On Saturday, M. Elizabeth Magill, the president of the University of Pennsylvania, submitted her resignation, just four days after testifying at a congressional hearing. During the hearing, she faced criticism for appearing to evade the question of whether students advocating for the genocide of Jews should face disciplinary action.
The announcement, delivered in an email to the Penn community by Scott L. Bok, the chairman of the board of trustees, comes after sustained pressure from Jewish students, alumni, and donors. They contended that Magill had not adequately addressed their concerns about antisemitism on campus.
Magill is the first president of a major university to step down in connection with the protests that erupted on campuses following the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel and the subsequent conflict in Gaza. The ongoing debate over the Israel-Gaza situation has left students at odds, prompting university leaders to navigate the balance between supporting the right to free speech for pro-Palestinian protesters and addressing concerns about antisemitic language.
Arriving at Penn in 2022 as an advocate for free speech, Magill’s commitment to this principle ultimately led to her downfall. During the congressional hearing, she provided legalistic responses to a complex question about speech. Representative Elise Stefanik, a Republican from New York, pressed Magill on whether advocating for the genocide of Jews should be considered bullying or harassment. Magill responded that if it is directed, severe, and pervasive, it could be harassment. Stefanik sought clarification, to which Magill stated it’s a context-dependent decision.
Magill’s statements, similar to those of other university presidents at the hearing, were deemed legally accurate by free-speech scholars. However, they failed to resonate with many of the university’s Jewish students, faculty, and alumni, leading to widespread criticism, including from the state’s Democratic governor, Josh Shapiro, and its two Democratic U.S. senators, John Fetterman and Bob Casey. The White House also weighed in on the controversy.