What to know about Elizabeth Magill, the Penn president who resigned

University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill resigned on Saturday the fourth days after she was criticized for her responses to a congressional hearing Tuesday in which she was pressed, along with the presidents of Harvard and MIT, on whether students calling for the genocide of Jews should be disciplined.

Magill appeared to evade the question and drew sharp criticism from donors, students and others, some of whom were already angry that she allowed a Palestinian writers’ conference to be held on campus in September.

Magill is the first president of a major university to resign in the fallout from protests that swept campuses after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel and the subsequent war in Gaza.

Here’s some background on his decision.

At a hearing of the House Education and Workforce Committee on Tuesday, Ms. Magill testified alongside Claudine Gay, president of Harvard, and Sally Kornbluth, president of MIT. They all said they were appalled by anti-Semitism and were taking action against it on campus. When asked whether they supported Israel’s right to exist, they answered yes without equivocation.

The three university presidents testified that recent protests on their campuses had turned violent, with clashes between students who support Israel and those who support the Palestinians.

But on the issue of disciplining students for genocide statements, they gave legal answers involving free speech.

Free speech groups said they were legally correct. But for many students, alumni and donors, statements from university leaders have failed to clearly and forcefully condemn anti-Semitism.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican from New York, said the students chanted in support of the intifada, an Arabic word meaning uprising that many Jews interpret as a call for violence against them.

He asked: “Does calling for the genocide of Jews constitute bullying or harassment?”

Ms Magill responded: “If it is direct, severe and pervasive, it is harassment.”

Ms. Stefanik replied: “So the answer is yes.”

Ms Magill said: “It’s a context dependent decision, MP.”

Ms. Stefanik responded: “This is your testimony today? Does calling for the genocide of the Jews depend on the context?”

Ms. Gay and Ms. Kornbluth made statements similar to those made by Ms. Magill.

Magill’s remarks sparked a wave of criticism, including from Pennsylvania’s governor, Josh Shapiro, and its two senators, John Fetterman and Bob Casey, all Democrats.

Ms Magill apologized on Wednesday evening for her testimony.

“At that moment, I was focused on our university’s long-standing policies consistent with the United States Constitution, which states that speech alone is not punishable,” she said in to the video. “I was not focused, but I should have been, on the irrefutable fact that a call for the genocide of the Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence that human beings can perpetrate. It’s evil, plain and simple.

He added: “In my opinion, that would be harassment or intimidation.”

Friday, more than 70 members of Congress signed a letter calling on the boards of trustees of Harvard, MIT and Penn to “immediately remove” the three school presidents, who attended the hearing, and to “provide an actionable plan to ensure that Jewish and Israeli students, teachers and faculty are safe on your campuses.”

One of Penn’s donors who criticized the school’s response to anti-Semitism on campus and Ms. Magill’s testimony, hedge fund manager Ross L. Stevens, had also said he would withdraw a donation to the school worth about $100 million of dollars.

By Saturday, more than 26,000 people had signed a petition against his leadership.

After resigning as president, Scott L. Bok, chairman of Penn’s board of trustees, said in a statements that Ms. Magill will serve as Penn’s leader until the university chooses an interim president and that she will remain a member of the law school faculty.

Mr Bok also announced his resignation on Saturday, shortly after Ms Magill’s announcement.

Magill’s critics sought to use her resignation to pressure Harvard and MIT to act, after Dr. Gay and Dr. Kornbluth offered similar testimony.

Dr. Gay has given no indication whether she plans to resign, and the executive committee of MIT’s board of trustees has declared its support for Dr. Kornbluth.

Magill, a lawyer and free speech advocate, became president of the university in July 2022.

Before accepting the position, he served as executive vice president and provost at the University of Virginia, and before that as professor and dean at Stanford Law School.

Before joining Stanford, Ms. Magill, who grew up in Fargo, N.D., was a professor and assistant principal from the University of Virginia School of Lawwhere he also obtained a law degree.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University, Magill, a scholar of administrative and constitutional law, served as senior legislative assistant for energy and natural resources for Senator Kent Conrad. After graduating from law school, Ms. Magill clerked for several justices, including Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Over the summer, donors had asked Magill to cancel a planned Palestinian literary conference on campus, citing a series of speakers they considered objectionable. Magill, citing freedom of speech, said that in September everything would go ahead as planned.

In response to the objections, Magill met with students, faculty and campus organizations and pledged to increase anti-Semitic awareness training and strengthen security during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

On October 7, Hamas attacked Israel, and some of the university’s major benefactors were furious at what they said was Magill’s slow response to issuing a statement condemning the attacks.

On Oct. 10, Ms. Magill released her first statements condemning the Hamas assault, which some critics say was not violent enough. In the following weeks, the university released a series of statementsYESIncluded harder condemnation of Hamas.

These statements have also come under criticism, including from some pro-Palestinian former students who wrote in a letter on October 18 that Magill’s statements “failed to recognize the significant suffering and loss of Palestinian life.”

Stefania Saulo AND Anemone Hartocollis contributed to the reporting.