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regular-article-logo Friday, 01 March 2024

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill resigns after antisemitism backlash

The hearing comes as the Israel-Hamas war has sparked pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses

Deutsche Welle Published 10.12.23, 03:45 PM
Amid the backlash and demands for her removal, Magill later tried to explain her viewpoint in a video but it was already too late

Amid the backlash and demands for her removal, Magill later tried to explain her viewpoint in a video but it was already too late Deutsche Welle

The University of Pennsylvania's president, Liz Magill, resigned following criticism over her response to questions about antisemitism on college campuses at a congressional hearing, the school announced on Saturday.

"I write to share that President Liz Magill has voluntarily tendered her resignation as President of the University of Pennsylvania," Scott Bok, the chairman of the Ivy League school's board of trustees, said in the announcement released by the university. Bok also resigned effective immediately.

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Magill will stay on in her role until an interim president is appointed.

How did the controversy erupt?

The controversy stemmed from a House committee hearing on antisemitism, where Magill, alongside Harvard and MIT's presidents — Claudine Gay and Sally Kornbluth — gave evasive answers trying to accommodate the US' far-reaching free speech laws when asked whether statements calling for the genocide of Jews would violate the university's code of conduct.

The hearing comes as the Israel-Hamas war has sparked pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses. Jewish students have said they feel unsafe, and some of the slogans used during the protests have been interpreted as calling for genocide against Jews.

On being repeatedly asked by Republican Representative Elise Stefanik whether "calling for the genocide of Jews" would violate Penn's bullying and harassment rules, Magill replied, "If the speech turns into conduct it can be harassment, yes."

Pressed further, Magill told Stefanik, "It is a context-dependent decision, congresswoman."

American universities are increasingly facing criticism for failing to protect Jewish students fromrising global antisemitism amid the current conflict in Gaza.

'A legalistic answer to a moral question'

Amid the backlash and demands for her removal, Magill later tried to explain her viewpoint in a video but it was already too late.

"Over prepared and over lawyered given the hostile forum and high stakes, she provided a legalistic answer to a moral question, and that was wrong," Bok said in the statement on Saturday. "It made for a dreadful 30-second sound bite in what was more than five hours of testimony."

Seventy-four lawmakers wrote letters calling for the removal of Magill, along with the presidents of Harvard University and the MIT.

A major donor said he would rescind a $100 million (just over €90 million) donation to the Ivy League university's Wharton School of Business. Stefanik called Magill's resignation the addressing of the "pervasive rot of antisemitism" on social media after Penn's announcement. "One down. Two to go," she said.

Increase in antisemitic, Islamophobic incidents amid Israel-Hamas conflict

Amid heightened tensions on US university campuses, there have been discussions regarding the point at which free speech becomes conduct that endangers others.

Both antisemitism and Islamophobia have seen a significant increase in the United States and other countries since October 7.

The Anti-Defamation League reported a roughly 400% increase in antisemitic incidents in the US in the two weeks following the attack on Israel by the Islamist group Hamas, deemed a terrorist organization by the EU, US among others.

Meanwhile, the Council on American-Islamic Relations reported that, in the two months following the onset of the conflict, Islamophobic incidents against Palestinians and Arabs had risen by 172% compared to the same period in the previous year.

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