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UPenn president Liz Magill and Board Chair Scott Bok resign after antisemitism drama

Liz Magill Announces Resignation

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In a shocking turn of events, Liz Magill, the President of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the world’s most prestigious universities, has announced her resignation. This decision comes on the heels of a controversial hearing on Capitol Hill regarding antisemitism. Board Chair Scott Bok has also tendered his resignation, marking a significant moment in the history of UPenn.

Magill’s Departure Statement

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Magill expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to serve as the President of UPenn. She said, “It has been my privilege to serve as President of this remarkable institution. Working with our faculty, students, staff, alumni, and community members has been an honor to advance Penn’s vital missions.” She will continue as a tenured professor at Penn Carey Law School.

Bok’s Comments

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Board Chair Scott Bok acknowledged Magill’s unfortunate misstep during the congressional committee hearing. He stated, “Magill last week made a very unfortunate misstep — consistent with that of two peer university leaders sitting alongside her — after five hours of aggressive questioning before a Congressional committee. Following that, it became clear that her position was no longer tenable, and she and I concurrently decided that it was time for her to exit.”

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Interim Leadership

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Magill will remain as an interim president until a new leader is appointed. Surprisingly, UPenn still needed a succession plan despite the mounting calls for Magill’s resignation. This leaves the university in a state of uncertainty during this crucial transition period.

Bipartisan Pressure

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Over 70 members of Congress, from both sides of the aisle, sent a letter to UPenn, Harvard, and MIT board members, demanding the removal of Magill and her counterparts. They urged the institutions to provide a concrete plan to ensure the safety of Jewish and Israeli students, teachers, and faculty on their campuses.

Calls for Removal

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The Wharton Advisory Board and former US Ambassador Jon Huntsman joined the voices calling for Magill’s removal. Huntsman went as far as to say that removing Magill was not even debatable. A major donor, Ross Stevens, threatened to cancel a substantial gift if Magill did not step down.

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Controversial Testimony

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Magill’s downfall can be attributed to her controversial testimony during the congressional hearing. She struggled to respond to questions about whether calls for genocide against Jews violated UPenn’s code of conduct. Her failure and other university presidents’ failure to unequivocally denounce such calls as bullying and harassment led to a public outcry.

Bok’s Perspective

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Board Chair Scott Bok defended Magill, claiming that she was exhausted and made a misstep. He argued that she had been overprepared and over-lawyered, given the hostile environment of the hearing. Bok maintained that Magill was not antisemitic.

University Leaders’ Duty

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Yale School of Management Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld challenged the perspective that this was merely a matter of misspeaking. He emphasized that university leaders must protect their campus communities from hate, threats, and violence. Sonnenfeld pointed out that freedom of expression should not be an absolute right when hate speech is involved.

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Campus Antisemitism

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The congressional hearing focused on antisemitism on college and university campuses. University presidents had previously faced criticism for not doing enough to ensure the safety of Jewish students. This issue had been simmering for a while, with donors, politicians, alums, and business leaders predominantly directing their criticism toward Magill.

Ongoing Crisis at UPenn

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Magill’s presidency at UPenn had been marked by controversy, with several months of turmoil. The university faced backlash for allowing speakers with a history of making antisemitic remarks to participate in the “Palestine Writes Literature Festival.” The administration’s response to this controversy further exacerbated tensions on campus.

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Honeymoon Period Ends

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Magill’s initial appointment as the 27th leader of UPenn was met with optimism. She had an impressive resume, having served as the provost at the University of Virginia and as Dean of Stanford Law. However, her tenure was marred by controversies surrounding her handling of antisemitism and free speech on campus.

No Tolerance for Antisemitism

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Liz Magill’s resignation as President of UPenn and the departure of Board Chair Scott Bok signals a significant moment in the university’s history. The congressional hearing on antisemitism served as the tipping point for Magill’s leadership. As UPenn faces an uncertain transition, the broader issues of campus antisemitism and free speech continue to be topics of concern and debate.

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