University of Pennsylvania president resigns amid antisemitism scandal

The University of Pennsylvania’s President, Liz Magill, expressed her intent to resign on the 9th of December, 2023, following the appointment of an interim president. Prior to this role, she was an accomplished legal scholar and academic administrator, and she had been appointed as the ninth president and 27th head of the university in July 2022.

Magill’s academic journey commenced at the University of Virginia where she ascended to the rank of Professor of Law, specialising in administrative and constitutional law. Her career trajectory saw her serving as the provost of the University of Virginia and subsequently, the dean of Stanford Law School.

Magill’s predicament began when she testified in front of the House Education and Workforce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC, on December 5, 2023. The Committee was investigating antisemitism on college campuses. Four days later, she tendered her resignation, following a controversial appearance before Congress where she appeared to avoid the issue of potential consequences for students advocating for the extermination of Jews.

Her support plummeted in the aftermath of her testimony, which had already been dwindling due to her actions at a Palestinian literary conference and the university’s initial response to the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. High-profile alumni, wealthy donors, and government representatives began distancing themselves from the university, questioning her leadership and calling for her removal.

The night prior to a scheduled meeting of Penn’s board of trustees, Magill announced her resignation. Scott L. Bok, the board’s chairman, informed the Penn community of her voluntary resignation. Bok himself resigned less than an hour later, adding to the turbulence at this high-profile institution.

Magill has received significant backlash following her House committee testimony. This has spurred calls for her resignation from influential figures and increasing demands for change. The Wharton Board of Advisors, which includes notable individuals like NFL owner Josh Harris and former Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky, communicated their concerns regarding the “dangerous and toxic culture” on campus and called for immediate action.

Despite the controversy, the Board of Trustees at the University of Pennsylvania held an emergency meeting, sparking speculation about discussions concerning Magill’s future. However, a university official dismissed any immediate plans for a change in leadership.

Liz Magill hails from Fargo, North Dakota, and is the daughter of a senior federal judge, Frank Magill, who served on the Eighth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals. Her brother, Frank Magill Jr., is a district judge in the Fourth Judicial District of Minnesota. Magill earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Yale University in 1988 and later, a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1995.