than 26,000 signatures as of Saturday afternoon.

The Republican-led House Education Committee announced Thursday that it is opening an investigation into the policies and disciplinary procedures at Penn, Harvard and MIT after finding testimony from three presidents "absolutely unacceptable."

ABC News' Sarah Beth Hensley contributed to this report.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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